Vietnam’s folk singing revived with UN recognition

VietNamNet Bridge – Six years ago, Vietnamese xoan singing joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding during its 2011 meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

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Young blood: Teen xoan singers from Kim Duc Ward, Phu Tho. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh


Now, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which recognised xoan at its meeting in Bali, is holding its 12th session on South Korea’s Jeju Island, where its members will review Vietnam’s efforts to preserve and restore the folk singing. They will mull whether to lift it from the committee’s list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding and potentially include it on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The work of the Phu Tho provincial authority has been critical to the revival of the ancient singing art, which historians say may date back over 2,000 years to the time of very first Vietnamese tribal kings. Numerous programmes aim to rejuvenate the art, including the immediate restoration of the four historic singer guilds, the digitalisation of existing xoan performances, including it as a part of local community festivals, and training young apprentices under the guidance of master singers.

The years of dedication and determination are now bearing fruit. Xoan singing has not only reclaimed its rightful place as a revered art of the province’s cultural heritage, it is also gathering a large audience as well as many devoted practitioners, many of them teenagers.

“The province’s campaign could be considered as a model to revive and popularise cultural heritage. They have done much more than just bringing back the xoan singing,” said associate professor Dang Hoanh Loan, an advisor who helped build a dossier for the art that was submitted to UNESCO in 2010.  

 “Xoan singing was largely absent in many places I went back then to conduct my study. Now there are guilds of singers that enjoy strong support from their own communities,” he said. “Even children are learning how to perform xoan singing. You see, it’s hard to preach to them that they have to preserve something intangible, but it’s a lot easier if you show them how to sing.”

The revival of the art has accompanied the restoration of some 19 historical sites across the province, said to be holy places where xoan singing originated and was performed in the past, according to the provincial People’s Committee Deputy Chairman Ha Ke San.

Xoan singing is practised in Phu Tho, often during the first two months of the lunar year. Traditionally, singers performed songs in sacred spaces such as temples, shrines and communal houses for the spring festivals.

There are three forms of Xoan singing: worship singing for the Hung kings and village guardian spirits; ritual singing for good crops, health and luck and festival singing where villagers alternate male and female voices in a form of courtship.

Bai Choi (Folk Singing) nominated as Cultural Heritage.

Also at the meeting in Jeju, the art of bai choi (a traditional Vietnamese game combining folk singing and selections from a deck of card) in Central Vietnam will contend to join the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Central Vietnam bai choi dossier, which has been jointly compiled by the Viet Nam National Academy of Music and nine central provinces and cities from Quang Binh to Khanh Hoa provinces, was submitted to UNESCO in March 2016.

Bai choi, which combines the word bai (a deck of cards) and choi (bamboo hut), has a range of performance styles: folk songs, poem-reciting, acting, storytelling and music performed on traditional instruments.

It is said that feudal mandarin Dao Duy Tu (1571-1643) invented bai choi to entertain people during holidays. Bai choi is popular in the central region.

The 12th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage will end this Saturday.

Source: VNS

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