Viet Nam News
Ding Dong is the new gong in Kon Klor Village of Kom Province. Kaly Tran has almost single handedly revived the Tay Nguyen(Central Highlands) music of the Ba Na
people, and is now spending his time leading a musical troupe of his own. Moc Mien reports.
by Mộc Miên
Kaly Trần has just finished his show late on a hot summer night in the hustle and bustle of HCM City. His forehead is sweating yet his lips smile proudly. Hardly anyone can imagine that this well-built Bana man is so interested in Tây Nguyên (Central Highlands) music and is spending a lot of time leading a musical troupe of his own. We sit quietly side by side in a street café and Trần cannot help expressing his emotions and thoughts: “I had a special family background. I was sent to an orphanage when I was a little child. My love for music grew day by day through the activities and services at the orphanage.”
In his memory, decades ago the BaNa ethnic people led a poor life, yet every household had their own t’rưng and k’long put instruments and gongs. When it came to the harvest or festivals, villagers gathered together, playing instruments and drinking rượu cần (tube wine) until everyone got drunk.
“When I went to high school, I found that no young people played instruments. BaNa families hung the gongs on the wall or even sold them at the market. It was pretty sad.” He said.
In 2015, after his graduation from the Military University of Culture and Arts, Trần decided to return to his home village to teach children to play instruments, and to gather adults to set up a music troupe. In order to be able to afford his dream, Trần had to perform on several pop music stages around HCM City. Whenever he has free time, he takes a bus back to the village.
In the beginning, it was very hard to persuade villagers to join hands with him. Most of them said: “We cannot sing. We are farmers who are just familiar with the fields and the forest. We have no talent for singing.”
It took Trần time and effort to show them that just passion, dedication and patience can help revive BaNa music. He also took charge of leading everyone. After a while, one by one, they came to believe him.
“BaNa people are among the biggest music lovers in Central Highlands. They have an aptitude for music. I have been addicted to music since I was a child. Music and I cannot be separated.
Farm at day, sing at night
In the first days after coming back home, Trần could call on the participation of nearly 30 people. Everyone was excited to go to the forest to find lồ ô, bamboo trees which were then carved and dried to make instruments: K’long put, ting ning, bông bỗh, especially t’rưng instruments. Some T’rưng instruments were lifted from the walls to be used.
Thanks to their constant efforts and creation, Trần and his counterparts have managed to make a new gong collection named Ding Dông based on the working principles of the old gongs.
“For ages, Central Highlands people have been using the old gongs made on the pentatonic scale which is very popular in traditional music but not in new music. However, I would like to develop new gongs that can play all kinds of music. In another sense, it will help popularise ethnic musical instruments to foreigners,” Trần said.
The old gong collection has just 12 or 13 gongs. Meanwhile, the new one has 27 gongs. Of these, 16 gongs are to play main rhythms and the other 11 gongs are to support. That is why the new gong collection can create strange and soothing sounds,” Trần shared excitedly.
Trần has developed the musical troupe to about 70 members, or even 100 members if they need to play the new gongs.
“We just want to let people know how wild and free BaNa music can be. If we can make money, it’s good,” he added.
Now, Kon Klor Village in Kon Tum Province is quite famous not only for its traditional and rustic houses, but also for the musical troupe led by Trần.
Notably, most of the troupe members are poor farming villagers. They were convinced by Trần to try, and then they became talented instrument players.
A Rưng, a member of the Kon Klor musical troupe, shared: “I just finished Grade 9 then stayed home to do farming. When Trần called, I was hesitant at first. Then I was curious and excited to join him. Now it has become so familiar to me. I will definitely be sad if I don’t sing once a week.”
Phạm Thị Trung, director of Kon Tum’s Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, said that she was so touched when seeing Trần’s troupe playing.
“Trần has developed the troupe based on the wildness and freedom in the souls of the BaNa people.”
That’s why Trần and his troupe are newly discovered assets of the cultural sector. — VNS