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Feb 23, 2024 / 06:57

For Thang Long – Hanoi ca tru melodies to resound

Folk artisans in Hanoi are making unremitting efforts to preserve ca tru – a precious intangible cultural heritage of the nation.

Hanoi's ca tru folk performances in Lo Khe (Dong Anh District), Thuong Mo (Dan Phuong District), or Ngai Cau (Hoai Duc District), all ancient villages, are well known throughout Vietnam. In the land of Thang Long, the capital of a thousand years of civilization, ca tru tunes still capture the hearts of contemporary audiences.  

Golden season of Hanoian ca tru 

 Ca tru folk singing practice by Hanoi artisans. Photo: VICAS

For centuries, along with Vietnamese art forms like cheo, tuong, and chau van, ca tru has been ingrained in the land of Thang Long – Hanoi, befriending generations of citizens and becoming an inseparable part of the traditional musical treasure of the whole country.

In the past, ca tru was a deluxe hobby of intellectuals. They, the special audience, who were often scholars or connoisseurs of the art, would meet in the spring to enjoy tea and "play with poetry" – composing couplets or poetic parallel sentences. At the same time, they would watch the performances of ca tru singers and lute players.

According to music critic and researcher Nguyen Quang Long, ca tru is most vibrant in the spring – the traditional Vietnamese Lunar New Year. "Ca tru helps create a Hanoi rich in spiritual life and also adds elegance to the capital's traditional arts," he said.

Every year, as the Tet holiday approaches, groups of folk artists in Lo Khe, Thuong Mo, and Ngai Cau villages, Hanoi's ca tru cradle, eagerly pull out their ancient costumes and instruments for ca tru performances.

Living treasure of ca tru

 Nguyen Thi Tam is awarded the title of People's Artist of the folk performance art form ca tru in 2023. Photo: Thien Tu/The Hanoi Times

In 2024, folk musician Nguyen Thi Tam (Thuong Mo Commune, Dan Phuong District, Hanoi) turned 75, but her voice still moved listeners when she sang the song "Mung xuan" or "Spring Celebration" by an anonymous composer. Her diction is wonderfully clear, while her playing skills remain as smooth as those of young ca tru singers.

Singing ca tru for more than half a century, the high-pitched voice still echoes through spring festivals singing classic ca tru songs. Some of them are Nguyen Khac Hieu's Gap Xuan (Meeting Spring) and Xuan Tinh (Spring Love), Nguyen Cong Tru's Choi Xuan Keo Het Xuan Di (Celebrate Spring or Spring Will Pass), Tran Te Xuong's Cau Doi Ngay Tet (Tet Couplets) and Canh Tet Nha Co Dau (Tet Scene at a Singsong Girl's House), and unknown composers' Chuc Xuan (Spring Wishes).

Ca tru successors

 Dan Phuong Commune's Ca Tru Singing Club. Photo: Thien Tu/The Hanoi Times

Nguyen Thi Tam is committed to "living with ca tru as long as she's still healthy.

In 2009, the music genre was inscribed on UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage in urgent need of protection. But the renowned artist from Xu Doai (one of the four ancient provinces surrounding Thang Long) is no longer haunted by the fear that ca tru will disappear for lack of successors.

Instead, she is now delighted to learn that there are over 1,300 members of nearly 20 ca tru groups and clubs with regular practice and activities in Hanoi. They also participate in ca tru festivals throughout the country and perform at tourist events.

This is in stark contrast to 15 years ago, when the city had only a few guilds that operated monotonously, with few artists and audiences.

Over the years, People's Artisan Nguyen Thi Tam has taught many people interested in ca tru locally and elsewhere. Among them, the veteran has found many young people who are passionate about traditional Vietnamese arts. They learn very quickly: within a week they play the phach, a type of clave consisting of a pair of small wooden sticks beaten on a small bamboo platform. Once they have learned all the variations of the phach, they can go on to learn singing and the other instruments.

 Young ca tru performers in Hanoi. Photo: Thien Tu/The Hanoi Times

It's not widely known that ca tru singer Nguyen Mai Phuong (14, Thuong Mo Ca Tru Club), who is famous throughout the country, is one of Tam's students. Thanks to the dedicated teaching, it took only two years for the young singer to play the phach and sing ca tru melodies. Her phach sounds are sharp and on time, and her singing voice is clear and ringing. She is considered a prodigy of Vietnamese ca tru.

Recently, Hanoi has organized ca tru training courses and ca tru festivals to train the next generation of artisans with refined vocal and instrumental techniques.

The capital city of Thang Long – Hanoi is witnessing the revival of ca tru as fresh buds of this folk art have sprouted in the new spring. The young people's love for traditional arts has promised a bright future for Hanoi's ca tru.