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Culture Vulture (11-02-2015)

Update: February, 11/2015 - 08:51

A ceremony was held recently to honour vi giam, a type of folk singing in the central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh. The traditional art has received a slot on UNESCO's world intangible heritage list.

People's Artist Hong Luu spoke about her work preserving and developing vi giam singing.

Do you remember looking forward to hearing from the ninth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Paris, which voted to put vi giam singing on the UNESCO world intangible heritage list?

I still remember that moment, when all people in the central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh like me were emotional. We were worried, and then thrilled when the news was sent from the Vietnamese delegation in France. It is very difficult to describe those emotions.

We were full of joy and pride, knowing that vi giam singing would be recognised by UNESCO. However, we also see that our responsibility to protect and develop world heritage is very important.

You go to remote areas to meet with old artists and collect information on vi giam. What motivated you to do that?

It is not my love and passionate for this type of singing. I desire to discover the art. I learnt it from the late folklore culture researcher Ninh Viet Giao. In the 1990s, Giao asked me to go on field trips. We did not know to drive motorbikes, so I carried him on my bicycle's luggage rack.

As a singer, I usually travel to perform in the remote areas. The performances are held at night and I spend all day meeting with older artists to learn more about vi giam.

Many artists have said they participate in the traditional art because they were inspired by their homeland, which has cradled the art. What do you think about this?

Folk singing is a normal cultural practice represented in a lot of different areas. It is formed by geographical and human features. I was born in Thanh Chuong District, an area with both mountains and plains. I grew up with folk singing. It was the first thing to nurture my dignity.

My character was influenced by my father. He was my first vi giam teacher.

You are the deputy director of the Nghe An Folksong Heritage Preservation and Development Centre. How does the centre work?

We are always recruiting more personnel, but no one applies because the traditional artist's salary is very low.

Sometimes we discover young people who can sing folk music very well. We try to convince them and their families, and encourage them to become professional singers. But they all refuse.

They have passion for folk singing, but they know the hardships a folk artist must endure. I hope stage performances will encourage and promote traditional arts.

I feel guilty because I cannot assure stable incomes for my actors. I just have a lot of passion for transmitting my experiences to younger generations.

Vi giam is practiced in Nghe An and Ha Tinh, but is it possible to increase its popularity in the rest of the country?

All the Vietnamese and foreign culture researchers I know of enjoy listening to vi giam. They think it uses simple words and expressive melodies, composed from the subtle, rustic, simple and profound soul.

But it is very difficult to sing vi giam because it mixes singing and speaking. To sing vi dam, people have to use the central Nghe An and Ha Tinh dialects. If people speak with this accent they can sing these folk songs .

This limits vi giam's popularity.

What is the most difficult part of becoming a successful vi giam singer?

Everybody in the Nghe Tinh region can sing vi giam. But it is not as easy to sing it well. The singers should be endowed with good voices and able to sing with their whole hearts. If audiences listen to and understand the spirit and dignity of people in those provinces through a vi giam song, the singer will have succeeded. — VNS

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