Geneva Miller for SOAR
31 May, 2012
“We Were Meant to Be a Gentle People” is a musical and literary project that combines an EP with illustrated chapbook to explore the history and culture of Vietnam. After her agent said her manuscript was “too literary” to market, writer and musician Dao Strom took the project to the Oregon Arts Commission and earned a Career Opportunity Grant. Now she seeks a new audience with an internet campaign at Indiegogo.com.
The Artist’s Process
Her intent is to visit the history of the Vietnamese people as “one voice among the many in a transitional generation.” Strom says the scope and complexity of the project is a reflection of the subject.
When she speaks of the Vietnam War, the first word on Strom’s lips is “paradox.” Neither the fight, nor the diaspora of the Vietnamese people, lend to a contemporary Western narrative structure—rising action leads the hero to a triumphant conclusion.
“The story is elusive, hidden, underground. It doesn’t have a through-line,” she said.
Strom describes South Vietnam in the years just before her birth as a temporary country roused by hope for a peaceful, modern future. Her mother, single with two children, fled Vietnam at the Fall of Saigon in April 1975. Only later in life did Dao learn that her birth father had survived and chosen to stay in Vietnam after 1975.
Strom says her mother’s identity was shaped by the fight and by her pursuit of Western-influenced feminist ideals. And she notes Vietnam’s history of repeated armed struggles and invasions.
“It’s an interesting legacy to have,” said Strom. “What is ‘Vietnamese,’ beyond this fighting and displacement?”
Strom finds some answers in Vietnamese folklore—and the tradition of “ca dao,” sung poetry. She is convinced that literature and music can help her readers and listeners form a more complex, diverse and realistic view of the Asian American experience.
“The war is over, but the cost of it is still apparent in the psychology and what parents are passing on to their children,” she said.
“The songs stand alone, but it’s a little richer if you read the text,” said Strom. The “Gentle People” chapbook includes historic and personal photographs. One “Time Magazine” image archived by her mother depicts children in a refugee camp, one of whom is Strom’s brother.
“It’s personal history along with the collective picture. I’m interested in the interplay of text and images, how the pictures help you read the text differently.”
Writing and prerecording are complete. To help fund physical production, Strom launched an Indiegogo campaign, active online through June 15.
Independent artist productions are commonplace these days, even among well known acts. The Ben Folds Five campaign on PledgeMusic.com is one example. Such grass roots projects are as much about direct fan communication as fund raising. Strom’s campaign opens her circle to a larger audience.
“This is the value of the internet and technology,” said Strom. “I can create the space that I need and find the community for work which I’ve been told is unconventional.”
Site visitors can preview the work, download songs and preorder the EP and chapbook. And the response has been encouraging. Fan feedback assures Strom that her work is meaningful.
Strom is the author of Grass Roof, Tin Roof (Mariner Books, 2003) and The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys (Counterpoint Press, 2006). She has two self released singer-songwriter albums. Visit Strom’s Indiegogo site for details about “We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People.”