Artist HA THI CAU
Xam is a genre of folk songs in northern Vietnam. Xam is also a word used to call blind people who sing xam songs to earn money so hat xam is considered a job.
Many equate xam with beggars but they are different. Xam don’t live on free food or money but they live on offerings from people. Before receiving tokens, they have to win people’s hearts with their voices and music.
In the first half of the 20th century, xam grouped up to travel everywhere. Each group was often led by a group leader, who was a blind man.
The word “professional” is needed to describe xam, who earn their living by singing. The professionalism of this job is also shown through the organisation of xam groups, which are linked with each other under the control of a leader.
Normally, each xam leader controls an area. If a xam group wants to sing in another area, it needs the agreement of the xam leader who controls that area.
It is also professional in the way xam choose sad or merry melodies to be appropriate to the circumstance and the attitude of listeners.
Hat xam’s founder is a prince?
Normally, only jobs related to production have founders, but hat xam also has a founder. And the founder of hat xam is a dignitary, Prince Tran Quoc Dinh.
According to legend, in the Tran Dynasty, there were two princes, Tran Quoc Toan and Tran Quoc Dinh. As both sought the crown, a power struggle ensued. During an altercation, Tran Quoc Toan tore out Tran Quoc Dinh’s eyes and threw him into the forest.
Tran Quoc Dinh couldn’t do anything but cry. He fell asleep. In a dream, a Buddha appeared and gave him a musical instrument which was played with a bamboo rod. Upon awakening, he made the musical instrument based on his dream. It was odd that the instrument created sweet sounds. Hearing the sound, birds brought fruits to him. Some lumbermen heard the sound and took care of him.
Prince Tran Quoc Dinh taught poor and blind people how to play the instrument and sing as well. He became famous, even in the capital. He was invited to sing in the royal palace, where his father recognised his son. Even after returning to the palace, the prince continued to teach poor and blind people.
Hat xam was born then and Tran Quoc Dinh was honoured as the founder of hat xam. Xam consider the 22nd day of the second lunar month and the 22nd day of the eight lunar month as the prince’s death anniversary and the founding anniversary of hat xam.
The Vietnam Music Art Development Centre has an award in the name of Tran Quoc Dinh for artists, collectors, researchers and journalists who make great contributions to traditional music
Based on the characteristics of this job, the anniversary is often organised on wide plots of land, not in a temple or a fixed place.
Restoring hat xam anniversary
Hat xam and hat xam anniversary was popular in the 1950-1960 and it disappeared after that. In 2008, the Vietnam Music Art Development Centre resumed the anniversary for the first time at Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature). This is part of a programme to restore hat xam art conducted since 2005.
Restoring the anniversary is also the aspiration of the living treasure of hat xam, artisan Ha Thi Cau.
This year, the second anniversary will be held at the communal house of Hao Nam village, on Vu Thanh street. According to musician Thao Giang, who initiated the resumption of this anniversary, as of 2009, this anniversary will be organised annually at this communal house.
It is pity that this year artisan Ha Thi Cau will not attend the anniversary because she is very weak now. After the anniversary, some xam singers will go to Ninh Binh province to visit the latest famous xam singer of the 20th century, Mrs. Ha Thi Cau.
Am Sac Viet (Vietnamese Timbre) – a program that brings three musical styles from the North, the Central and the South of Vietnam - is attracting thousands of people in the Hue festival.
Am Sac Viet is a combination of ca tru (choral chamber music) from the north, ca Hue (Hue singing) and cai luong (renovated opera) from the south.
Three troupes, one from each region, got together for their first one-hour performance inside Dien Tho palace on Sunday night.
The four-member Thai Ha group from Ha Noi, Hue-based Phu Xuan with seven artists and two artists from Bach Tuyet and Thanh Hai from HCM City each performed a 20-minute item.
“I love the atmosphere of this music which feels like a trip back in history to the time of the mandarin or the court of the Vietnamese kings, when there was nothing electronic, only music, architecture and simple things,” French tourist Alain Thomas said. “It is extremely emotional music and has a very unique timbre.”
The audience was welcomed through the three entrances of the wooden palace by young women in ao dai (traditional long dress of Viet Nam) and were shown to their seats on embroidered pillows around a slightly raised stage.
In front of each pillow was a porcelain flowered tray on which sat a pottery tea set, a small pottery plate plus a white or pink lotus flower.
The show’s director said three sweet bean candies and three sugar-coated lotus seeds were laid out for audience members to allow the fine fragrance of the lotus flower to circulate during the performance.
“I have no idea about the programme but its name absorbed me,” said a Viet kieu (an overseas Vietnamese), home from the US for one month.
“As a Viet kieu living far from Viet Nam for such a long time, I am very interested in this music,” the middle-aged woman said. “I know it is something very original.”
Seventy-year-old Nguyen Van Mui, the leader of the Thai Ha troupe, said the combination in such solemn surroundings helps the audiences better understand the typical features of each style of music.
“I am happy to see not only middle-aged and old people, but also young people show respect for traditional music.”
Sitting silently from the beginning to the end of the show, 19-year-old Nguyen Le Minh, a student from the Hue, was one of the youngest members of the audience.
Minh had only come inside Dien Tho to shelter from the rain, but then decided to stay.
“But it is not easy to enjoy the three typical kinds of music at the same time and in a such a serious atmosphere.”
Am Sac Viet programme is performed every night at Dien Tho Palace throughout the Hue Festival.
Source: Vietnam Culture
“How joyful to have a Trong Com; and it is an honour for those who can clap it skilfully, oohh ah bong ah bong…”, are beautiful lyrics and melody of a famous song from Vietnamese folklore about Trong Com.
Normally, the song is usually accompanied by a picture of boy or girl drummers with axehead-shaped turbans and long-shaped drums hung loose from the neck down to about the belly. This drum is called Trong Com, which contributes an unique sound – now happy and cheerful, now low, soft and woeful recalling the innermost feelings of one’s native country, one’s homeland...
The history behind
Legend goes that once upon a time, there was a poor Confucian disciple who was very unlucky in competitions and examinations and had to go begging. Everyday, he went past the mansion of a wealthy family where there was always a girl waiting to give him rice. One day, so moved by her good deed, the young man came to thank the girl. However, she said that she had done just what she had been ordered to do by her young mistress. On learning that, the man requested to see the mistress, who was a kind-hearted girl. Seeing the poor scholar bowing with joined hands, the damsel hurriedly bent down to raise him and said: “Never mind, please! I understand and sympathize with your unlucky lot. Since you depart now, I would like to give you a small sum as travelling expenses and this golden hair pin in the earnest hope that one day you will succeed in making a living and come back to the native land, and then…”. The girl left the sentence unfinished, but the scholar had got the message. Fully conscious of his fated misfortune, he decided to turn to music with a determination to achieve success. As time passed, he became famous. Bearing in mind the old promise, he returned to the native village, hoping to meet again his benefactor. Unfortunately, upon arrival, he learnt that the damsel had just passed away due to illness. In his great lament, the young man brought along his musical instrumentalist guild to pay tributes to the deceased and himself created a small, cylindrical drum with rice stuck against both drumheads in commemoration of the ill-fated girl. The strip from which the drum was hung was made of white cloth symbolizing the mourning band. And as he clapped the drumheads, the doleful sounds echoed his deep pain and the loss of his sweetheart.
The Trong Com is held at both ends by a strip hanging over the performer’s neck. It thus lies horizontally against the belly of the drummer who uses both hands to clap the drumheads. In the past, people stuck a handful of glutinous rice to each drumhead. The glutinous rice stuck against the drumhead lends its name to the drum (Trong Com in Vietnamese literally means “Rice Drum”).
The Trong Com gets its name from the practice of placing a pinch of hot steamed rice in the middle of the drum skin to “tune” the instrument. Cylindrical drums are straight-sided. They may have one head, but more often have two heads (one head at each end). One head may have a snare (buzzing string) stretched across it. The body of the drum is made of wood in a tubular shape with the ends slightly tapered. A string is passed through the holes pierced on the edge of each of its faces and strung across it in a zigzag fashion to regulate its tension. The sound obtained from one face is five tones higher than the other. The sound of the trong com is a little dull, somewhat similar to the large-sized dan ho, and it is used to express sadness.
The Trong Com is one of the percussion instruments used in worshipping and various ceremonies, in accompanying Tuong or Cheo drama and in Phuong Bat Am or an octet (a popular ensemble of eight instrumental timbres). Its use has also spread to Cai luong (reformed opera) and other orchestras. The player, when standing, has the Trong Com slung over his stomach. When sitting he rests his instrument on his lap. He strikes the faces of the drum with his fingers with varied style.
Meaningful flow of sound in a rotating cylindricity of Trong Com is so popular in Vietnamese traditional festivals, that always bring about different feelings for the listeners, now happy and cheerful, now low, soft and woeful…