The 3 Hmong Artists Who Made Me An Instant Fan
Many people think all Hmong artists are best friends and hang out every weekend. But the reality is that as much as we share the stage, we barely have the time to connect beyond small talk.
“Hey! How’s it going?”
“Great! It’s so nice to see you again.”
“What have you been up to?”
“Oh, I’m working on a new project this summer.”
“It was great to see you again!”
“You too! Bye!”
Most of us don’t know each other as well as we’d like to.
So let me tell you that today’s blog felt really good to write. Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with a few special artists that I think you should know about.
While guests began to arrive at the 80s and 90s Music & Memories Concert in St. Paul, MN, a few of the guest performers, including myself, arrived early and hung out backstage.
None of us had ever been together in this proximity. We were all guests with really no host to introduce us to each other. And some of us were meeting for the very first time.
So the discomfort was a bit thick in the air.
(And there’s absolutely no pressure when two of the most popular Hmong artists of all time asks you to perform at their concert, said no one ever.)
Tou Chang Fang was strumming his guitar.
Daneng Hang was trying to stay calm being the first opening act.
Paj Yeeb Muas was pumping up her fans on social media.
And I, with my eyes closed, was solely focused on my breath.
Somehow, we found ourselves in a circle and began to talk. Not small talk. Real, deep, honest talk about our crafts, our challenges, and our dreams.
Tou Chang went first. Daneng next. Then Paj Yeeb.
Each of them had a unique story, and soon, I was sold.
You know how as a fan, more than the talent itself, you support someone because of who they are. You support someone because you genuinely like them and what they stand for.
After our talk, I genuinely came to like these three artists. I became an instant fan.
Tou Chang Fang is an accomplished singer-songwriter who can move a room with just his vocals and a guitar. When he serenaded the audience, I was backstage and I could feel the audience's silence on my skin. They were mesmerized. And beyond his amazing talents, Tou Chang is awake. He is genuinely interested in others. He is humble and giving. His energy is vibrant and caring. He is truly the good guy. Touly Vangkhue said it best when he shook Tou Chang’s hand after his performance, “Your future is bright.” So bright, Tou Chang.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Daneng Hang is ‘gentleman.' Because of him, chivalry is not dead. I’m sorry, sisters. He’s in a relationship, but you’ll be happy when you find out who he's with. As the first act, he was nervous backstage, but I didn’t feel that when he got onstage. He was so genuine, openly sharing with the audience that his longtime girlfriend, who was also in the audience, would be leaving for the National Guard in a few weeks. And then he dedicated and performed his original song, “Kev Deb Txiav Tsis Tau Kev Hlub” for her, while the audience melted. On top of his good heart, he composes, produces, arranges, and writes his own music. And personally, I appreciated that Daneng could own his craft and share that he has a gift for writing lyrics with such genuine humility. A gentleman indeed.
And finally, Paj Yeeb Muas. She is a comedian whose raving reviews from fans make me proud that she serves the Hmong community. At the concert, she brought laughter and joy into people’s hearts when she collaborated with Touly Vangkhue. In our circle earlier, we all talked about how challenging it is to create original work. I noticed that Paj Yeeb hadn't said anything, so I asked her for her thoughts. Everything she creates is all improvisation, she said. No script. No planning. Just pure, in-the-moment, heart-filled creation. Say what?! What I believe about Paj Yeeb is that the work she puts out allows her audience to receive relief, joy, and happiness, all vital emotions that our Hmong community genuinely needs. Because we were the final guest performers, I’m so grateful we had more time to connect (and cry). Like I told her, I can’t wait for the world to hear her story.
A few minutes before I had to go onstage, one of the staff members (Hi, Alicia!) asked me if I was nervous. I had to think.
Surprisingly, I wasn't.
There was no sense of competition, discomfort, or isolation.
Instead, I felt at home, supported, and connected.
All thanks to these three special artists: Tou Chang Fang, Daneng Hang, and Paj Yeeb Muas. Thank you for the sweet memories this summer. I genuinely look forward to next time and wish you three the very best in your endeavors!
Also, a warm thank you to Touly Vangkhue and Tsabmim Xyooj for bringing us together to create music & memories!
Until next time…
P.S. In this small Hmong artist community where the grapevine is short, it's important to establish positive relationships with others who are doing similar work. What I know after 12 years of creating professionally in the Hmong music community is that who you are personally will take you further than the talent you possess. People support people they like -- not just fans, but also colleagues and clients.
Be kind. Be humble. And get out of your comfort zone to meet others!