Viet Nam News
by Hồng Vân
The Lim festival, for many, including me, is synonymous with quan họ, the traditional love duets that Bắc Ninh Province is famous for.
The festival might have several other activities, but at its heart lies the rich tradition of quan họ, already recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.
While there were quan họ performances aplenty at this year’s festival, my expectations of getting immersed in the authentic singing tradition were belied.
The Lim festival is held on the 12th and 13th day of the first lunar month. This year, as in other years, people flocked to the festival, although it fell in the middle of a working week, on Wednesday and Thursday.
Along with calligraphy, wrestling, cock-fighting and other activities, the biggest celebration of the year in the northern province did feature quan họ performances aimed to preserving and promoting the traditional cultural values of the locality.
I arrived in Bắc Ninh on the second day of the festival, joining people who had converged on the Lim Hill from different parts of the country. The place was packed, like rush hour traffic in Hà Nội. It was good that people were walking and not driving.
At the entrance gate, I could hear the sweet melodies of quan họ through loudspeakers. The performance was taking place on the main stage, with liền anh (male love duet singers) and liền chị (female love duet singers) looking elegant in their traditional ao dai and áo tứ thân dresses.
Standing among some young people focused on selfie sticks and livestreaming the performance, it was like being in free concert than a festival.
In sync: Two quan ho singers in their áo tứ thân (four-flapped dress) perform at the Lim Festival in Bac Ninh Province on Thursday, February 9. —VNS Photo Hồng Vân
The quan họ songs were also being performed in five other areas close to each other. Each area had its own loudspeaker, CDs ‘seller’ and women in their áo tứ thân dresses offering betel leaves and areca nuts to the audience.
I felt a bit sad that the beautiful tradition of women offering betel leaves to the audience has turned into soliciting tips from the audience, and to try and persuade people to buy their CDs. Although the soliciting of tips has been banned by authorities, the practice continued.
Amateur and professional liền anh and liền chị from only Bắc Ninh as well as other provinces and cities like Hải Dương, Hải Phòng and Nam Định sand with enthusiasm. Many festival-goers able to sing quan họ also joined the performance and were applauded by the audience.
However, the traditional singing of quan họ, a cappella, without instruments, was not continued at the festival. To try and reach the large number of visitors and audience, singers used microphones and instrumental music. With the singing arenas close to each other, there was a clash of sounds not pleasant to the year.
Local officials said they have mobilised hundreds of local security officers and volunteers to ensure smooth conduct of the festival, but I feel more should be done to preserve the quan họ tradition’s authenticity.
A capella performances without microphones and musical accompaniment should be maintained so that this special, unique tradition and skill is not lost forever.
More attention should be paid to having good sound systems, and preventing sound clashes between quan họ performances. — VNS