One of Slovakia’s most popular independent bands recently toured Vietnam, with its half-Vietnamese member emboldened with immense pride by his kin and fatherland.
Smiles never faded from the face of Mario “Smasho” Vasko, 37, during Lavagance’s performing tour through Vietnam, his biological father’s home country.
The indie pop band from Bratislava gave fiery performances at the 2016 European Music Festival in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi on November 29 and December 1.
Though Vasko’s music career spans 10 years, his Vietnam performances are his most memorable, with the gigs ending to the applause and pride of his loving Vietnamese father with whom he was recently reunited after almost 40 years, his half-siblings, and paternal relatives.
Vasko grew up in the care of his maternal grandmother and rarely met his mother, who lives far from him with a new family.
His mother never mentioned his father.
At eight or nine, the boy was shocked to uncover his birth certificate with the name of his mysterious Vietnamese father crossed out.
Though haunted by nagging questions about his unknown father, the teenager was set on making the best of his sad story.
Vasko’s Vietnamese heritage made him a target of ridicule as a child, inspiring him to begin campaigning for human rights and an end to racial discrimination when he turned 16.
Mario “Smasho” Vasko (center) and his Vietnamese biological father (right) in Hanoi. Courtesy of Mario Vasko
Ten years ago, with encouragement from a friend of Vietnamese origin, Mario posted a search notice for his father, along with a photo from his youth, on vietinfo.eu, a website for Vietnamese-origin expats in East European countries.
Despite the power of the Internet, Mario had his doubts about the search.
For years Mario’s search went silent. Then, in 2014, eight years after his post, he noticed a missed call from a Vietnamese number on his phone.
Mustering his courage, he called the number and soon found himself in tears while the man on the other end hummed a Slovakian folk tune.
He knew instantly that the man was his father.
Mario’s father, Bui Van Hoa, now 62, lives with his family in Dien Chau District in the north-central Vietnamese province of Nghe An.
Hoa told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in a phone interview that he asked another son to embark on the search for Vasko, his eldest, shortly after a friend in Slovakia notified him of Vasko’s hunt.
Mario “Smasho” Vasko (first, right) poses with his newly found family. Courtesy of Mario Vasko
“I had held a conviction that my eldest son would look for me someday. That day finally came,” he said.
Since their phone reunion, the father and son often spoke on Skype.
Hoa laughed on the phone as he revealed the Vietnamese name he had given to Vasko: Bui Van Mario.
The conversations evoked Hoa’s Slovak vocabulary and fond memories of his time as a bartender in the former Czechoslovakia and two-year romance with a local girl, who later gave birth to Vasko.
Hoa flew home Vietnam in February 1979.
Thirty-seven years later, in April 2016, Vasko flew to his fatherland.
Mario “Smasho” Vasko. Photo: Tuoi Tre
He proudly added that among his four sons, Vasko takes after him most.
Meanwhile, Vasko admitted he was speechless at the rapturous welcome from his relatives upon his arrival at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi in April.
Over the next two weeks, his father guided him through the province and threw a big party to introduce his son to neighbors and relatives, including his younger half-brothers and half-sister who find him adorable.
Several times during the trip Vasko was moved to tears, as he began to feel the bond between himself, his roots, and his kin strengthen inside him.
During his second homebound trip in late November and early December 2016, Vasko’s band, Lavangance, took part in the European Music Festival in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
The man then rode his bike to localities across Nghe An Province, making friends with locals along the way.
Mario “Smasho” Vasko, or Bui Van Mario, plays the guitar in his fatherland. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Vasko was surprised that audience members lingered after his shows in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to ask questions of his quest for his father.
He gave entrancing performances in the presence of his two younger half-brothers in Ho Chi Minh City and proudly played for his father and several relatives in Hanoi.
“Whenever I marvel at a beautiful spot in Vietnam, my Vietnamese friends remind me it is also my home country,” Vasko said, adding that he frequently refers to Vietnam and its food as “amazing,” “lovely” and “delicious.”
The self-proclaimed “dreamer” says he has finally fulfilled two of his biggest life dreams: finding his own father and performing in his “daddyland.”
He has eyed the Monsoon Music Festival, Vietnam's biggest music event, and other fests with foreign elements for more opportunities to shine in Vietnam.
“I don’t think I need to travel elsewhere to perform. I’m home here,” the artist with the tall western build and glittery Oriental eyes stressed.
Vasko currently works for Markíza, Slovakia’s largest private television group, as a talent-hunter for its programs.
His job allows him to meet people from all walks of life, including top celebrities and the underprivileged, who he profoundly relates to.
His latest photo post on his personal page captures a female peddler on Phu Quoc, a paradise retreat in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, weighed down by a pole on her shoulders.
Mario “Smasho” Vasko (first, right) and other band members are pictured during a show.
Founded in 2005 in Bratislava, Lavagance has five members, including Mario Vasko, the guitarist, keyboardist, and background vocalist.
The band, which mainly plays a mix of pop elements, indie rock, and electronic, has bagged several prizes, including the Aurel Award for the best alternative album and guest appearances on concert tours with famed bands.