Danny Do Presents The Sounds Of LA’s Vietnamese Community

Saigon-based director Danny Do grew up in LA. In this, his guest music mix, he picks ten tracks that soundtracked his life from growing up to graduation.

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“Amazing…” Danny Do shakes his head remembering the media attention The Bachelor Vietnam received last year. The show, which Danny directed, made international news when two of its female contestants fell in love not with the show’s protagonist, but with each other.

Long before all this, Danny Do was growing up in LA, “watching MTV in the era of Michael Jackson, Cindy Lauper, Billy Idol, and Madonna.“ He drifted into drama at school and moved into film through links to other Vietnamese in the movie industry, like stuntman Johnny Tri Nguyen. 

Director Danny Do kicking back outside Billions Pearls and Tea in District 2.

Since he moved to Vietnam, he’s directed music videos, that TV show, and there’s an upcoming romantic comedy in the works. But to recapture the California vibe we took a drive around Saigon’s District 2 in a vintage 65′ Mustang convertible and from the back seat asked Danny for ten tracks that defined his time in LA–from growing up to graduation. His genre-jumping mix takes in everything from The Cure, to Country, to West Coast rap. “Music is structure, emotion, love, and happiness all bundled into one,” Danny says as he slips the Mustang into first gear and we set off.

“I remember listening to Eazy-Duz-It in my cousin’s car.”

Danny, what’s the first music you ever listened to? And how do you feel about it now?

To be honest, I remember listening to Eazy-E’s first album Eazy-Duz-It in my cousin’s car. He had new subwoofers installed and I’ll never forget the song Boyz-n-the-Hood. It was the first album besides Warren G’s G-Funk Era that I bought. However, I actually had to get my sister to purchase it for me because I was too young to buy it – it had the “Parental Advisory” label on the CD. But, even today, that still is one of my favorite albums.

Has what you listen to changed much since then? 

Of course, evolving is important for everyone. What is failure without a lesson? So, I‘ve changed a lot.

In general, I think people expect what you listen to will define your look and style. But I don’t feel like that applies to me because I listen to everything…

My music education started with MTV, but lead me to look as far back as Beethoven and the golden era of popular music from the ‘30s all the way up the ‘90s. I have a collection of over 500,000 songs on my iTunes. I like to put it on random. I find it fun to hear a song get played that I discovered many years ago.

You’ve shot lots of music videos. How does the song influence the way you make the video?

When I shoot music videos, the first thing I request is the final version of the song. I think it’s important to hear what the composer has created so that visually I can try to match the tone of what the song is trying to say.

Danny with the ’65 Mustang convertible on Xuan Thuy street.

And how involved do you get in choosing the music for the shows and movies you’ve worked on?

As far as movies go, I definitely have a soundtrack idea and sometimes have already made my edit in my head… 

What do you think’s the most underrated genre of music? And the most overrated? 

I really love country music. I feel that it doesn’t get as much love as it should. That’s maybe because it’s often negatively associated with America’s south. The truth is, it’s a rich kind of music that’s filled with stories. Whether it’s about a red dirt road or a first love, or even a story about loving a bar and the people in it, I think it’s the most underrated genre ever

On the other hand, I feel that DJs nowadays are so overrated. I’m old-fashioned in that way. I just feel that lots of the music they play is other people’s music and you’re only enjoying the way the songs are mixed together. I mean, I think it’s an amazing art form, but for it to have become stadium music with DJs elevated to main stages is, for me, pretty hard to get used to.

You have one track to make someone love music. What do you play them? 

That’s a tough one. It would have to be Modern Talking’s ‘You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul’. There are many reasons why I’m choosing this song – and it may not be your type of song – but I’m choosing this song because it became one of the most popular songs in my Vietnamese community in the States. 

So how did a German pop song become so immensely popular for all these years? There are many theories on how it became popular.

The theory I believe is that a German music executive, full of passion and love for music, wanted to give the American music industry a try, but with many failed meetings that failed to spark up a deal to bring this new kind of Euro-pop to America, he ended up in a Vietnamese restaurant. There he met the owner, who was, naturally, Vietnamese. Over a few drinks and a nice bowl of phở, the German man started talking to him about his struggle. To the surprise of the German executive, the man’s family were running a small mom-and-pop store selling cassettes and CDs. With nothing to lose, he made a deal to sell his Euro-pop in that store. What happened next was nothing short of magical. The entire community started to groove to the music and they made it their own. It’s just a theory. But it’s pretty cool if that was what really made this music popular. I think that we really connect to music when there’s a story behind it.

Even today, I often hear someone singing Modern Talking’s You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul into a karaoke machine while driving on my motorbike in the city. And that brings me great joy…

“I often hear someone singing Modern Talking’s You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul … [and] that brings me great joy…”

Which songs that you love didn’t make it into this mix?

I have to give honorable mentions to Warren G’s Regulate, Journey’s Open Arms. Hall and Oates’ ‘I Can’t Go For That’. Madonna’s ‘Crazy For You’. And Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’. 

Finally, can you describe the ten tracks that you’ve chosen?

It starts with The Cure’s ‘Lovesong’. It’s just a great song to blast out at full volume – there’s just so much emotion there. Next, we have REO Speedwagon’s ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ which I feel connects to all my childhood memories in some way. 

After that, there’s ‘Faithfully’ by Journey – because sometimes life feels like the circus they describe – and then Eazy E’s ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood’. It’s a West Coast classic, from ‘88, and the bass hits hard. Next, I’ve chosen Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. The red jacket he wears on the cover is so iconic. Then there’s Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ because we’ve all felt that at some time. Billy Joel’s ‘Vienna’ is also anthemic, and the lyrics contain lessons we all need to learn. Then we’re back with some classic West Coast rap with 2Pac’s ‘Dear Mama’ – because we all have to love our moms, right? 

Finishing the mix we have Toby Keith’s ‘I Love This Bar’ because it’s just so American. And finally, the track I talked about so much already – Modern Talking’s ‘You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul’. 

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