Vietnam wants traditional music to be made global cultural icon

Vietnam wants UNESCO to recognize quan ho, a traditional music form, as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

For the purpose, the country’s Ministry of Information and Culture is setting up a steering committee to prepare an application to be sent to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In the past few years authorities in the northern Bac Ninh province have collected hundreds of old quan ho songs and recorded performances of veteran singers.

In quan ho, which originated in Kinh Bac region – present-day Bac Ninh – around the 13th century, men and women take turns and sing in a challenge and response pattern.

Folk songs in the genre are rich in tune and rhythm. The accompanying instruments include the dan bau (monochord) and the sao truc (bamboo flute).

It usually begins with a female duet and then a male pair responds with another song that must match the melody of the women’s challenge.

Female singers often wear tu than (four-flapped dresses) made of bright red silk, golden earrings and necklaces, while men wear their own traditional silk dresses, loose white trousers, and turbans.

Most songs are about love and desire, but unlike many other types of folk music, quan ho doesn’t imbue love with sadness or tragedy but treats it in a cheerful manner.

Because of its amorous themes, it was mainly young people who sang quan ho in the past. But today it is popular among older singers too.

It is typically sung in villages and o­n boats. The Quan Ho (or Lim) Festival that takes place every year after Tet (the Lunar New Year) in Bac Ninh Province, some 18 kilometers from Hanoi, draws singers from various villages – and thousands of domestic and foreign visitors to watch.

Quan ho
is the third traditional relic for which Vietnam is seeking UNESCO recognition.

The UN agency has already proclaimed Hue’s royal court music, nha nhac, and the gongs of Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.