The Making of a Vietnamese American Singer-Songwriter

Giana Nguyễn’s new album is coming out in two days, and diaCRITIC Thúy Võ Đặng is here to tell us more about the singer and her songs.

…‘G’ is also for Giang, a.k.a Giana Nguyễn, the Vietnamese American indie singer-songwriter from Orange County who will debut her new solo album, “For Now” on February 22, 2011. The album will be available through her website, www.giananguyen.com, iTunes, and Amazon. I’ve known her a long time, so in this post I will be going back and forth between ‘Giang’ and ‘Giana.’

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Giang came to the United States when she was five. She grew up in Orange County and has been active in the music scene there, particularly when there is a good cause behind the event. Recently, she lent her voice to the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) for their benefit gala.

Giana’s journey toward completing her polished and professional six-song E.P. (extended play) has been remarkable for her for many reasons, but what may interest our readers is how she has balanced her love for song and stage with a stable career in a wholly different industry. I’ve mentored many Asian American undergraduate students who yearned to explore the arts but felt obligated to major in a more practical (read: pre-med or engineering) field; I have seen a great deal of young talent stifled.

So, I think the Giana approach deserves some mention: finding harmony between passion and practicality may be entirely possible after all. When asked why she is releasing her music into the world now, Giana said, “I didn’t want my entire life to pass by and be left to wonder what might have been if I had followed my passion. Who knows where this will lead, but at least I won’t live with regret from lack of trying.”

For Now

“For Now” is produced by Barrett Slagle of ArtiSans Label Studios in Fullerton, CA. The piano-driven tunes are polished and radio-friendly pop/rock, backed by thoughtful singer-songwriter sentiments. The songs showcase Giana’s commendable vocal range, at times sweet and sultry, and others bright and soaring. Crafted through organic instrumentation, she credits fellow Orange County musicians, Tony T. Nguyễn, Chris Garcia (The Relative Strangers), Robert Gullage (The Steelwells), JC Cunninghan, and Slagle himself for “bringing my songs to life,” and ArtiSans’ sound engineer, Kyle Griffin, for “meticulously capturing their essence.”

I knew Giana when she was just Giang. She became Giana when she got her U.S. citizenship, but many friends from the past still call her by her Vietnamese name. We were girls growing up in working class neighborhoods in Orange County with fathers who befriended each other on the job. In our girlhood, Giang and I had similar precocious personalities and active imaginations; we built castles in the sky together and somehow these fantasy-scapes always included song and stage. We loved Tiffany and Debbie Gibson with the fierce loyalty of wide-eyed school girls. At first our adoration meant merely committing their greatest hits to memory, but we soon went one step further by penning our own lyrics to their music. Someday, we’d say, our silly attempts at song-writing would lead us to fame and fortune.

Life usually never pans out the way we imagined as children. Especially for children of immigrant or refugee families who often feel much more keenly the burden of making a comfortable living, for our parents’ sake. Giang was able to pursue her passion for music with the support of a generous and loving father in her childhood. She took piano lessons, she participated in the school choir, keeping song and stage a viable option for her future. However, when it came time to choosing a college major and career path, Giang went into the much more reliable field of Healthcare Administration at Cal State Long Beach.

Today she is a marketing and development professional in the health care industry, which pays the bills and feeds her dreams. But she has been pursuing music at every opportunity, from working with Vietnamese American pop singer Don Ho on his “New Wave Nonstop” album to her annual appearance in CHOC Follies, a musical that benefits Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

2009 CHOC Follies
Giana stars in the 2009 CHOC Follies, "The Pincess and the Prius"

New wave nonstop
Giana, Don Ho, and Vina

This balancing act hasn’t always been easy, but has proven to be beneficial in establishing a varied base of supporters and fans in Orange County. According to Giana, “Having balance is really important to me, so I’d always managed to keep a little bit of music in my life one way or another – teaching piano, singing here and there, participating in community theatre.” One of her CHOC Follies colleagues, Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, speaks highly of her talent, “Giana is one of the most incredible vocalist I have ever had the pleasure of hearing! What makes her voice ‘soar’ is her passion. With every word, she brings emotion…not only from herself, but from her audience. I have loved every moment working with her in the CHOC Follies.” Giana’s journey gives us a pragmatic model for delving into music with a solid professional career to back her up.

I lost touch with Giang when my family moved out of Orange County in the late eighties. I saw her briefly in my college years singing at her father’s wedding and I remember thinking to myself, “Giang has a gift she should really share with the world.” For about a decade we had no contact. When our paths crossed auspiciously at a Lee’s Sandwiches some seven years ago, we quickly pieced back together our friendship. President of ArtiSans Label, Michael Filson, describes Giana this way: “Giana–her voice and her music–is like a new friend that feels like an old friend. Once discovered, your reaction is, ‘where has this been all my life?’” Likewise, her friendship is both fresh and familiar. She keeps those in her orbit involved with her music and we never know what she’ll come up with next. But at the same time, she has a personality that is familiar and down-to-earth—a quality that resonates with her music. Her grounded attitude towards the music industry is quite admirable and can serve as a positive model for young people who cannot decide between passion and practicality. Why choose?

She will be performing her original songs at a live concert on Saturday, February 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Village Theater in Orange (1140 N. Tustin Avenue, Orange, CA 92867). Pre-sale tickets for the concert will be sold exclusively at giananguyen.com for $10, and $12 at the door. Giana Nguyễn will also be accompanied by a group of talented musicians including Tony T. Nguyễn (piano & acoustic guitar), Chris Garcia (drums), Craig Garcia (bass), David Anthony (lead guitar), and Molly Gutman (back-up vocals). Event sponsors include ArtiSans Label, Channel APA, King Graphic Design, Molly’s Music, and VAALA.

Check out her youtube channel to see what this songstress can do:

You can also find out more about Giana and her music by visiting her Facebook fan page. Also, check out Người Việt’s recent coverage and an up-close-and-personal interview on the SBTN show, “Heart to Heart with Kristine Sa” airing on Sunday, February 20.

~Thúy Võ Đặng

Thuy Vo Dang earned her doctorate in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, San Diego. She is working on a book examining Vietnamese American anticommunism. Her writing has been published in Amerasia Journal, Le Vietnam au Feminin/Vietnam: Women’s Realities, and Nha Magazine

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1 COMMENT

  1. Dear friends..my name is Truing Nguyen….pen name Qlectively. I have been writing songs, they come from a very deep, pure and sincere place, lyrics with melodies and all, but I have no way putting them into withbeats or instruments….will you give it a chance?

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