An eye-opener on blind busker singing

VietNamNet Bridge – A Folk Music Festival is being held every Saturday on an open stage at the Dong Xuan Market in the capital city. The event is organised by the Viet Nam Art and Folk Music Development Centre, and features some 80 performances by individuals and folk music clubs in Ha Noi, HCM City and several northern provinces.

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Illustrative image — File photo

The centre was established in 2006 to revive traditional music genres such as ca tru (ceremonial singing) and xam (blind busker singing). Musician Thao Giang – one of the centre’s founders, has been working hard to revive xam. 

His piece, Ke Chuyen Ngay Mua (Telling Stories during the Crop Season) is always part of the repertoire of Vietnamese art troupes when they perform abroad. Giang spoke to Viet Nam News about his work. 

Why did you choose to restore xam instead of other art forms, when the centre was established?

Unlike other art forms, xam is a popular music genre. It is simple to sing xam songs. They can be performed anywhere on the street, in the market or a corner where large numbers of people pass. Each xam song is a small story which listeners can understand easily. 

Xam attracts audiences from commoners of life because its lyrics are rich and diverse in terms of content. It is rooted in the northern region. The melodies are very close to the people and easy to learn as each song is a story associated with people’s daily lives. In the past, a piece of news was instantly turned into a song by xam artists and this then spread around. So xam was considered as one of the fastest ways to spread information.

When on stage, the artists not only sang, they performed to attract audiences, which made the shows more realistic. In reviving this art form, we always try our best to maintain those original colors to bring to listeners its core values.

Xam has existed for over hundreds of years. The legend is that xam singing was invented by Prince Tran Quoc Dinh in the 13th century. Till the end of the 1970s, many people knew xam. When I organised the first xam shows in 2005, people liked watching it, but they did not know what it was.

But is not just xam, we are also trying to revive ca tru and trong quan singing.

What kind of xam training does you centre provide?

The centre provides training in xam for two kinds of learners, amateurs and professionals. In 2015 we trained about 20 professionals who received a certificate from the Ministry of Training and Education. The centre has received support from artisans who teach learners how to sing xam. In addition, the students have to go on field trips to localities to gain a profound understanding of the art. After graduation the learners not only perform xam but also present their research on the art form. 

Other art forms like trong quan singing; ca tru ; quan ho and traditional instruments are also taught at the centre. We selected four learners who were accepted to study Master of Arts at the Hue Conservatory. I hope these learners will become key persons to continue my work at the centre.

You were working to preserve and develop xam singing when teaching at the Viet Nam National Accademy of Music. Why did you quit it to set up this centre?

I used to teach at the academy’s Traditional Instrument Department. After my study in India, I thought there was a need to change from western pedagogic methods at the department. But the academy leaders did not agree because it would change the whole system, from the curriculum to the teacher.

I submitted the plan to change padegogic methods to leaders several times, but there was no response. Finally, professor Pham Dinh Khang and I decided to establish the centre under the Viet Nam Musicians Association’s decision in 2005. But we had nothing to run the newly-established centre. The centre received support from veteran artists who were willing to practise old xam songs. By the ending of the year, we dared to perform xam songs on walking streets. 

What the most difficult problem you face in running the centre?

Money is always the problem. We need money to pay the centre’s staff and for field trips. Frequent field trips are necessary. When we opened the centre we had more than 20 artisans. But only three remain and they are over 80 years old. 

The other thing is to help young xam artists earn a living from the profession. The learners at the centre are talented and can become pop singers and earn much money. But all of them have kept to their work at the centre. I want relevant bodies to pay attention to traditional art forms including xam. 

VNS



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