Musician Nguyen Quang Long, who has just returned from a tour of France and Germany to perform xam (blind buskers' songs), tells Culture Vulture that it is a rare art that needs to be revitalised and given its rightful place in modern times.
Please share with our readers some information about xam and its status in the traditional music arena today?
In the past, groups of blind musicians wandered the streets of Ha Noi, singing for money. Dressed in simple clothes, they sang songs about the plight of the poor, the vices of former rulers and backward customs. Several songs were satires.
These wandering minstrels reminded the well-to-do of the dangers in life and lifted the spirits of those less fortunate. The beauty of xam lies in its tone and rhythm.
This art had fallen into decline for a long time, but now it has been drawing greater public attention. Many young artists are getting involved and want to perform this music.
However, xam should still be considered a traditional form of music that faces a high risk of being lost. It is a unique, street style music of Ha Noi. So I think xam deserves to be revitalised and given its place in modern life.
Recently, you co-operated with some agencies to present xam in France and Germany. How did the audience respond?
A successful xam concert at the Ha Noi Opera House in January opened the door to promoting the art in Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Munich, introducing it to local audiences as well as overseas Vietnamese.
I was very surprised by the enthusiasm of the audience. The three performances in France attracted more than a thousand people, many of whom were youngsters.
The concert in Munich also received a lot of support from the audiences, most of whom were listening to xam for the first time.
How should we introduce this art to foreigners, so that they develop a better understanding of it?
Differences in language and culture are obstacles that we have to overcome if we are to introduce and propagate this form of music among our international friends.
We should introduce a xam song and its origins, its cultural background and meaning at the same time. We should explain that in xam singing, the role of lyrics and musical instruments are equal.
We should also highlight the significance of xam singing in the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people. So it is not just performance, but also the presentation that we need to focus on.
Would you say something about your plan in the future to promote xam?
We, artists in Xam Ha Thanh group are planning to release an album (both audio and video) featuring xam songs. Besides, we will organise other Xam and Life concerts like the one we did in January.
In which, we continue developing xam by combining it with other contemporary musical types such as jazz, dance and hip-hop.
We also welcome new students to study this art, simultaneously, the key task is to enhance performing and promoting the singing widely.
We have seen that as part of preserving and promoting traditional art, cultural activists and artists often combine different art forms. Is xam an exception?
Yes, I think the use of xam with other art forms, including contemporary ones, is part of the trend that seeks to preserve and promote traditional art in a modern society.
This use will not cause xam to lose its value. Instead it can help it reach a wider audience, not just those interested in traditional music. I think this mixing can help those who listen to jazz, hip-hop and other genres to enjoy xam singing as well.
Howevver, we do have to carry out painstaking research of our traditional art forms, including xam, to ensure that its revival and renovation happens in a suitable manner. — VNS