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Flutes born of love

The young often start businesses with modern concepts revolving around IT, food or fashion, but three Mong men from the northern province of Lai Chau have created their own with a passion for the traditional musical instruments of their ethnic group.

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Ma A Chang is pictured with his Mong bamboo flutes. VNA/VNS Photo Viet Hoang

Ma A Chang, Sung A Khoa and Vang A Thanh have set up a workshop that produces traditional musical instruments of the ethnic Mong people like bamboo flutes or khèn (panpipes).

The Mong flute, also known as the Meo flute, is an indispensable part of Mong traditional festivals.

Not only providing a source of entertainment, it is also traditionally a means for boys to express their love for girls in the village.

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Not only providing a source of entertainment, the bamboo flute is also a means for Mong boys to express their love for girls in the village. Photo dantri.com.vn

 

The creator of the flute workshop is 27-year-old Chang from Sin Cau Village in Giang Ma Commune of Lai Chau District.

Under his father’s guidance, he started learning to play the bamboo flute at the age of 10 and soon realised his love for musical instruments.

He has made flutes since he was young. The flutes, despite their simplicity and roughness, have nurtured his passion for traditional arts.

Growing up, Chang continually practised perfecting his flute sound. After graduating from grade 12, he took up various jobs but still cherished the dream of spreading knowledge of his ethnic musical instrument by opening a shop selling flutes.

The craft of making bamboo flutes in the Mong community has gradually fallen into oblivion with the onset of modernisation. Many elderly artisans have become too weak while the younger generation has lost interest in traditional values.

Taking the first step to fulfilling his dream, Chang began studying how to launch a business. To make it less risky, the young man contacted friends with a similar passion to establish the workshop.

“At first, I faced many difficulties in finding people I could trust to join my business," Chang said.

“Sometimes I thought I would have to forget my dreams to take up other jobs. However, the passion inspired me to move on and not give up.

“I went on Facebook to find young friends who were passionate enough to join my business. Fortunately, I was introduced to Sung A Khoa, 34, from Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, and Vang A Thanh, 25, from Nam Po District, Dien Bien Province.”

Their common love for music has enabled the three men to work from the same page. In August last year, after accumulating enough money, they rented two houses in Tam Duong District, one for making musical instruments and another for displaying the finished products. They also hired four locals as workers at their workshop.

“I have been interested in the traditional bamboo flutes of my ethnicity for a long time but normally only play them on special occasions like the New Year or other traditional festivals,” Thanh said.

“Never had I thought that I could open a shop to sell and teach others how to play Mong flutes until I met Chang.”

To increase the quality and quantity of the products, Cháng and his friends invested in some machines to aid the production such as drills, polishers and paint sprayers.

However, they prioritise quality over quantity so demand meticulousness from their workers.

A Mong flute has two main parts – the mouthpiece and its body. It might sound simple, but it takes time, skill and perseverance to complete a piece.

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The workshop has been providing stable jobs for eight locals. VNA/VNS Photo Viet Hoang 

Five months after its opening, the workshop now provides jobs for eight locals, five of which have been professionally trained both in technique and music theory.

“I used to work as a carpenter, but it was a hard job and my health was severely affected by sawdust. Via a friend’s introduction, I applied for a job at the flute workshop and have been working there for two months. My income is more stable too,” Hang A Chung from Son Binh Commune said.

One of the main aims of the workshop is to create jobs for locals, Chang said.

“Each worker can earn from VND4-6 million (US$170-260) per month. On the other hand, we want to arouse young people’s attention and interest in traditional art, spreading the beauty of Mong flutes,” he added.

Due to the impact of the pandemic, the flutes are mainly sold on social network platforms and via word of mouth. They were also introduced at the third Mong Ethnic Culture Festival in Lai Chau Province last December.

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The flutes of the workshop are on display at the Third Mong Ethnic Culture Festival in Lai Chau Province last December. VNA/VNS Photo Viet Hoang 

In the future, the men plan to diversify their products, covering more ethnic musical instruments like khen (panpipes), in addition to gathering flautists nationwide to open professional training courses to teach young people.

They look forward to publicising Mong flutes to audiences via the mass media someday so that their delicate sounds can travel far and wide.

Source: Vietnam News

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