Mai Khoi

Musician in Residence, 2020-2021

Mai Khoi, is a Vietnamese musician and composer, and a former musician in residence at SHIM:NYC. Khoi rose to stardom in Vietnam in 2010 after winning the Vietnam Television song and album of the year awards. With her stardom, however, came increasing discomfort with government censorship, and an ever-increasing desire to write and perform songs that reflected her experiences in an authoritarian country. Aiming to reform the system from within, Mai Khoi nominated herself to run in the National Assembly elections on a pro-democracy platform. Her unprecedented campaign sparked a nationwide debate about political participation and culminated in a meeting with Barack Obama in May 2016 during his state visit to Vietnam. 

Shortly after, Mai Khoi started the avant-garde dissident trio Mai Khoi Chém Gió (“Mai Khoi and the Dissidents”) and the group released their debut album “Dissent” in 2018. Working at the intersection of art and activism, Mai Khoi has developed her most personal musical style to date. Her new sound is an emotionally-charged fusion of free jazz and ethnic Vietnamese music, with her most political, yet personal, song lyrics ever. Mai Khoi has led efforts to promote freedom of artistic expression in Vietnam for which she was awarded the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. Her activism has, however, come at a high price, and severely impacted her life in Vietnam. She has had her concerts raided, been evicted from her house, been detained and interrogated by the police, and, since the November 2019 world premiere of the documentary “Mai Khoi and the Dissidents” at DocNYC, been unable to return to her home in Hanoi. Mai Khoi spent the six months of her SHIM:NYC residency developing an autobiographical song cycle titled “Bad Activist”.