Life in Vietnam

Monday, 16/04/2018 09:45

Xẩm singing makes a come back in Hải Phòng

Admiration: Crowds gather to watch a chieu Xam performance at the traditional festival in Le Chan District, Hai Phong City in March. — VNS Photo Han Minh
Viet Nam News

by Mai Khuyen and Han Minh

HAI PHONG — Xam (blind busker’s singing) is on the way to revitalisation in the northern port city of Hai Phong since more and more local people and tourists are coming to admire the traditional musical art.

Over the past two years, performances of the folk music have appeared in celebrative events and cultural festivals in the city, as well as in surrounding localities. Common venues are pagodas and temples, and even in family parties.

Known locally as chieu Xam, it is a group of three or five traditional musicians performing on a mat in the public places including parks and cafes.

Ha Quang Huy, 42, a visitor from Ha Noi said that he was impressed by a Xam singing festival held last weekend at the Hao Khe cultural communal house in Hai Phong’s Le Chan District.

The show was held to pay tribute to Xam ancestors and to commemorate the 6th festival of the traditional musical art in the city.

The event gathered many Xam groups from northern regions including Ha Noi and the provinces of Quang Ninh, Thai Binh, Bac Ninh and Ninh Binh.

Huy said that was the first time he’d watched such a folk performance held outdoors in a public space, and it made him very excited.

“I had watched it on the television from time to time and seen it on social networks, or listened to it on the radio, but watching it directly was amazing,” said Huy.

The tourist said he and all of his accompanying friends who watched the show found the singing to be unique and special, and very different from the modern music that is popular today.

He hopes to have more chances to admire it whenever visiting the coastal city.

Nguyen Van Son, 70, a citizen from Hai Phong’s Ngo Quyen District who was one of the many frequent viewers of the folk singing, said he’d been fond of the singing since he was a child, but hadn’t had the chance to watch it for a very long time. This all changed in 2015.

He said that in modern life, with the boom of globalisation, some traditional musical performances had been ignored. The Xam singing has made a stand to reemerge in the last two years.

“It’s really good news for the many traditional music lovers like me,” said Son.

The reappearance of chieu Xam and many other styles of folk music interested him so much that whenever there was a show, he would be sure to come along to admire, said Son.

The faithful fan of the folk singing said the music and words in each of its artistic episodes was full of ethical and traditional messages.

“All of them can touch deeply inside our souls,” said Son.

The increasing number of active fans of Xam singing in Hai Phong has stirred a wave among folk musicians looking to recover and preserve it. Among them is Dao Bach Linh, 37, a young Xam singer and head of the Hai Thanh Xam Club in Hai Phong.

Linh said an increasing support and passion from the people in the city had encouraged him to try to perform the musical art.

“Whether they are held indoors or outdoors, in public places or cafes, all of the chieu Xam performances attract a large crowd,” he told Viet Nam News.

The performer said that sometimes he would keep playing until midnight, repeating his set again and again, and the audience didn’t get bored of watching.

Spectators of the performances tend to include people of all classes, ages, genders and occupations, he said. Often they join in and sing along with him.

The Hai Thanh Xam Club, founded in 2013, is the first club to support old style Xam singing in Hai Phong. With more than 20 members, the club regularly performs at festivals and celebrations in the city.

“To have the club operating professionally and regularly like it does now meant overcoming many challenges in the first days of its establishment,” said Linh.

Linh’s friends and audiences refer to him as Linh Xam, in honour of his contribution to the preservation of the traditional music.

Linh said he’d known about the traditional folk songs since he was at university, where he first heard it listening to the radio station, Voice of Viet Nam.

From then on he was inspired to learn the art of folk music and he enrolled in classes at the Viet Nam Musical Development Centre.

He went as far as to visit the home of Ha Thi Cau - the well-known late folk singer from the northern province of Ninh Binh, to ask for her help to study Xam.

Linh said it took several years for him to follow in the steps of Cau and many others old Xam singers from different areas across northern Viet Nam.

Along with the operations of the Hai Thanh Xam Club, Linh worked as volunteer teacher for a Xam singing class in the city’s school of disabled students.

The art of Xam folk music in Hai Phong has been popular since the early 20th century, according to Linh. It began as a way for the city’s many poor residents to make a living.

The music was close to being lost from memory, until around 2005, when the State and city cultural authorities promoted a campaign to restore and preserve it. — VNS

In person: Xam performer Dao Bach Linh (right) and a member of the Hai Thanh Xam Club. — Photo coutesy of Dao Bach Linh
Preserving culture: A typical performance of Xam singing. — Photo courtesy of Dao Bach Linh

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