Vietnamese dissident living in exile in Pittsburgh launches new music show about her life
At home in Vietnam, Mai Khoi rose to fame as a pop star. But globally, she is now best known for the political activism that led her to a life of exile from her native land.
This week, Mai — who has lived in Pittsburgh since 2020 — brings her music and activism together in a new way with the premiere of “Bad Activist.” It’s a multimedia show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse featuring Mai and a six-piece band as she tells her life story in song.
In Vietnam, Mai’s music career began to take off around 2010, and by mid-decade she was touring internationally. But in a nation that tightly censors all media, his flamboyant style and outspoken defense of personal freedom — not to mention his bid for political office — has drawn increasing scrutiny. Authorities harassed and persecuted Mai and her family, eventually driving her into hiding.
In recent years, her activism has earned her awards including the Vaclav Havel Award for Creative Dissent and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award for Free Speech.
She emigrated to the United States in 2019 and came to Pittsburgh thanks to the Global Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh and groups such as City of Asylum and the local International Free Expression Project.
“‘Bad Activist’ embodies the work of the International Free Expression Project in exalting creative expression while demanding the protection of everyone’s right to free expression,” said Greg Victor, Founder and CEO of IFEP. “It’s a way for Mai Khoi to vividly showcase the exceptional courage, activism and artistry that have made her one of the world’s leading human rights defenders.”
“We need to help and support each other to build our society better and better every day,” Mai said.
An early version of “Bad Activist” was recorded and released online in early 2021. Mai said the premiere features new songs, new arrangements, a more developed storyline, and a new production design.
The show is at 7 p.m. at the PNC Theater. For more details, see here.