Artist Mai Tuyết Hoa (centre) is seen at the launch ceremony of the album. — VNS Photo Minh Thu
HÀ NỘI — The very first album featuring xẩm (music of blind buskers) has been released in an effort of Mai Tuyết Hoa and her team to revive the traditional music.
Hoa currently works as a musical researcher and xẩm singer. She’s the only student of late artisan Hà Thị Cầu, who is considered the preserver and master of xẩm singing.
Hoa has spent 20 years researching and performing xẩm, but this is the first time she has released an album of the music.
“I want to prepare well for the album,” she said at the launch ceremony of the album on July 3 in Hà Nội.
“I feel optimistic that listeners will warmly welcome this work because we have spent many years performing in the Old Quarter and at other musical events, proving that it is a big attraction for people including foreigners,” Hoa said.
The album features eight xẩm songs performed in different traditional melodies. Some newly composed songs include Bốn Mùa Hoa Hà Nội (Four Seasons of Flowers in Hà Nội) and Chồng Say (Drunken Husband).
On this album, Hoa is accompanied by artists from the Xẩm Hà Thành group including musician Nguyễn Quang Long, artist Phạm Trang (monochord), Trọng Thủy (percussion), Văn Tuấn (16-string zither) and Hồng Mạc Cát (moon lute).
Hoa is also a member of the group. Together, they have held many xẩm performances at home and abroad.
Xẩm is a centuries-old singing style of the Vietnamese people. It has long been recognised as an important piece of national cultural heritage. Like ca trù (ceremonial singing), the singer can play musical instruments at the same time. While the ca trù singer beats castanets while singing, the xẩm singer often plays đàn bầu (monochord) or đàn nhị (two-string fiddle).
It’s believed that xẩm is the music of poor people and farmers in the countryside of the northern region. They sing to overcome life’s hardships and express optimism. In the past, most xẩm performers were blind.
During wartime or times of strife, many xẩm singers flocked to big cities, including Hà Nội to perform on crowded trams, markets and street corners to earn money.
A xẩm troupe includes a singer and instrument player, a drummer, and one who plays the castanets. They all sing together.
Musician and poet Hồng Thanh Quang highly appreciated the effort of Hoa in producing this album.
"In the development of various contemporary art forms, we need to preserve and revive traditional music,” he said.
“I believe that people will continue loving electronic music, jazz, pop and other types of music, however we still need an anchor that connects us with traditional music.”
“We should continue to promote xẩm as a part of national heritage.” — VNS