5 Dong Ke, an eccentric name, signifies the individual characteristics from a group that made up of four (the fifth member, Giang Son, has moved on to be a solo songwriter) young and voluptuous ladies whose gorgeous voices blend together seamlessly to create breathtaking harmonies. What sets these girls (Bao Lan, Hong Ngoc, Thuy Linh and Lan Huong) apart from other bands is their willingness to explore new path. Their latest album, Tu Tinh Ca, which took two years to prepare, showcases their jaw-dropping a cappella techniques. And the most striking part about the band is the way these four talented musicians breathe together with a kind of connection that can only be accomplished through love, respect, practice and devotion.
Through Tu Tinh Ca, the girls transform familiar songs into their personal statements by daringly maneuvering around old song structures to create new sounds. With perfect intonations and rich melodic lines, they give Trinh Cong Son’s “Tien Thoai Luong Nan” a pure rejuvenation. Their a-cappella rendition, which filled with exquisite vocal harmonies, is one of the finest presentations on this particular composition. Their interpretation of “Ngau Nhien” is also an astonishing invigoration of Trinh’s work. The rhythm section is silky smooth; the tonal detail is exotic; and the snaring beatbox is off the hook. When the tempo doubles on the second half, the delivery is even more irresistible. The flow becomes instantaneous, and then the wordless vocals end the song with a stimulating novelty.
Besides Trinh’s music, 5 Dong Ke also recovers popular pieces of Nguyen Anh 9 and Tran Trinh. On the medley “Tu Tinh Ca”—which consisted of Nguyen Anh 9’s “Buon Oi Xin Chao Mi,” “Co Don,” “Loi Ve” and “Xin Nhu Lan May Trang”—the voices weave in and out of one another, complement each other’s thoughts, support each other’s lines, back up each other’s verses, share each other’s soul, and create a heart-to-heart musical conversation. Plus the changing in tempo, the whistling and the fingers snapping permeate tremendous energy and spontaneous vibes into the elivening performance. Even though their version of Tran Trinh’s timeless “Le Da” (lyrics by Ha Huyen Chi) is not the best I have heard, it is certainly a distinctive one.
With fruitful collaboration and tight integration between the members, the girls have created some of the most compelling and refreshing works in such a minimal style. Tu Tinh Ca is definitely impressive, but the length of the album is way too short (only four tracks, a medley and a bonus). An instant replay is almost required after the first spin. With a short list of tracks and without complicated orchestration, two years to complete the recordings seem like a long time, but the outcome is rewarding. It shows that the girls have invested a tremendous amount of time perfecting their vocal chords.