‘We, Bao Chan and the Buddha know’

Even though Hong Nhung first performed the song Tinh Thoi Xot Xa (Love’s No Longer Bitter) about 12 years ago, the song and its composer are back in the headlines.

Earlier this week, the Japanese music producer Kazu Matsui wrote a letter to the Vietnamese media alleging that composer Bao Chan had copied his wife Keiko’s song Frontier as Tinh Thoi Xot Xa.

“When we listened to Tinh Thoi Xot Xa, we were shocked,” Kazu wrote in English, in his letter to the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

“Since the two versions are exactly the same tune, not just some sections are similar, nor some ideas are copied, but the whole tune is copied,” he wrote.

The jazz musician and composer Keiko Matsui recorded Frontier in 1991 and released it a year later on her record Cherry Blossom.

Kazu said he was alerted to the situation after being contacted by Vietnamese music lovers.

Tinh Thoi Xot Xa was first sung by Hong Nhung in1992 but was not well-known in Vietnam until it was recorded by heart-throb Lam Truong in 1997.

“I wrote Tinh Thoi Xot Xa in the 1980s but I cannot remember the exact date because I lost the draft,” Bao Chan told Tuoi Tre. He said he used part of the song when he composed background music for the film Nuoc Mat Hoc Tro (Student Tears), which was directed by Ly Huynh.

An overseas Vietnamese singer also performed Tinh Thoi Xot Xa for Viet kieu communities from 1986-1987, he told Tuoi Tre.

Bao Chan said he doesn’t dare think Keiko took his melody and said he wanted to confirm that he had not been influenced by the Japanese.

There is a reason why he says his song was not influenced by the Japanese. The tune was recorded with English lyrics as background music for the Super Mario Brothers game before we used it on Keiko’s album,” Kazu said.

“Bao Chan knows, we know and Buddha knows the facts,” he wrote.

“These coincidences were common in music. It is simply because the melodies were composed based on a feeling, and the two composers may have experienced similar emotions,” Bao Chan said.

The general secretary of the HCM City Musicians Association, Ca Le Thuan, disagreed and told the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper that it was rare for similar ideas to result in similar tunes.

Bao Chan told Thanh Nien that he was collecting evidence to prove Tinh Thoi Xot Xa was his work, even though it would take time.

On Tuesday, the composer took part in a forum on the Tuoi Tre website where his fans expressed their disappointment at his “vague” answers that were “not strong enough to defend himself”.

In his letter to that paper, Kazu wrote, “I don’t want to use the word ‘stolen’, but in this case, he copied whole tune with, and also, saying that he composed it. That is very wrong.”

“If this happened in the US, our management company and publishers (would) take this case to the court and we can win easily. But we are not sure what we should do,” Kazu wrote.

According to Pham & Lien Danh legal partner Dao Anh Tuan, there are no bilateral copyright agreements between Vietnam and Japan. Dao Anh Tuan also said Vietnam was not a signatory to the Berne Convention.

However, a lawyer from the HCM City Lawyers Association said he believed the Japanese couple could use the copyright agreement reached between Vietnam and the US, which also protects citizens from any country that had signed copyright agreements with the US.

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