Xoan singing of Vietnam was inscribed this month on the UN List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Xoan singing is practiced in Phú Thọ Province, Viet Nam, in the first two months of the lunar year. Traditionally, singers from Xoan guilds performed songs in sacred spaces such as temples, shrines and communal houses for the spring festivals.
There are three forms of Xoan singing: worship singing for the Hùng kings and village guardian spirits; ritual singing for good crops, health and luck; and festival singing where villagers alternate male and female voices in a form of courtship.
Each Xoan music guild is headed by a leader, referred to as the trùm; male instrumentalists are called kép and female singers, đào. Although only four traditional guilds remain, in recent years the singing has been taken up by clubs and other performing groups.
Xoan singing is accompanied by dancing and musical instruments such as clappers and a variety of drums. The music has a spare structure with few ornamental notes and simple rhythms, and Xoan is characterized by a modulation between singers and instrumentalists at the perfect fourth interval.
Knowledge, customs and techniques for singing, dancing and playing drum and clappers are traditionally transmitted orally by the guild leader. However, the majority of bearers are now over sixty years in age, and the numbers of people who appreciate Xoan singing have decreased, particularly among the younger generations.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.