Many students and members of the public have really responded to Backtrack Vocals, a 5-person multi-genre a cappella group based in New York City, during the band’s tour across Vietnam from August 24 to September 6.
Obviously, the tour demonstrated people-to-people exchange that Genevieve Judson-Jourdain, Acting Culture Affairs Attaché, the US Embassy in Vietnam, called “very vibrant.”
It can be said that Backtrack Vocals become arts envoys in a variety of cultural programs that the US Embassy in Hanoi has supported, including culinary diplomacy, film, poetry, cultural preservation, and a number of projects that the mission is conducting in partnership with Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said Genevieve.
Backtrack had lots of opportunities to get to know Vietnamese artists and learned about the increase culture connection between the two countries.
"We were so excited and proud to be able to share a little bit of US culture with Vietnam, but I think one of the most exciting things to witness is some of the cultural exchange happened throughout this national tour,” Genevieve Judson-Jourdain told The Hanoi Times.
Sponsored by the US Mission in Vietnam and American Music Abroad, Backtrack Vocals held public concerts, master classes, and community outreach activities in Danang, An Giang, Can Tho, Ho Chi Minh City, Lao Cai, and Hanoi.
“We want to provide opportunities for cultural exchange, moments of connections, enjoyed process of music teaching from a band of New York City,” Genevieve said, adding that “It’s so amazing to see how music connects everybody and transcend all types of linguistic boundary.”
“We hope that by sharing our music with the people of Vietnam, we can strengthen the relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” Backtrack Vocals said in a talk with The Hanoi Times.
During the two-week tour in Vietnam, Backtrack Vocals joined in Danang well-known Vietnamese artists, such as Da LAB, My Anh, Buc Tuong, Kimmese, Brainwave, and more on stage at BridgeFest 2022, a music festival highlighting diversity, inclusion, and social issues in Vietnam, according to the US Embassy in Hanoi.
In the Mekong Delta, Backtrack Vocals also performed for hundreds of students and faculty at An Giang and Can Tho universities. Additionally, in Ho Chi Minh City, the American group conducted a singing workshop with students at the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory of Music and performed on stage with several students at a public performance at the Conservatory.
In Hanoi, Backtrack Vocals engaged with an audience of 300 in a public performance at the Youth Theater and held a musical exchange with several hundred students at the National University of Art Education. The group also traveled north to Lao Cai Province and held cultural outreach activities with students and lecturers at Lao Cai College.
Packed schedules could not make the young New York City artists less devoted to the audience. Their performances across Vietnam attracted a large audience and left a great impression on people, especially youth, in all places the band had performed at.
Nga Tran from Vietnam wrote on the US Embassy’s Facebook page: “Best performance with beatbox and pop singing” while Ryan Hubris from the US called it a “fantastic program.”
Among performances in Vietnam, BridgeFest, a large music festival in Vietnam, brings together popular artists from around the world and an audience of approximately 10,000 people. The entire audience broke into loud applause. Zim Saron at An Giang University is among the audience, commenting “You guys are great today. I’ve seen you perform, there’s really nothing to describe. The style you create is very cool and flamboyant.”
Do Khanh Quoc from Vietnam described the performances as “absolutely amazing”. Meanwhile, Khoi Minh Vo from the US simply said: “Love that you guys are bringing some a cappella to Vietnam.”
Apart from the music values benefiting the audience, the band also conveyed messages beyond melodies. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for students in Vietnam to explore the state-of-the-art music and musical trends from the United State,” said Pham Xuan Danh, Lecturer at Music Pedagogy Faculty, the National University of Arts Education (NUAE), Hanoi.
The model that Backtrack Vocals performed would help NUAE students in particular to maximize individuals’ competence and promote collective strength, he added.
From perspective of a lecturer, the band’s performances and style are helpful in recognizing the potential of students and helping them to achieve their full capabilities individually and collectively, Pham Xuan Danh told The Hanoi Times. The combination between individual abilities and the band’s method has formed its own style that is unique in singing, dancing, and expressing body language, he noted.
In addition, casual wear made it more convenient for the artists to express their style with details that are close to life, unlike the model that the majority of Vietnamese people have thought about. “Music should be regarded as a factor featuring the life and should be brought to life not only on stage or in lessons at school,” the lecturer emphasized.
Being passionate about arts education, in the US, Backtrack Vocals performed at 200 schools and they really want to “inspire confidence in the students and encourage them to follow their dreams whatever they might be.”
For Hoang Anh Quan, a student of Music Pedagogy Faculty, NUAE, the performance of a band from the United States offers him a great chance to learn about both music and culture which he called “advanced”. It would help change his thinking in musicology coupled with taking advantage of every opportunity to achieve goals. “What inspired me most is the band's journey from the first steps to the level of well-known artists,” Quan shared with The Hanoi Times, adding that he admired the way each member makes their own efforts and turns them into collective strengths.
“We had the privilege of conveying the same messages here to the students in Vietnam,” the band told The Hanoi Times.
Backtrack Vocals no doubt helped connect people from the two nations. “Traveling through the country of Vietnam has been such a joy for us. It’s very honored to represent the United States of America and we found so much harmony. All the students and people in Vietnam that we met here have treated us with so much kindness,” said the band.
“We hope that we may be inspired by your people to come and visit the United States. We would love to see some of the students at a Backtrack Vocals concert in New York City. That would be very fun.”
The tour to Vietnam has helped draw new audiences who all admitted that the music they convey is amazing. “We’re so thrilled to have new fans now in Vietnam. We have over 100,000 subscribers on our YouTube channel, and it’s been amazing to get to grow that number. We found such a joy in these fans as they’re very kind to us.”
Pham Xuan Danh said members of Backtrack Vocals are good examples representing the energy of youth. Echoing the lecturer, the bands said talking with the students in Vietnam has been incredible. “It’s great to get to know them and talk to them. They have so much drive and passion for what they’re doing. We’ve learned so much from watching them and their culture.”
Above all, both the artists and locals have great impressions of each other. They all expect another chance that music once again links them. “I hope you will have more tours, and more success in the future, and I believe you can. Let’s enjoy many interesting things when coming to Vietnam,” netizen Zim Saron expressed his hope.
In response, Backtrack Vocals said something that could not be nicer: “If we could come back to Vietnam tomorrow, we would. We are so excited to come back because of the kindness, the passion, and the talent that we’ve seen here.”
The group takes the stage around the nation at performing arts centers, corporate events, music festivals, schools, and more. They infuse heart and humor into every performance and cover genres from pop to Motown to classical, as well as perform original compositions.
Each member of Backtrack namely Melissa Jordano, Mike Hinkle, Craig Simonetti, Chrissy Aloisio and Xander Teplansky brings his or her own unique sound and personality to the group. The members are diverse in other ways as well including race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background. The five musicians celebrate and amplify each other’s differences and individuality and have learned the importance of listening, working together as a team, and embracing diversity.
Mike shared that to have a strong band, each member needs to listen to the others and concentrate while performing as they are singing while dancing.
Founded in 2013, Backtrack is quickly defining itself as a powerhouse a cappella group throughout it. The band got its start on YouTube, where the group now has over 10 million views. They’ve appeared on NBC, FOX, PBS, Steve Harvey’s daytime show STEVE!, Broadway’s Kinky Boots, and in December of 2020, they made their feature film debut in “A Ring for Christmas.” They were recently featured in an episode of HBO’s “PAUSE with Sam Jay” in July 2022.
Its awards and accolades are admirable, including Winner of 2019 New York’s Got Talent Season 6 Winners; Featured Track of 2018 Voices Only (vol. 2); Winner, 2017 Steve Harvey’s Sing Off; Best Beatbox, 2017 International Championship of A Cappella OPEN (Final); First place, 2017 International Championship of A Cappella OPEN (Northeast Semi-final); First place and Audience Favorite, Best Arrangement 2017 Aca-Challenge; and Winner, 2016 YouTube Next Up competition.
It's true that American Music Abroad artists represent the best of the new generation of US musical ambassadors, reaching beyond concert halls to interact with other musicians and the general public abroad.