A Mennonite man from Manitoba trying to succeed as a professional rapper in Vietnam has already made headlines in the City of Hanoi.
By day Luc Loewen, originally from Steinbach, is an English teacher to young Vietnamese students intent on learning the valuable language, by night he is a rapper, mixing beats under the moniker ‘Nuce.’ Marrying his longstanding interest in music with his recent passion for travel was not something Loewen ever thought would be possible.
“I first started travelling in Vietnam three years ago and fell in love with it,” he says. “Then I went back to Canada, saved up money, sold everything I owned I had and moved right back. It is kind of surreal now that I am in Vietnam and I am a rapper… two things I never thought would happen are happening at the same time.”
In a music video for his new single ‘It’s Alright,’ Loewen is a motorbike taxi driver, an occupation not typically held by foreigners. The bizarreness of that turned heads at Vietnam News.
“I guess it is kind of an interesting concept that people saw and enjoyed and it actually got me onto Vietnam News here," Loewen says. "They did an article for me and I was in the paper for that.”
Loewen has only been making music on a semi-professional basis for about a year so the significance of this early publicity is not lost on him. “I’m definitely not a celebrity by any means, and it’s not like I’m walking around signing autographs or anything, but the music video did get quite a bit of attention.”
As a young person, Loewen says he was filled with angst, and often wrote down his angry feelings in prose or song form to process them. In many ways, it was this coping strategy that fostered in him the love of music that continues to this day. Though his outlook on life is considerably sunnier now than it was in his youth, Loewen says it is still his own thoughts, feelings, and experiences that characterize his lyrics.
“I’m trying to stay true to myself, who I am and how I grew up,” he states.
Being a former Manitoban entrenched in a Vietnamese hub has a notable effect on Loewen’s rap style. Indeed, the very first stanza of ‘It’s Alright’ offers a window into that swirling world of cultures:
“I was skinny looking like I hit the ice more than a Zamboni
Now I’m healthy with a belly full of macaroni
But up inside me the walls will close me in
Thoughts scrambled like the traffic in Ho Chi Minh”
While rap is not a popular genre in Vietnam, Loewen says a few local TV shows and musicians like himself are looking to change that. As he develops as an artist, Loewen is hoping to gain a better understanding of his immediate surroundings and incorporate more and more Southeast Asian influence into his work. That being said, even speaking in Vietnamese is tricky. Loewen says every tone has a different meaning which can be difficult for outsiders, like himself, to grasp. Nevertheless, he is hoping to pick up on the local dialect so he can have access to two full languages as he continues to create his rhymes.
“It’s a whole new world of wordplay that can be used when you have another language at your fingertips… but I think it will still be a while until I am fully rapping in Vietnamese,” he laughs.
There are a lot of English-speaking people in Hanoi and especially in the country’s capital, Ho Chi Minh, but in Loewen’s district, he is one of very few. Right now, to best understand what is happening around him, he relies heavily on his bilingual girlfriend who is from the region.
As for the name ‘Nuce,’ Loewen sheepishly admits that it does not hold any significance whatsoever.
“Ever since I was young and first started writing lyrics, I spent countless hours trying to come up with a rap name that was just perfect and had so much deep meaning and then, when it was time for me to choose a name and release my music, I was like, 'Nuce sounds cool, let’s just do that.' So it means nothing.”
Loewen says he has visited Steinbach a few times since he moved to Vietnam and is always surprised by how quiet, peaceful, and clean it is. Life in the metropolis of Hanoi is certainly different than it is in his hometown, and Loewen says he values the way both of them have and will continue to shape him as a musician.