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Preserving Nung ethnic group’s soul through folk songs

Nong Dung Long, a Nung ethnic minority man in Phon Xuong Town, Yen The District, Bac Giang Province, said that today many Nung people cannot speak their traditional language so he recorded their folk songs in a notebook.

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Meritorious artist Nong Dung Long (left) exchanging the Nung ethnic minority group's folk melodies with his friend. (Photo: yenthe.bacgiang.gov.vn)

From a farm worker…

Long’s notebook consists of hundreds of Nung ethnic folk songs that he remembered and collected from artisans in the district. He even composed the lyrics for several songs, praising his homeland, nation, Party, Uncle Ho and family love. The notebook is also considered as his main “lesson plan” in teaching young people who love the folk music of the Nung ethnic minority group.

Nung folk music is diverse, but Soong Hao and luon singing are the main types. Soong Hao means “two of us” in the Nung language. Soong Hao and luon songs are often performed at village fairs and at new year festivals to exchange greetings and love among young people.

Perhaps the singing, the joy of living and the love for traditional folk songs have helped the nearly 80-year-old man remain as youthful and healthy as he now. When he was 16-17 years old, Long followed his friends to sing Soong Hao. He then worked for Dong Tien afforestation yard in Yen The District when he was 20. With a good voice, he often sang many songs, especially the Nung ethnic group’s folk songs, to entertainother workers during break time.

In 1991, he retired following over 30 years of working in the forestry sector. He always wondered how to contribute to restoring his ethnic group’s folk music. Despite his difficult life, he spent much time collecting the folk songs of the Nung people - such as inviting water, inviting betel, inviting wine, new year greetings and happy birthday songs. His plan to form a Soong Hao singing club was accepted by the Phon Xuong communal administration in 2001. The club’s name was changed into the Nung ethnic minority folk singing club.

At first, the club had only seven members in the commune. However, the beauty of Nung folk songs has attracted more people from other localities. As a result, the club now consists of 20 members. They gather once a month at Dong Nhan Village’s cultural house to learn the basic techniques in singing Nung folk songs. So far, the club’s members have learnt dozens of songs by heart.

They have also given performances to local people on the occasions of New Year Festival and holidays and important political events, notably Yen The Festival. At the 2017 Yen The District’s Mass Art Festival, Ma Thi Cuc and Ma Thi Toan (7 years old), the youngest members of the club won an A prize and the award for the youngest contestants.

… to meritorious artist title

Over the past 20 years, the club has operated regularly on the spirit of volunteer. The instructors have taught others without any fee. Long’s family completely supported his plans. Despite his scanty pension, he invested millions of Vietnamese dongs in amplifiers and loudspeakers, creating conditions for the club’s members to practice and familiarise themselves with the stage’s atmosphere.

He has participated in many arts festivals in the district and province and gained many high prizes. He said: “I cannot remember all the awards. I only remember the B prize at the folk dance and singing competition in Bac Giang Province in 2002. In the same year, the Yen The District People’s Committee presented many certificates of merit to me for my achievements at the provincial festivals. I also bagged the C prize at the provincial ethnic minority groups’ cultural festival in 2003 and B prize at Bac Giang elderly’s singing voice competition in 2009”.

At the age of nearly 80 years old, Long still proactively joined many other social works in addition to being the head of the Nung Folk Singing Club. He is a member of the board of Phon Xuong communal elderly arts club and Quan ho (love duet) singing club. In 2019, the Phon Xuong commune received a certificate of merit from the Bac Giang provincial Department of Culture and Tourism for its achievements in cultural, sport and tourism movements.

In recognition of his contributions to preserving and promoting the nation’s intangible heritages, Long was honoured with the Meritorious Artist title in 2019. He has tried his best to preserve the Nung ethnic minority group’s soul through folk songs. Nhan Dan

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