Xoan singing of Phu Tho province was recognized by UNESCO as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage in late 2017.
A Xoan singing performance in the Hung Kings Festival in Phu Tho (Photo: Phu Tho newspaper)
Dating back to the Hung Kings dynasty thousands of years ago, Xoan singing is traditionally performed during the Hung Kings Festival on the 10th day of the 3rd lunar month.
As a performing art, Xoan singing includes singing, dancing, drumming and clapping. It is closely linked to the worship of the Hung Kings, a belief rooted in the ancestor worship of the Vietnamese.
In the lead-up to the Hung Kings Festival, which will fall on Sunday this year, Xoan guilds were busy rehearsing their performance.
Phan Thi Kiem of Kim Dai ward, Viet Tri city, wearing a kerchief and ao dai traditional long dress, was taken to the communal house by her grandchildren in the early morning.
Despite her 110 years of age, Kiem sings very well. She is one of the first 17 Xoan singers to be honored with the title “Emeritus Artisan” by the State.
Kiem said, “On an occasion like this, I feel very happy and excited. I want to live several years longer so I can sing.”
Two youngsters named Le Thi Thu Ha and Ngo Quoc Cuong are singing a Xoan song called “Growing cotton, ploughing beds for beans” with some village elders at the Kim Dai communal house.
They said, “I like to learn Xoan singing because it is a cultural heritage of Vietnam.” “I learned Xoan singing when I was a first grader. I love this song because its melody is beautiful. It’s not very difficult to sing. I sing it during school festivals.”
Ha and Cuong are the 4th generation of 2 families of Xoan singers in Phu Tho. Veteran singers like Emeritus Artisan Le Xuan Ngu, chief of the Phu Duc Xoan guild in Viet Tri city, taught Xoan singing to the young people.
Ngu said, “We train them to sing the old style of Xoan to accompany the three rituals. They perform not only in the communal house as part of rituals to worship the Hung Kings, but also at other events elsewhere.”
Since Xoan singing was recognized as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage, Phu Tho province has implemented several programs to preserve and promote this art. The number of Xoan singing trainers has increased from 7 to 70.
In Phu Tho, there are 4 Xoan singing guilds: An Thai, Thet, Phu Duc, and Kim Dai. 31 basic Xoan songs have been documented and 19 relics associated with Xoan singing have been restored.
Music researcher Dang Hoanh Loan said that because Xoan singing is a type of folksong sung for cultural rituals at communal houses, temples, and pagodas, it’s essential to preserve those venues.
Loan said, “We should protect the cultural spaces, especially the 30 communal houses, where Xoan singing is customarily performed. Xoan singing should be part of daily life and community activities. Phu Tho needs to test certain measures and discuss them with researchers.”
During this year’s Hung Kings Festival, Xoan songs will be sung at many relic sites. In recent years, visitors to temples in Phu Tho have been able to experience Xoan singing and the items associated with it, as part of the province’s efforts to make Xoan singing an entertaining, tourism product promoted here and abroad.