Several years ago I attended a work-related conference in Montréal--sweet deal for me, right? Well, yes and no. It was, after all, a conference and I worked all day and many evenings.
One evening after the workshops and other events had ended, I decided to walk back to my hotel rather than get on the subway. I thought it would be a nice way to explore a bit of the city. As it turned out, the route from the convention center to my hotel took my right through Montréal's Chinatown, on the edge of which was situated one of the largest Vietnamese video and CD stores I've ever seen.
Naturally, though I was exhausted and starving, I wandered in. And spent what probably seemed to the shop keep like hours poring over the CDs. Before long the shop keep, a woman who seemed to be about my age, began asking me the usual questions:
"You like Vietnamese music? You speak Vietnamese?" Yes, no. We talked a bit--I explained that I was a tourist from New York, which seemed to be provide her with enough explanation as to why I'd walked into her store that she loosened up and began to make suggestions. She also told me a bit about her family, who were part of the first wave of Vietnamese immigration to this continent in 1975.
I returned to the store every evening thereafter until the end of the conference and the shop keep each night would recommend several other titles for me to try. She would provide some context for each recommendation, talking about the specific importance of this or that singer, and who they might be similar to in western culture.
If I remember correctly, she described Thái Thanh as a kind of "blues-y, jazz-y" singer along the lines of a Sarah Vaughn--a description that, actually, was fairly apt. I'm almost certain she recommended Thanh as a personal favorite. In any event, I'm really grateful for her recommendation: this is the only CD I've yet managed to find by this particular singer, and her voice is decidedly fabulous.
Soon after I moved to New York City in 1997 I began to notice that bodegas run by people from around the world sometimes stocked CDs and DVDs of music and film from the countries they had come from.
The music I've collected from these bodegas can almost never be found in the "World Music" sections of the few remaining places to buy CDs in the U.S.; nor, for that matter on iTunes (or cheapo MP3 sites like Soundike).
If you are an artist or publisher and do not want your music here, just let me know and I'll remove it.