Cablegate: Youth Extravaganza Kicks Off 10th Anniversary Of

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

210146Z Apr 05




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Youth Extravaganza Kicks Off 10th Anniversary of
U.S.-Vietnam Normalization of Relations


1. (SBU) Summary: Post's Public Affairs Section (PAS)
organized its biggest-ever cultural performances in both
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to kick off the tenth
anniversary commemoration of the U.S.-Vietnam normalization
of diplomatic relations. A youth hip-hop break dance group
from Houston joined Vietnamese performers in friendship
concerts for over 4000 concertgoers in each city, both of
which were covered widely on television and print media. The
cultural exchange extravaganza and public relations triumph
came after overcoming challenges to obtaining permission
from the Communist authorities during a politically
sensitive time as Vietnam celebrates the "liberation of
Saigon." In the end, the event helped build trust with local
authorities and deepen appreciation of the freedom and
individuality characterized by American culture. End

2. (U) The largest public performances ever planned by the
Public Affairs Section succeeded in bringing the award-
winning youth hip hop break dance group from Houston,
Havikoro, to Vietnam as part of our year-long commemoration
of the tenth anniversary of normalization of diplomatic
relations. This performing arts event is the culmination of
Post's three-year efforts to bring outstanding performing
arts groups and is a vivid example of how we can reach
younger and broader audiences by looking to unconventional
sources within America's diverse music culture. Although a
striking departure from the usual classical or jazz programs
of our repertoire, this program injected new enthusiasm
about the United States into the general public and young
audiences in a country where 60 percent of the population is
under twenty-five years old.

3. (U) In the past, Post enlisted support from Government-
affiliated performance arts organizations and established
music conservatories when arranging cultural performances in
Vietnam. Utilizing the sponsorship of large Vietnamese
companies for the first time, PAS joined forces with the
nation's leading snack food makers and bakeries, Kinh Do
Foods, a film company and several American firms including
Johnson and Johnson and Sheraton Hotel, to orchestrate an
unprecedented cultural program with cost savings to Post.
American Voices, a non-profit organization devoted to the
better understanding of American culture and music, was the
U.S.-side sponsor, having worked closely with us on previous
projects to promote jazz and blues music.

4. (U) Beginning a week before Havikoro's arrival, PAS
created a buzz about the concert, making use of press
conferences, interviews and intensive publicity efforts to
generate interest. Often neglected by famous singers who opt
to perform in wealthier neighboring countries, Vietnam
rarely has the opportunity to roll out the red carpet for
foreign performers appealing to young audiences. The biggest
draw this year so far has been a small concert by Peter
Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary at the Hanoi Opera House,
which hit more of a chord with aging expatriates rather than
Vietnamese audiences.

The Elusive Permit

5. (SBU) Both PAS Hanoi and PAS HCMC received the official
green light from the GVN at the last minute, not an unusual
practice in Vietnam. In the past, officials have generally
asserted stricter controls in the capital city rather than
the more cosmopolitan south, where more of the entertainment
industry is based. Hanoi received the official permit only
one day before the performance and ConGen HCMC was forced to
cancel a workshop and only obtained permission hours before
the concert began. This reflects the GVN's and the Party's
continuing struggle with modern music and political
sensitivities to Western culture. Multiple letters and
calls to the Ministries of Culture and Information (MCI),
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local Party officials failed
to secure an early confirmation.

6. (SBU) One day prior to the concert in HCMC, the GVN
presented a variety of alleged reasons as to why the
Department of Culture and Information (DCI) would not grant
permission. They cited as one reason a PAS-held press
conference promoting the event that did not have a permit
from the DCI, despite the fact that PAS does not need
permission to hold press conferences. DCI also pointed to
"tax irregularities" in the business documents of one of our
local sponsors. Based on discussions with contacts, it
appears that the real reasons behind this initial decision
were GVN apprehension about the effects of hip hop music on
the youth of Vietnam and concern that our events to
commemorate the tenth anniversary of diplomatic
normalization could present a challenge to the GVN's
celebration of the 30th anniversary of the liberation of
Saigon on April 30. After intense last-minute lobbying
efforts, HCMC was able to secure permission for the event,
having encouraged local officials to look forward rather
than backwards, and citing the success of the event in Hanoi
two nights before, which had been devoid of any negative

Censorship: Before the Show Can Go On

7. (SBU) In an arcane display of Party oversight during
dress rehearsals in Hanoi, every Vietnamese performer was
required to appear on stage in full costume to perform their
act and face a stern panel of officials from MCI who were
chain smoking and exchanging nervous glances. At the end of
each act, the performer was instructed to approach the front
of the stage to face a series of questions from the Director
of Hanoi City's Department of Culture and Information about
the lyrics, the exact length of skirts or the loyalty of the
performers to the nationhood of Vietnam. Following this line
of questioning came an awkward lecture to the performers
about avoiding drug use, maintaining Vietnam's traditional
character and showcasing national pride. Performers bowed
and thanked the officials for the comments before returning

When Hip Hop Came to Town

8. (U) Post's workshop the night before the gala concert
aimed at exposing young music students at the Hanoi
Conservatory of Music to American culture and dance. In a
standing-room only crowd of 300 students, the four young men
of Havikoro, ages ranging from 18 to 29, talked about their
love of dance and hip hop, channeling this passion as an
alternative to drugs and crime, and described their journey
from humble origins in poor neighborhoods to their current
success. Their message, resonating with youth here, also
received approving nods from the MCI officials in the

9. (U) The next night, Havikoro lit up the stage for a
crowd of more than 4000 concertgoers at a friendship
concert, bringing together some of Vietnam's best and most
popular pop singers and dancers, including an ethnic
minority rapper and no less than four professional break
dance groups. Havikoro awed the audience with complex spin
moves, rapping, dj record-scratching and comic interludes.
The national television station, Vietnam Television (VTV),
Hanoi Television and a Reuters film crew were on hand to
capture the energy of the masses, and many major newspapers
carried stories about the concert the next day. In an
unusual move, VTV aired clips from the concert on its
evening news two nights in row, highlighting the bilateral
efforts to celebrate the tenth anniversary.

10. (U) Over 4,000 people also attended the repeat
performance in HCMC, while an overflow crowd watched from
large video screens outside. The space-ship style stage
featured huge projections of the Consulate General seal and
the logo for the 10th anniversary of normalization of
diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. The
carnival atmosphere at the stadium was accentuated by youth
doing spontaneous break dancing and a finale act that
finished off the evening in a friendly dance-off between
American and Vietnamese breakdancers. VTV's planned
complete broadcast of the concert in the coming weeks is
expected to reach 10 million viewers throughout the country.

11. (SBU) Comment: Cut-off from U.S. music influences for
almost three decades, Vietnamese youth have only recently
become aware of the hip-hop movement, inciting a gradual
emergence of hip-hop clubs and break dance associations in
Hanoi and HCMC. This month's Vietnam Airlines in-flight
magazine even includes an article touting the arrival of hip-
hop in Vietnam, with a special section on hip-hop fashion,
with baggy jeans replacing the red scarves of Communist
youth. Association with drugs and gangs by some forms of
hip-hop triggers uneasiness among the Communist government
about a genre of music they do not comprehend, but the
government's strict controls over so-called "cultural evils"
and "Western influences" appear to be waning as exposure to
foreign music rises.

12. (SBU) Particularly noteworthy is that, despite
difficulties with the permits, ultimately, local media
reported positively on the event, highlighting the positive
cultural exchange of American and Vietnamese youth. During
a month of endless propaganda news pieces about the Vietnam
War and the trumpeting of military prowess, a taste of hip-
hop and break dance provided a fresh reprieve to Vietnamese
audiences and heightened the positive image of American
culture and U.S.-Vietnam relations. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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