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Composer and musician Van-Anh Vo is collaborating with Asian Americans for Community Involvement to create The Odyssey—from Vietnam to America, a multi-disciplinary production about the spiritual odyssey of the Vietnamese Boat People and the emotional anguish and suffering they endured. Also collaborating on the music is electronic musician and composer Philip Blackburn.

Van-Anh Vo is one of the finest performers of Vietnamese instruments in the United States and a rapidly emerging composer. She has won national recognition and awards in Vietnam and the United States, including Emmy awards and an Oscar nomination. Her partner organization, Asian Americans for Community Involvement, founded in 1973, brings to the project decades of direct engagement with and services to Southeast Asian refugees, including medical care, mental health services, emergency shelter, advocacy, and more. Its storytelling program, Healing Legacies, encourages elder Vietnamese community members to share their life stories with their families and community.

For this project, the organization is facilitating interviews, historical research, and community participation among Vietnamese-Americans. At the time the grant was awarded, Vo already had conducted 17 such interviews, including a six-hour videotaped conversation with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and his assistant Sister Chan Khong. She also had at hand hundreds of aged documents, hand-written by Vietnamese refugees 35 years ago in Palau Bidong camp, Malaysia.

The musical work will use Vietnamese traditional instruments as the core sound, complemented by electronic music and Western instruments. Vietnamese folk songs, especially lullabies, will be an important part of the raw musical materials. The Odyssey’s premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.