Traditional Vietnamese music enjoys online revival

By Long Nguyen   April 30, 2021 | 11:26 pm PT
Vietnamese musicians have uploaded their work to online streaming sites and social media, hoping to revive their respective, traditional genres.

"Dan Ca & Nhac Co Truyen" (Folklore Songs & Traditional Music) is a YouTube channel birthed in November 2019 and featuring videos of Vietnamese artists reciting "Truyen Kieu" (The Tale of Kieu) by poet Nguyen Du. His 19th century epic ‘Truyen Kieu’ is a Vietnamese literary classic known for its theme conveying early feminism and other universal human values.

Three weeks after its release, "Thuy Kieu Tham Mo Dam Tien" (Thuy Kieu Visit Dam Tien’s grave), a popular part of the poem, had attracted more than 66,000 views, amid a stream of positive comments.

"This is great, the spirit and thinking of our ancestors are preserved in this," a netizen wrote.

"Her voice is perfect, I enjoy listening to this with my children," a mother said.

Music expert Nguyen Quang Long, founder of the YouTube channel, said: "I'm surprised at the number of views since classic and traditional music not commonly popular."

"The Tale of Kieu" recitation has become familiar to generations of Vietnamese, especially the old. But this is the first time all 3,254 verses of the poem are recited and brought to a video streaming platform, reaching a wide range of audiences.

Recently, some Vietnamese artists added their work to streaming platforms and social networks, hoping to compete with other genres.

Artist Thanh Hoa performs The Tale of Kieu recitation. Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Nguyen.

Artist Thanh Hoa recites "The Tale of Kieu". Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Nguyen.

"The Tale of Kieu" recitations have been typically accompanied by genres of traditional music including cheo, ca tru (ceremonial), and xam (blind busker) singing.

"I combined these pieces of music with the poem to create a perfect piece of art," Long maintained.

His YouTube channel introduces various other genres of Vietnamese traditional music, attracting thousands of views.

"Xam Ha Thanh" is another YouTube channel promoting traditional music. With more than 100 videos, it has garnered hundreds of thousands of views, and its Facebook page has received many kudos.

In Ho Chi Minh City, theatre actress Binh Tinh has collaborated with several cai luong (southern-style reform opera) artists to release music videos on her YouTube channel.

"I hope my YouTube videos would teach viewers about the Vietnamese spirit of tuong and cai luong," 29-year-old Tinh told local media.

At the age of 80, music expert Nguyen Nha has also created a YouTube channel and Facebook page introducing folklore for children.

"Folklore lullabies help kids appreciate their roots," he said.

Rocky path

Most traditional musicians face financial difficulties when trying to promote their work online.

Nha, who has taught scores of local school children folklore songs, has had to fund his own initiatives.

In a similar vein, Long too struggled to make his "The Tale of Kieu" recitation a reality due to money constraints.

"At first I wanted to have a live performance, but that would be expensive. So I thought about uploading the recitation to YouTube, even though it's not that much cheaper. I was lucky to be sponsored VND40 million ($1,716)," he recalled.

The music expert said he wanted to introduce many other types of traditional music and artists on his YouTube channel, should finances allow.

Insiders believe streaming platforms and social networks are helping artists popularize traditional music.

"International audiences can enjoy these videos too, meaning traditional music could spread all over the globe," Long told Thanh Nien newspaper.

He warned that some artists have created YouTube or Facebook sites just to make money instead of simply sharing their music passion, with some channels even stealing work without permission.

"In the last few years, some traditional musicians have embraced social media by creating their own channels or pages. Their work would be better exposed if collated on a central site, managed by a dedicate team," Long mentioned.

"Besides, preferential policies for traditional arts and artist groups are also necessary," he added.

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