It happened on March 24, 2012 at my alma mater: the University of Wisconsin, Madison. GO BADGERS!
I was invited by the Hmong American Student Association (HASA) to perform three songs at their event, “Rise to Stardom.” The event was also highlighting how storytelling play a big part in the Hmong culture. From folktales to recording history, it was through oral storytelling that my culture is still alive today.
With that intention, HASA also wanted me to share the story behind my songs. I was excited. I once watched a 30-minute concert by India.Arie, and she only performed 3 songs during the whole show. Aside from her voice & music, it was her stories that took my breath away. From that day on, I knew I wanted to put on a show as great as her.
So yes, I was very happy to share the stories of my songs.
But what does this have to do with my new album, Plhis Suab?
As I sat down in my seat after performing the three songs, I remember there were several more acts to follow, and the MC noted that our time was limited that evening.
From the corner of my eye, I could see a young man walking across the audience towards me. I was about to move so that he could pass by easily, but he stopped right before me.
“Hi, I really enjoyed your performance. I also appreciated the stories you shared. But I noticed something. You didn’t share a song that’s your story. Do you have a song that you could sing tonight that’s your story?”
I realized then that the three songs I had chosen were stories about someone else.
Cia Rau Txoj Hmoo was a painful love story of a sister.
Txoj Phuam Txoom Suab was an emotional story of many married Hmong women.
Txheej No Tseem Zoo Li Txheej Thaud was a heartbreaking love story of a friend.
No words were coming through. Only sweat. And what was only a 2-second pause felt like 2 hours long.
I didn’t want to look like a fool, but I didn’t want to lie to him either.
“Uh, thank you. I honestly don’t know if I have one,” I said. Looking at the stage and trying to lessen the guilt, I added, “And it looks like we’re actually tight on time too. I’m so sorry.”
He was very kind and understanding. He quickly bid farewell. But that wasn’t the end of the story. I was left with a bittersweet feeling.
At that time, I honestly didn’t have a song that was truly my story. I had had a few songwriters who helped write songs with and for me in my first two albums, but I hadn’t written one that was mine.
And here’s why.
It’s scary to tell your truth, your story, especially when it’s a difficult part of your past. But after this young man approached me, a fire lit from within. I wanted, I needed to tell my truth, my story just as boldly as I told others’ stories through song.
So four years later, this story is a reason for why Phlis Suab exists today.
Instead of one song, I created a whole album filled with many personal truths and stories, and that’s made Plhis Suab my most favorite album yet. I genuinely hope to share the songs with you like India.Arie did on a live stage, one day soon.
So to the young man from UW-Madison, if you’re reading this, thank you. You and the rest of my beautiful fans are a BIG reason why I get to & choose to do what I do today.
Now, it’s your turn! What did you think about this story? What do you think about telling your own story through what you do? I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time…