Ancient Vietnamese singing art saved from extinction

11:18 | 10/01/2018 Culture & Art

(VEN) - UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage meeting in Jeju (Republic of Korea) in early December has decided to transfer a Vietnamese musical tradition from the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

ancient vietnamese singing art saved from extinction

“Xoan Singing of Phu Tho Province, Vietnam” was inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List in 2011 due to declining appreciation of this tradition, notably among young people. The committee noted that since then, efforts by local communities and national authorities reinforced the viability of Xoan singing, a performing art which also features dance and percussions.

Closely linked to the worship of Hung kings, Xoan singing is a religious practice rooted in the ancestor worship of the Viet people. It is traditionally performed during the first two months of the lunar calendar in holy places such as temples, sanctuaries and communal houses. Xoan singing is an art of collective singing and dancing, with performers usually related to each other. Actresses play the main role in xoan performances.

There are three types of Xoan singing - honoring Hung kings and village guardian spirits; wishing for good crops, health, and luck; and festive courtship songs with alternating male and female voices.

According to a survey conducted in 2010 by the Phu Tho Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the ancient Xoan melodies had been preserved in only four villages - An Thai, Thet, Phu Duc, and Kim Dai – in the province’s city of Viet Tri, and in 17 other localities in Phu Tho and Vinh Phuc provinces during lunar spring festivals.

A program to counter the decline of this tradition was launched in 2013 and is due to run until 2020. The safeguard program has led to an increase in the number of musicians practicing Xoan singing from approximately 100 in 2011 to 200 today. Over the same period, the average age of practitioners fell from over 60 to 35. The program also allowed for the creation of a fund and festivals, the launch of publications and documentaries alongside training activities. Over that past six years, 31 Xoan melodies have been collected and many xoan wards have been established. There are currently 33 ongoing xoan singing clubs, and Xoan seminars were held and more are planned.

Since 2009, when the Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists were created, this is the first time that the Committee examines a transfer from one list to the other.

Phu Tho is interested in restoring relic sites related to xoan singing while adopting policies honoring Xoan actresses and encouraging high schools to include the unique genre in their list of art subjects.

Thanh Tam