Blind musician sings in the face of tragedy

Published: 09/05/2009 05:00



Blindness, poverty and the sudden death of his mother haven’t muted the musical talents of Blup Au from a village in the Central Highlands. Vu Cong Dien meets the man himself.

LookAtVietnam - Blindness, poverty and the sudden death of his mother haven’t muted the musical talents of Blup Au from a village in the Central Highlands. Vu Cong Dien meets the man himself.

Blup Au is no ordinary guy. At first glance, he looks like any other man from Tay Nguyen, the Highland area in central Viet Nam. He looks strong, with the typical tan skin and thick hair of a highland man.

But he is unique because he plays the guitar rather than one of the many traditional Tay Nguyen musical instruments.

And more importantly, he can’t see. He hasn’t been able to see for more than 20 years, ever since he lost his sight at age 5.

Instead of growing up like a normal kid, Blup Au grew up with a focus on listening, recording life’s sounds in his mind, and bringing them back to life through his musical talent.

People say that seeing is believing, but for Blup Au and the people in Ro Buop Village, listening and singing are where the truth lies. Blup U, the elderly leader of the village, told the story of the boy, in whose world sound comes before light.

God takes

Blup Au was born on Aguh mountain, where fog hovers throughout the year. His family lived in a small village called Ro Buop in Quang Nam Province with about 30 other families.

The last and only surviving child of the 5 his mother gave birth to, Blup Au was the his parents’ hope for the future.

When Blup Au was five, he contracted pink eye. His mother, Alang Thi Chin, used a variety of herbs and leaves she found in the forest to treat the disease without success. In her desperation, she remembered the bear bile she had stored away and decided to use it on his eyes. Three days later his eyes turned opalescent and he was never able to see again.

“She made a very big mistake. The use of bear bile was no different than putting burning coal on his eyes,” says Blup U, remembering the day in the village when everybody thought the boy’s life was over.

But that was not the only precious thing God took from Blup Au.

In 1995 the crops in Ro Buop village were invaded by squirrels, leaving the people hungry. “They came from Laos, and they were so aggressive, they ate everything,” tells Bhling Quoc, leader of the hamlet. “We all went squirrel hunting, there were so many of them. We made it through the hard times by trading squirrels for rice and salt with other villages.”

In Bhling Quoc’s story, Blup Au’s father, Blup Yeng, was an excellent hunter. After one fateful day of hunting, when his wife Chin was busy drying squirrels, a blind and hungry Blup Au went to his mother to ask for some cooking. He accidentally touched the gun, which his father had forgotten to lock, setting it off and taking his own mother’s life with a bang.

“It was tragic, that poor family, that poor woman,” sighs Blup U, looking down at the flickering fire.

God gives

However, between the time that Blup Au lost his sight and before the tragedy fell on his family, Blup Au had found something very important to him – a radio.

Back then, Arai Trua owned the only radio in the village and he would turn up the volume when music was playing. Blup Au would sometimes scare his mother by jumping up from his sleep and crawling to the door in order to hear the soothing sounds better. He remembered all the songs after hearing them twice and was able to sing along correctly.

After the death of his mother, Blup Au’s father bought him a radio to compensate for the loss. He spent day and night listening to the radio, sometimes even skipping meals to enjoy his favourite programmes.

In 2001, a group of students from the province’s Youth Association arrived to do some volunteer work in the village. They stayed for the night and put on a music show. Blup Au moved quietly forward, borrowed a guitar from the students, and played the instrument for the first time in his life, five songs in a row. Apart from his thrilling talent for singing, his ability with the guitar shocked every person present.

“God took away his eyes, and in return gave him ears that are better than even the small deer in the forest,” says Bhling Quoc.

A life less ordinary

Blup Au in now a strong, fully grown man. He doesn’t let his blindness prevent him from living an ordinary life. He goes alone into the forest to cut wood, brings back wild vegetables and sometimes crabs or snails he catches in mountain streams. He also joins the other young men in the village in building a dam.

And of course, he plays the guitar given to him by the student volunteers 8 years ago in his free time, and sings the songs of an ordinary life, a little more than ordinary.


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