Friday, April 20 2018

VietNamNews

Cao Lan people sing their old songs

Update: April, 20/2014 - 12:00

Traditional Cao Lan music has become popular once again.

People of all ages are performing this music, which was not heard much when wars were being fought in Viet Nam.

Sometimes people sing the songs while watching them being performed on television.

Some elderly people even sing them to one another on their mobile phones – even if it costs them phone bills of up to a hundred thousand dong.

Song and dance: Cao Lan ethnic villagers in Thai Nguyen perform folk singing and dancing.
Song and dance: Cao Lan ethnic villagers in Thai Nguyen perform folk singing and dancing. - VNS file photo

By Mai Hong and Trung Hieu 

Hoang Thi Nghiem, 73, a Cao Lan ethnic woman in Tuyen Quang, stated that she knew how to sing sinh ca folk songs since she was 18 years old.

"Cao Lan youngsters sing to learn about our lovers. My lover and I sang together one or two times before we really felt in love," she recalled.

The Cao Lan considers sinh ca tunes as their "treasures".

After years of being engulfed in war when folk music was not paid much attention, the province now sees a re-emergence of folk song clubs in places populated by the Cao Lan.

One of the most famous clubs in the province is the Dong Mon Village, Thai Long Commune of Tuyen Quang City.

When we visited, people of all age groups, the old, middle-aged, and young members of the club were present at the house of Lam Thi Quang, to sing together and teach the youngster about the songs handed down from their forefathers.

Sinh ca is a lyrical folk genre sung by young men and girls. It is a unique, attractive, and long-standing folk culture of the Cao Lan community.

It features an amorous singing style performed by a man and a woman or between a group of men and women.

They sing in many different contexts, such as in weddings, festivals, the New Year's Day, and spring festivals.

In ancient times, these songs were written in the Nom script (an ideographic script formerly used to write the Vietnamese language). When translated into Vietnamese, the songs are often transformed into the luc bat style of poetry with melodies.

According to the elders of the community, sinh ca has two basic tunes, such as amorous singing and lullabies, but the lyrics are extremely rich and close to daily life. Many couples became husband and wife after singing together in the spring festivals.

Fifty-year-old Quang recollected that since she was a little child, she had heard her mother's lullabies in these music tunes. Hence, the music has left an impression in her mind and she knew many songs.

"Each song has several parts. Firstly, after meeting, we sing about the plants, flowers, and nature, and then greet each other. We then sing in a call-and-response manner, and then we sing about the love between men and women. When people fall in love we also express this emotion by these folk songs. We also sing these songs on our wedding day.

"When we gather at a house to sing, first, we have to sing for the house owner to allow us to sing. We then sing to invite others to drink tea and eat betel, sing to wish for the host to be happy and wealthy, and finally we sing for our love. When we go to work in the rice fields, we would sing songs depending on each season. Each month also has its different songs," she said.

Septuagenarian Au Thi Nong said, "In the past, young people sang when we met together in public places. Now, when we see people singing on television, we also sing along. Despite our age, we still love to sing."

Knack for singing

Many girls at the Dong Mon Village noted that the village elders have a passion for these songs similar to what kids have for playing computer games.

They can sing with friends via mobile phone throughout the evening, till the phone card worth VND100,000 is totally used up. Some of them live hundreds of kilometres away from here but still arrive at their friends' home to sing together.

"These tunes are melodious, rustic, and sincere," elaborated Ly Thi Minh Nguyet from Thai Long Commune, who had just graduated from a Teachers College.

This young teacher loves to hear these songs.

"Every time I hear the elders practise the songs, I love it. Each verse tells the descendants how to live and love each other, that's why I want to learn how to sing this genre," remarked Ly Thi Minh Nguyet.

"I also love to hear those songs because they are really interesting," said Chief of Dong Mon Village Nguyen Huu Thach in a cheerful tone.

He added that the commune organises cultural exchange programmes for the masses every year.

"Dong Mon Village has a knack for folk singing, so we win a prize every year," he boasted happily.

Dong Mon is the most populous village in Thai Long Commune, with 124 households and more than 450 residents. The life of the locals has changed for the better due to the restructuring of crops and livestock farming.

Thach pointed out that besides improving the economic conditions of the families, the local authorities have also encouraged the villagers to maintain the singing club.

Hoang Minh Duc is famous in the village as he has collected and recorded hundreds of lyrics of these ancient songs.

He explained that because old lyrics were written in Nom scripts, he has transcribed them into Romanised Vietnamese for the youth to make it easier to read, understand, and memorize.

Every Sunday afternoon, the elderly congregate to sing and teach others how to sing.

After each song, they stop to explain its meaning to the youngsters.

"At first, the listeners can find it hard to hear, but after listening to it time and again, one really gets attracted to the tunes," claimed Tran Thi Hang, a 7th grade student.

"My class mates and I find singing these folk songs very interesting. I hope the elders will teach me these tunes, so that later when I grow up I can perform sinh ca," she added.

Talking about the preservation and development of the Cao Lan's musical treasure, the provincial People's Committee Vice Chairwoman, Vu Thi Bich Viet, emphasised that they have recently developed a thesis on the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of the province, including the folk songs of the Cao Lan community.

"During the coming years, Tuyen Quang Province will continue to take further steps to research on the folk music and the festivities of the Cao Lan," she said.

We left the club late afternoon. The melancholy and rustic nature of the melodious songs have left a lasting impression in my mind.

With these down-to-earth villagers, their "treasures" are being preserved and handed down to the next generations. — VNS

GLOSSARY

Hoang Thi Nghiem, 73, a Cao Lan ethnic woman in Tuyen Quang, stated that she knew how to sing sinh ca folk songs since she was 18 years old.

Ethnic means to do with people of a certain community who usually speak the same language, follow the same religion, have the same culture and are of the same race.

After years of being engulfed in war when folk music was not paid much attention, the province now sees a re-emergence of folk song clubs in places populated by the Cao Lan.

To be engulfed in war means to have war happening all around you.

If something has a re-emergence it appears again after having disappeared, or nearly disappeared.

When we visited, people of all age groups, the old, middle-aged, and young members of the club were present at the house of Lam Thi Quang, to sing together and teach the youngster about the songs handed down from their forefathers.

Forefathers are ancestors.

Sinh ca is a lyrical folk genre sung by young men and girls. It is a unique, attractive, and long-standing folk culture of the Cao Lan community.

Lyrical means to do with the words of a popular song.

Folk music is traditional music.

A genre is a style of art, including music.

In ancient times, these songs were written in the Nom script (an ideographic script formerly used to write the Vietnamese language). When translated into Vietnamese, the songs are often transformed into the luc bat style of poetry with melodies.

Ideographic script is made up of characters that give an idea of what something is, rather than an idea of how it sounds. It is used in Chinese writing.

Formerly means "in the past".

When something is transformed it changes into something else.

A melody is a tune.

According to the elders of the community, sinh ca has two basic tunes, such as amorous singing and lullabies, but the lyrics are extremely rich and close to daily life. Many couples became husband and wife after singing together in the spring festivals.

Amorous means loving.

Lullabies are songs that are sung to get babies to sleep.

Hence, the music has left an impression in her mind and she knew many songs.

When an impression is left in someone's mind, it means that the person has a certain feeling about something even though it is based more on feeling than on thought.

"When people fall in love we also express this emotion by these folk songs."

Emotions are strong feelings, brought about by relationships, moods and other circumstances.

Septuagenarian Au Thi Nong said, "In the past, young people sang when we met together in public places. Now, when we see people singing on television, we also sing along."

A septuagenarian is somebody who is aged between 70 and 79. In other words, in their seventies.

Many girls at the Dong Mon Village noted that the village elders have a passion for these songs similar to what kids have for playing computer games.

A passion is an emotion one can barely control.

"These tunes are melodious, rustic, and sincere," elaborated Ly Thi Minh Nguyet from Thai Long Commune, who had just graduated from a Teachers College.

Rustic means to do with the countryside.

Sincere means having genuine feelings.

To elaborate means to give further details.

"Every time I hear the elders practise the songs, I love it. Each verse tells the descendants how to live and love each other, that's why I want to learn how to sing this genre," remarked Ly Thi Minh Nguyet.

Your descendants are your children and their children, and so on.

He explained that because old lyrics were written in Nom scripts, hence, he has transcribed them into Romanised Vietnamese for the youth to make it easier to read, understand, and memorize.

Nom script was used to write the Vietnamese language long ago, back in the 15th Century and until the 19th Century. It was strongly influenced by Chinese writing.

Romanised Vietnamese is Vietnamese that is written using the Roman alphabet, which is the same as the alphabet used to write English.

Every Sunday afternoon, the elderly congregate to sing and teach others how to sing.

To congregate means to gather together.

Talking about the preservation and development of the Cao Lan's musical treasure, the provincial People's Committee Vice Chairwoman, Vu Thi Bich Viet, emphasised that they have recently developed a thesis on the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of the province, including the folk songs of the Cao Lan community.

Preservation is about keeping old things in good condition.

A thesis is an academic project.

Something that is intangible cannot be physically felt and touched.

The melancholy and rustic nature of the melodious songs have left a lasting impression in my mind.

Melancholy is a feeling of sadness, for no real reason.

With these down-to-earth villagers, their "treasures" are being preserved and handed down to the next generations.

Down-to-earth people are people who do not try to give false impressions of themselves.

You and your brothers and sisters belong to one generation; your parents belong to another and your grandparents belong to yet another generation.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

1.      Another word for an ancestor.

2.      The musical instrument Cao Lan singer Lam Van Cau uses to perform.

3.      Something people farm in Dong Mon village.

4.      Folk singers from Dong Mon Village win one of these every year.

5.      Tran Thi Hang's occupation.

 

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© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2014






























1. Forefather; 2. Drum; 3. Livestock; 4. Prize; 5. Student.

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