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Xoan Gheo folk songs brought back to life

Update: April, 20/2014 - 16:48
Traditional performance: Dancers perform a Xoan song. — VNAPhoto Anh Tuan.

Despite their lack of funding, professional experience and actors, a group of artisans are determined to restore the valuable tradition of Xoan Gheo folk songs. Ha Van The and Ha Nguyen report.

Le Van Che has invested his time and effort into preserving and developing Xoan Gheo folk songs, said Pham Ba Khiem, deputy director of Phu Tho provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Xoan Gheo songs were chosen to be performed at the Hung Kings celebrations in Che's club in Chua Commune of Cam Khe District last week.

"Restoring such folk songs is a very difficult task as there is a lack of professional experience, a lack of funds to buy appropriate costumes, and a lack of suitable actors and actresses among the farmers in his commune," said Che.

Che said he was confident enough about his experience and performance.

"First, I tried to convince the elders in my commune about my plan to restore the folk songs, which were our pride. They all agreed and were excited to help me."

"Then, we persistently approached each household to persuade men and women to join the art troupe. At first, most of them refused because they said they did not have the time and further have forgotten how to perform the songs," said Che.

Nguyen Van Thoai, 80, said that Che had such passion that he could help him encourage the amateur artists to join his troupe.

"As a result, a troupe was established in 2011, and Che often gets carried away while teaching and helping the artists to perform and sing," said Thoai.

With financial assistance from the province's culture authority, Che bought in costumes, which include silk shirts and trousers and turbans for men and fabric belts, as well as colourful ribbons, silk trousers and ao dai, for women.

Che said that before singing ancient songs a certain raising ritual including prayers and greetings must be conducted.

"Our club's repertoire includes 16 tunes, which are a combination of old and new tunes featuring war invalids women's work, family disputes and other daily topics. These have received great applause from the audience," he said.

"Each song is often performed by a team of dancers. The artists dance with such grace that they really move us," audience member Nguyen Thi Su remarked.

Su pointed out that she was very interested in the song Bat Oc (Catching Snails) because its lyrics and dance reflect the daily chores of farmers in her midland province.

Blossoming love: A duet sings a Do Hoa song about the love of a couple that blossoms through productive work. — VNA Photo Tien Dung.

Meanwhile, Bui Thi Thuan said she liked the xoan song Se Chi Va May (Thread Pinning).

"Even though the lyrics use archaic words, still the song touches the depths of our heart because it reflects women's sacrifice and work when their fathers, husbands, and sons went to fight against the enemies at the front," Thuan noted.

Do Thu Thuy, a young girl, said the song that most impressed her was Do Hoa (Flower Puzzle), which describes the love of a couple that blossoms through productive work.

The performance of two groups of men and women singing in the form of calling and responding was so interesting that it moved the audience, Thuy claimed.

Khiem said people in Viet Nam, particularly in Phu Tho, were very happy since their Xoan songs were recognised as an intangible heritage of humankind in 2011 by the VNculture agency UNESCO.

Local people, particularly farmers, actively participate in practising and performing Xoan Gheo songs.

"The methods of preservation, development and popularisation of this heritage among communities have been identified by the province. It requires the help of the local people," asserted Khiem.

He recalled that the movement started more than four decades ago.

"I still remember that although we were poor, we had a skilled art troupe. I will never forget the nights in the cooperative ground when the troupe performed the plays Tam Cam or Tong Tran Cuc Hoa. The ground was often crowded."

Khiem said he would never forget the former actors and actresses, Nguyen The Phiet, Hoang Van Tich, To Thi Trac and Nguyen Van Hien, for their excellent singing and dance performance.

In those days, Viet Nam was facing great difficulties due to fierce wars raging in the country. The Xoan Gheo songs were a great source of entertainment and encouragement for the people, noted Khiem.

He said he did not know why the troupe stopped performing for years until 2011 when Che helped revive the art form.

Che, a former artist of the Vinh Phu Cheo (Traditional Opera) Troupe, had also been a stage director during the 1990s and subsequently worked as the director of the provincial centre, specialising in organising cultural programmes and activities.

He recalled that after his retirement in 2006, he had thought of staying at home grow bonsai in his garden. But by November 2011, Xoan songs and Hung Kings worshipping rituals were recognised as world intangible heritage.

Thus, he established a club of 38 people, aged 25-78 years.

They actively practised the folk art to perform at the Hung Kings Festival on the tenth day of the third lunar month.

Che's Dong Luong Village is located on the right bank of the Thao River, and above the river's basin is the Mau Au Co Temple and Hung Temple in the east.

About 20 kilometres from these temples is a village, which is hundreds of years old, where people follow traditional and culture, such as conducting Xoan Gheo song festivals.

"These festivals in many localities were held to remember the credits of the village patron saints, who were military chiefs and paladins under the reign of the Hung Kings," explained Che.

In those days, Xoan Gheo singing was always an important part of recognizing the anniversary of the Hung Kings' death and the Hung Temple festival, claimed Che.

Although the tunes and lyrics have been modified many times in line with the changes of time, the essence of worshipping the Hung Kings and village gods and praying for a good harvest, good health and good marriage has never changed, Che told Viet Nam News. — VNS

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