‘War does not determine who is right, only who is left’. Bertrand Russel In March 1967 Billy Bang was conscripted to fight one year in the jungles of Vietnam, an experience that left him emotionally desolate and profoundly confused about his american identity. Upon his return he tried to forget his nightmares through alcohol, drugs and music. Fourty years later he decides that the only way he will be able to repair his emotions and find some closure to his trauma is to return to Vietnam, this time with his violin. ‘Redemption Song’ documents Billy Bang’s brave return to the battlefields of his past, fraught with memories and flashbacks, in contrast to the ebullient youthful Vietnam of today, as he encounters a people and a culture that he had never known and had been taught to hate. His journey takes him through the rich musical traditions of Vietnam, from Saigon and the Mekong Delta, north across the 17th parallel and climaxing with his collaboration with the Hanoi symphony orchestra. ‘Redemption song’ is about Billy’s desire to overcome and transcend the trauma of war through music and art.
“Though I can’t recall exactly when it was that I first heard Billy Bang, I have a strong feeling it was a Soul Note LP that he did with Sirone and Frank Lowe in the early Nineties. I learned that he’d been a member of Sun Ra’s arkestra and felt he deserved a place alongside fellow violinist Leroy Jenkins and cellist Abdul Wadud. Back in 1991 he put out the first of two albums that reflected on his experiences as a draftee into the Vietnam war. ‘Vietnam – The Aftermath’ which prompted us to interview him for Straight No Chaser. The story was riveting. This was a man who reached the rank of sergeant and arrived back in Amerikkka, traumatised and radicalised. After joining an underground Black liberation group his knowledge of weapons earned him a trip to the south to purchase guns. However, during that trip he came across a violin – an instrument he learned as a kid – and decided to forget the guns and pursue the music. He went on to play with Don Cherry, Sam Rivers and Dennis Charles. The violinist formed a strong working relationship with Kahil El’Zabar – check the Ritual Trio – and nu skool avant-gardists like William Parker. I was a fan and more than hyped when If Music don Jean-Claude invited me to meet a filmmaker. Markus Hansen and the film, ‘Lucky Man’, which documented Billy Bang’s return to Vietnam. I was blown away. There were no punches pulled as we got to see this former GI – “a tunnel rat” – deal simultaneously with the people he once viewed and treated as the enemy while negotiating his own trauma and emotional turmoil. This film boldly documents the musical redemption, the journey to the light, that Billy Bang experienced as a result of that trip to the heart of darkness”. Paul Bradshaw – Straight No Chaser
…like Bang’s life and music, the process of this film is a wild, harrowing, and often beautiful ride. As Bang himself puts it in the movie after a particularly moving musical collaboration: “What a journey, my friend.”Thomas Maresca Asia Life 2010