By KEITH UHLIG
Wausau Daily Herald
WESTON, Wis. (AP) — She’s been called the “Hmong Adele,” but her fame so far has been found only among Asian Americans.
The Wausau Daily Herald reports that Maa Vue’s singing and music videos in Hmong have inspired more than 37,000 people to subscribe to her YouTube channel, and her music videos are watched millions of times. One video, “Rov Pom Koj Dua (See You Again),” a duet with another Hmong singer, David Yang, has more than 4.8 million views. That online popularity netted Vue a music recording contract with a Hmong-owned California company, Yellow Diamond Records.
Her performances resonate with young people who, like Vue, straddle the line between modern life in the United States and the ancient Hmong traditions that have been part of the ethnic group’s culture for generations in southeast Asia.
“My style of music was unique at the time.” She started singing professionally six years ago, Vue said. “I used a contemporary style with the Hmong language. … Now there are many people doing it. There are Hmong rappers, Hmong rock singers now.”
One of Vue’s primary goals is to preserve the Hmong language through her music, to help young people learn to speak it by approaching them in a way that resonates.
“The Hmong language, to me, is a dying language,” Vue said.
Along the way, she and other young musicians who use the same template ruffled feathers among traditionalists.
Traditional Hmong singing is very different from Western-style music; it’s more chanting than singing, and is not a melodic art form. Applying American musical styles with the Hmong language was not immediately embraced by elders who likely viewed Hmong pop as another form of diluting the culture.
The owner of Yellow Diamond Records, Tre Xiong, 28, of Merced, Calif., said the pushback from the elders has eased as Hmong pop music has shown its staying power and is proving to be a way to keep the language in use.
“Music is a universal language, and they’ve come to realize a new generation is embracing it,” Xiong said.
Mixing old and new to create a new form of music isn’t the only way Vue challenges traditional Hmong thinking. A young married woman traditionally would not travel alone, but she must as she performs in live concerts across the country.
When she first started singing, in a show choir in middle school in Green Bay, she hid her singing desires from her parents. When she continued singing in high school, she had to tell them, and they discouraged her from participating.
She stubbornly held out. Vue just loved to sing.
That’s where she picked up her love of pop and show-tune style music.
Vue was working a minimum-wage job, taking care of her mother who is diabetic and blind, while juggling school and choir.
“I was singing all kinds of songs, Beatles, Aretha Franklin, musicals,” Vue said. “I loved it. I loved singing. I loved performing.”
She was still a student at Green Bay East High School when she met her future husband, Hmong Zong Yang, who attended D.C. Everest Senior High School. Yang encouraged her to pursue her dreams, and his support gave her the confidence to work for a musical career.
Even as she sang and built her fame, she was studying business and arts management, first at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Marathon County and then at UW-Stevens Point. Vue put school on hold when her career gained traction and she began to earn a steady income from singing. She plans to return soon to get her degree.
Meanwhile, Yang is completing his degree at UW-Stevens Point where he studies computer information systems. He has no ambition to step into a spotlight.
“I just want a normal, 9-to-5 job,” he said, although he has been working to create video games.
As for Vue, she plans to slowly ease out of her performing schedule to focus on producing and working with Yellow Diamond Records to aid other young performers.
“I think this is leading me to a higher calling,” Vue said, “to create a more impressive Hmong music industry.”