Since landing and immersing himself in Vietnamese culture, Alberto Prieto’s been busy. Co-founder of Saigoneer, that has grown beyond an English language news portal to publish Urbanist Hanoi, and a Korean language version of their hometown content, Alberto is also a force behind the Saigon Artbook project. He DJs too. So we asked Alberto for ten of his favourite tracks.
Read on in Vietnamese
Hailing from Madrid, Spain Alberto started off as a software engineer. Then an exchange program for his Master’s degree brought him to Saigon. He stepped off the plane. Stepped onto the Vietnamese tarmac. And that was the moment he started immersing himself in Vietnamese culture, including learning the language. He loved some aspects. Hated others. “All relationships are a mixture of love and hate,” Alberto half-smiles, “and there’s nothing like my relationship to my Vietnam.” Despite that Saigon has been generous to him. It’s given him many life lessons and unforgettable experiences. So, he wanted to give back.
To do that, he started the online lifestyle magazine Saigoneer with his business partner Brian Letwin in 2012. It was a celebration of Saigon. At the time, they were both working full-time jobs at cafes. “RIP Decibel Lounge,” Alberto says nostalgically. But Saigoneer has grown to become an essential portal into Vietnamese life and culture. And the Saigoneer family has grown to fifteen full-time staff.
Alberto also worked on building Saigon Artbook. SGAB, as it’s also known, is a non-profit organization meant for spreading awareness of contemporary art culture in Saigon. It’s a dual mission, encouraging blossoming artists to stick to their path and encouraging audiences to engage. In addition to the book itself, that provides exposure for visual creators, SGAB also hosts art talks, workshops, and exhibition parties for each launch.
“SGAB really forced me to transform from web developer and designer into a businessman, a photographer, and a videographer,” Alberto nods, “but my mum still refers to me as Little Smurf.”
So, we asked Alberto to be the latest star of our Guest Mix series and took him to a District 10 karaoke for the shoot.
What life lesson has music taught you?
Ever since I was a little boy, music has lived in every nook and cranny of my life. I remember my teen years when I would find hiding places to listen to weird, cheesy music. It was my vice, and I didn’t want people to judge. It was the ‘80s and ‘90s. The world ran rampant with social cliches and constructs. Now, I know better. I don’t have anything to hide anymore. Lesson numero uno: Give less of a damn.
What sparked your passion for music?
In school, I definitely did not excel in music class. They made us play the flute. I was like, “Nope!” It wasn’t until I finished high school that I realized how fun music was. I started bass guitar lessons then, and this added a whole new layer to my life. I was enamored by those instruments and amazed at all these new possibilities that materialized before me. I joined two bands. I played on many stages and even recorded live.
Fast forward a few years, and I started my own band, Los Granitos de Arena, Spanish for “grains of sand”. We played across all of Spain, even in Portugal and Italy. We had 10 members. It was totally freestyle! Always with this great energy, especially at live gigs. We could start with funk and finish with flamenco. For the musician in me, this was the best time of my life.
How did your career evolve after your move to Vietnam?
In 2010, I left Los Granitos de Arena for a new life in Vietnam. It actually hurt not playing a musical instrument any more. I decided to get a bass guitar. But after the purchase, it sat there unused until 2018 when it was time to be in a band again. In fact, I started two new bands. I couldn’t have big bands like before. Musicians that I found were already involved in other bands and busy with jobs and families. They had no time to fully commit in a project of that magnitude. More or less, I felt music-deprived. After a few years, I had another idea for addressing this musical drought. I created The Cube, a project to build up the alternative scene.
Unfortunately, the market wasn’t mature enough, and The Cube died. I didn’t come out empty-handed though! I learned useful basics of lighting and sound. And overnight, I became a DJ, playing Latin music for dancers of Saigon’s vigorous Latin scene. To this day, I am a resident DJ at Cuba La Casa Del Mojito. Come visit me on Thursdays.
What was your first meaningful experience in music?
Some of my first memories of music happened in my father’s car. I’m in the backseat, singing and dancing to Madonna, the Bee Gees, and Michael Jackson. We also loved disco and flamenco. Then I became this introverted teen. I was too self-conscious to let my body groove with the rhythm. But thanks to my auntie and sister, I rediscovered my love of dance. My technique is unorthodox, but I can pull out any kind of dance. Any time. Any where.
How does music fit with your daily life? When are where do you listen?
If you ever see me out, there will be a pair of headphones in my ears. Life is nothing without a soundtrack. And we’re lucky in this day and age, where we can make our own. There’s a song to enhance every single moment. One of my favorite parts of my Saigon life is eating com tam singing loudly my local aunties – the com tam vendors – after a big night out.
How have your listening habits evolved?
I started with a lot of Latin genres. Influences from all of Europe. Of course, the American-made tunes that flood the entire globe. (Another fun fact – as a highschooler I was super into Japanese culture, manga, and anime. Naturally, I listened to lots of Japanese music.)
When I came to Vietnam, I listened to Vietnamese music for the first time. I heard the good, the bad, and the ugly. It permeates the culture, with its blasting blown-out speakers, alcohol-fueled karaoke, broken operatic “cải lương”, sappy teen pop, and absolutely evil Vinahouse.
But, karaoke is an amazing tool – I learned a bunch of Vietnamese, made a bunch of friends.
What’s the most underrated genre of music? And the most overrated?
Flamenco. Because it’s exotic. While the people who do know about it definitely respect it, very few know about it. Even in Spain, the very cradle of Flamenco, it’s taken for granted.
Flamenco is like good wine. It takes years to develop a taste and sensitivity for it. But when you’re able to enjoy it, no pop music does the trick like Flamenco. Pop music, to me, is like cheap wine.
What do you listen to secretly when no one’s around?
I have no secrets anymore. I embrace all kinds of music with pride. One objectively embarrassing album I adore is Smile by the Swedish band Smile.dk. Smile came out in 1998 and comprises 10 cutesy, danceable, upbeat tracks.
You have one track to make someone love music. What do you play them? Why?
“You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees. I just love its groove. And to love music the first step is to move your ass. But to understand who I am, have a listen to “Move Bitch” by Ludacris.
What song would you like played at your wedding? And which at your funeral?
“Tunak Tunak Tun” by this crazy Indian guy Daler Mehndi. I would want him at my wedding in-person to perform it. The show will be wild.
At my funeral, play Peret’s “El Muerto Vivo”. The lyrics read, “He wasn’t dead, he was partying.”
What mood should your mix put the listener in?
The listeners of this playlist will feel like a majestic emperor or empress. I am a colorful rainbow of love and good vibes. So too is it this mix.
Where would be the perfect place to listen to this mix? Why?
This is mix is best enjoyed chilled. Eyes closed. But it’s adaptable – bring this mix from grocery shopping to working at a cafe to commuting in horrible traffic. It works anywhere.
Can you describe the ten tracks you’ve chosen?
This is no minimalist stuff. More is more. We start with a track by Ana Tijoux, an artist who represents “mestizaje”, or miscegenation, and a fusion of styles from different places. Her sexy song “1977” is in Spanish, as Ana is half French and half Chilean. Another Spanish song is up next. Rosalía’s downtempo “Pienso En Tu Mirá” is just one of a whole album of Flamenco masterpieces. She expertly fuses many styles with very modern production techniques. This woman is next level.
We then switch gears to a male Latin artist, Javier Ruibal. But he sings the praises of women. Javier’s track is titled “Isla Mujeres”, or “Island of Women”. Next, more Latin because Latin takes up a lot of space in my musical heart. This time, Salsa. Relax into Willie Colón’s “Idilio”. If you understand Spanish, listen to the lyrics. They’re beautiful.
Then, I shake you all up with “All of Us” by Fakear. Although it comes from the West, it has this nice Eastern-type melody. Kinda trippy and definitely a mood enhancer. We go on to another good vibe song, Roosevelt’s ‘Colours’ is a good one to follow, changing the mood from more psychedelic to more groovy. We stay in the retro theme for my next track, Yoko Takahashi’s “Cruel Angel Thesis”. This represents my teen years. I’ve heard this countless times, but every time I hear it I’m happy and ready to embark on some adventure. To make you guys feel calm and sensual, Marcus Miller’s jazzy “La Villete” is here. And no playlist is complete without some power-bass and slap. To close off the mix, we slowly come back to European roots. French songstress Claire Pichet lays her sweet voice over piano played in the style of old European culture. Mozart’s “Symphony No.25 in G Minor” is the cherry on top. We, of course, have to finish the mix with the greatest musician ever.
Photos by Khooa Nguyen and Nam Tran Duy. Edited by David Kaye.