Sweaty but happy. That’s how Joss Berrett always feels after finishing a show. Even more so after the recent ‘The sky is where the limit is’ event at the Rec Room, as it was his first Rap performance. Despite playing music live many times before coming to Vietnam he never thought he would Rap on stage in his new home. The Australian spoke with The Guide about his time in Vietnam.
What do you think about ‘The sky is where the limit is’?
It was great. Although the place was not large the ambiance was vibrant, thanks to the enthusiastic audience of Vietnamese and foreigners. I was a little nervous at the beginning but they made me feel really excited. It was so much fun! I want to jump on stage and do it again!
You were still nervous despite having been on stage many times?
Yes, it was my first time Rapping. To be honest I’m always a bit nervous before a performance. But it’s a good type of nervousness, helps me get in the moment. I love the stage.
So you’ve never performed Rap before?
No. I have a deep interest in many kinds of music and I love listening to Rap but I’m a drummer.
So how did this happen?
Since I came to Vietnam I’ve seen amateurs rapping as well as awesome Vietnamese rappers such as Su Boi, Kimmese, and Hazard Clique. It makes me hungry for Rap, (just like your delicious dish of Bún Bò Nam Bộ) I’d never tried either of them before coming here. I see many opportunities in Vietnam now for Rap and Hip-Hop in particular and other kinds of music as well.
Can you tell us more about your life here?
When I decided to come to Vietnam in 2007 I just wanted to have a new experience as an English teacher in a strange place. I didn’t expect that I could follow my passion for music here. At that time it was hard for me to connect with what was happening musically in Hanoi because my language was limited and I wasn’t talking to the right people. But I soon realised that Vietnamese people had a great love for music. The ambiance at some live music avenues is great. So some of us expats found opportunities to play music, but mostly just as individuals.
Now, with the development of smartphones and social networks, we can connect together as a community to create and share everything. That helps our rock band, Dr. Peacock, find shows. Sometimes I’m also invited by other bands to play with them. There is a lot of space for music here but not many bands. That’s why after a long time practising and getting ready, I got the chance to Rap quite easily too.
It’s very different from back home. I started playing drums when I was 15 and performed in Australia but usually for free, as a hobby, and for money. There were many places for live music but also hundreds of bands. So the chance to play was small. It was the same in other places I lived in before and after Vietnam, such as Sweden and Central America. It was a bit better in Rwanda but still not as easy as in Vietnam.
Was that why you came back to Vietnam after leaving?
Sort of. Honestly, I missed Vietnam so much. I missed your tasty food. I missed my little students when they were cute and say ‘love me’ or when they told me they would never buy rhino horns after my lesson on endangered animals. I also missed my colleagues and adult students and also my local friends, who invited me to their house to celebrate Tet or took me to try traditional food and sing karaoke. I even missed the strangers who came up to me with their beer to have a toast and jump on the table together to celebrate Vietnam’s football team beating Thailand. Although I can’t speak much Vietnamese we spoke the same language that day. I learned a lot about the culture here.
Another thing I was able to do better in Vietnam was poetry. I have written a lot of poems here in Vietnam and read them on stage.
How did that opportunity come about?
My wife comes from the US, where The Moth, a story-telling competition for both raconteurs and novices, is quite common. We didn’t see anything like this in Vietnam so we wanted to introduce it here.
Then we set up Hanoi Slam, a non-profit community group dedicated to creating a space for story tellers with varying levels of experience and ability to share their passion in front of an audience. Everyone is welcome to tell their story with a poem, a song, a dance or anything creative. Each event also raises money for the NGO Humanitarian Services for the Children of Vietnam, so we contribute something to the country.
How was the response to Hanoi Slam?
There are around 60 to 80 people at every event. Many are new to it, including foreigners. We always get new faces every time and more and more of Vietnamese join too, both as slammers and in the audience. Some speak perfect English. We are expecting to have an event for Vietnamese poetry and songs in the near future. We may not understand what they say but it’s still very beautiful to listen to the rhythm of the words.
Did you slam in Australia?
No, I didn’t. I love writing and wrote some things in Australia just for myself. I met my wife in Vietnam and she inspired my love of poetry and we had the idea to start a ‘slam’ here.
So your family also began in Vietnam?
Yes. I met my life partner in Vietnam and my son was born here. Now he’s two years old. He follows me to the shows and tries to play his xylophone when he sees me practising at home. I hope he will enjoy it here, feeling at home both inside and outside.
Inside and outside?
When I moved to Vietnam to live I wanted to get lost here, both physically and spiritually. I love the feeling of riding down a new road in Vietnam, even more so when I’m not sure where that road goes. It’s a great to be in a different place and see where it leads me and what will be. After almost a decade here I’m still getting lost. I like the feeling of both comfortable and uncomfortable, as you become familiar with many things here but there is always something new to discover every day.