Music critic, composer releases debut album of xẩm singing

December 20, 2019 - 08:48

In Trách Ông Nguyệt Lão (Asking the God of Marriage), he performs nine songs combining various rhythms of traditional singing.


Nguyễn Quang Long (second from left) and artists of Xẩm Hà Thành Group perform at the press conference on Sunday. Photo courtesy of the artist 

HÀ NỘI – Musician Nguyễn Quang Long has released his first album after 20 years devoting himself to preserving and promoting xẩm (blind buskers’ singing).

In Trách Ông Nguyệt Lão (Asking the God of Marriage), he performs nine songs combining various rhythms of traditional singing.

In the humourous and optimistic lyrics, the songs reflect love and life, including Xẩm Phố Thu (Streets in Autumn) and Bốn Mùa Hoa Hà Nội (Four Seasons of Flowers in Hà Nội).

The album includes songs created by Long since 2016 and two songs by Nguyễn Bính (1918–1966) and Hồng Thanh Quang.

The album also features People’s Artist Thúy Ngần, who is famous for chèo (traditional opera), xẩm singer Mai Tuyết Hoa, pop singer Thu Phương and Xẩm Hà Thành – a Hà Nội-based group of singers and instrumentalists of xẩm singing.

Long is a well-known musician and critic who has contributed a lot to reviving xẩm singing, the centuries-old art form which has long been regarded as an important piece of the nation’s cultural heritage. 

The singing is mainly found in the countryside and is mostty performed by poor artists who sing for a living, expressing optimism, humour and philosophy about life. The performances stem mostly from northern regions.

During the war time and the early 20th century, crowded trams, markets and street corners were turned into stages for buskers. 

During a xẩm performance, one artist plays a drum, one plays the castanets, one plays a đàn nhị (bowed instrument with two strings), one plays a đàn bầu (monochord instrument) and all sing together. Audiences would leave money in the artists’ conical hats for their performance.

Long was born in a family with tradition of art in the northern province of Bắc Ninh. He graduated from the Việt Nam National Academy of Music, majoring in vocal music and musical criticism.

For the last 20 years, he has worked as a researcher and performer in xẩm music. He has composed many xẩm songs honouring the beauty of Hà Nội and reflecting issues in society such as traffic accidents, national sovereignty over the sea and environmental pollution.

“I want to introduce an album of traditional music which is suitable for modern life and people’s taste,” he said.

“That’s the way the old art survives in the modern time. Any traditional art should have the breath of current life.”

“I hope people will like this album because it’s close to  modern society and is recorded in an acoustic style to bring the emotional and truthful experience for the audience like they are listening to a live performance,” he said. — VNS