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Ambition Road: After a life of sport, blind singer-songwriter David Truong returns to music

David Truong plays the keyboard
David Truong's early passion for music came full circle when he took it up later in life.

Supplied: Undercover Artist Festival

From his earliest memories of living in a Vietnamese orphanage to representing Australia in two sports, blind songwriter David Truong's road to success as a musician has taken a few detours.

The singer, songwriter and piano and keyboard player — who is completely blind — discovered music as a teenager, but only came back to it a few years ago when his time as a sportsman ended.

Now well into recording his second album, Truong will perform with his band Ambition Road at this week's Undercover Artist Festival in Brisbane, an event showcasing the work of artists with a disability.

But his story begins at the end of the Vietnam War, when as a young boy he was living in an orphanage.

"I have been told I used to be able to see and there are a few stories on how I lost my sight.

"One version is that I lost my sight due to malnutrition, and another story is that I got a stray bullet in my left eye which meant they had to remove a part of my left eye and my right eye was affected as well.

"I don't know which one to believe as it wasn't documented."

A new birth certificate and a new life

Truong was plucked at random to be part of an Australian scheme providing refuge for victims of the war.

"They destroyed my birth certificate so I could come to Australia. Apparently you had to be under a certain age and that age I was not, so they made me a new birth certificate," he said.

"My best friend from the orphanage got chosen to go to America and his plane crashed and he died — I could have been on that plane.

"I just feel so lucky I've come to Australia and Australia's provided me the opportunity to live the life I have now."

David Truong performs at his album launch
David Truong fell in love with both music and sport but pursued sport first.

Facebook: Buff Goldenrod

In Australia, Truong was cared for by foster parents and in institutions before ending up in Melbourne at a school that provided facilities and education for people with vision impairments.

As a teenager he fell in love with music but ultimately chose to pursue competitive sport, going on to represent Australia in both blind cricket and goalball — a team sport designed for people with vision impairments.

"It's a feeling you can't describe — when you put on the baggy cap for cricket or the Australian shirt for goalball; it's exhilarating to know you've got the opportunity to do that."

'I wanted something else to focus on'

But a career in competitive sport does not last forever, and Truong's early passion for music came full circle when he met the director of this year's Undercover Artist Festival, Harmonie Downes.

"A few years ago my body told me it was time to give up the sport, even though my brain said I could go on forever," Truong said.

"I wanted something else to focus on and naturally I came back to the interest I had when I was a teenager and that was music."

David Truong and Yasmin Powell
David Truong is working with Yasmin Powell on Ambition Road's second album.

Facebook: Undercover Artist Festival

Truong and Ms Downes met and bonded over a love of music and she encouraged him to "see how far I could go".

He joined a choir run by Access Arts, a Brisbane organisation providing opportunities for people with disabilities in all forms of art, including music.

Upon further encouragement from the choir's leader, Annie Peterson, Truong took steps towards forming a band, which became Ambition Road.

"I just wanted to see what was happening in the live music scene and I heard a few musicians and I went and approached them.

"Luckily for me, the musicians that I chose agreed."

'The ability in artists with a disability'

Truong and his bandmates are now working on a follow-up to Ambition Road's 2016 debut Happy Laughter.

He said events like the Undercover Artist Festival, which is accessible for both artists and audience members, were an opportunity to "showcase the ability in artists with a disability".

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"Once you get established, which this event allows us to do, you can perhaps then go on and find gigs in the mainstream."

Ms Downes, who also identifies as an artist with a disability, said there were certain opportunities that came with organising an event outside the mainstream.