The music-culture coffee shops of the mountains

Vietnam Heritage, February 2011 -- People go to Dalat to climb hills, wade springs, look at pine trees, waterfalls and French colonial buildings and take in cool air. In the rainy season, near the end of the year, some drink, play cards or go to the night market, in central Dalat, to buy cheap clothes or look in souvenir shops. There is the famous Tung Coffee Shop, by 3/4 (3 April) Cinema, mainly playing music of the past. But I went with a friend to Diem Xua music coffee shop, 20 Mimosa Street, not far from the city centre.
Inside, the place looked like a small theatre. A keyboard was played while guests arrived.
Soon, Khanh Tam, a woman of a certain age, sang with perfect pitch and melody, to rapturous applause. When she began the third song we heard, the place approached full, with larger groups and different ages, teen to 70.
An old man volunteered to go on stage. Applause. He went to the keyboard-player to ask for a note, and sang, ‘your thin, small shoulders are like wings of a heron from a distance’. It was a song by the late Trinh Cong Son. Applause.
A group of teenagers took the stage, with faster songs, rock and rap. The teenagers looked toward a young female singer and invited her on stage. She was well known to the audience. Huong Ca sang, ‘winds begin to blow and clouds come low in the middle of the mountain pass …’ Rapturous applause. Encore! Encore! (‘Bis!’ ‘Bis!’). But Huong Ca only bowed.
I had thought nobody could sing Trinh Cong Son as beautifully as Khanh Ly and changed my mind after listening to Khanh Tam and Huong Ca.
Huong Ca knew Vietnamese music and talked to young members of the audience about it. I asked how many such coffee shops there were in Dalat and Huong Ca named Cung To Chieu, Bich Dao, near Dinh 3, Trung Nguyen, Tung Duong in Phu Dong Street, Diem Xua in Mimosa Street, Thien Ha in Phan Dinh Phung Street and Quynh Huong in Co Giang Street. They all serve good-quality coffee and lots of other drinks for VND20,000 to VND50,000 ($1.03 to $2.56). Huong Ca said her favourite place was Huong Ca Coffee Shop [the same name as hers], in the basement of the Sammy Hotel, in Le Hong Phong Street, where there were singers who sang only Trinh Cong Son. The drinks were VND50,000 ($2.56) a glass for the first glass and the half-price for the second.

Bang Duong, Photo by Vu Xuan Quang
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