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Music of Vietnam - The Best Kinds of Traditional Vietnamese Music

Music is an essential part of any culture or community. Vietnam is one of the few places where their music was inspired by both Western and Eastern tunes. It varies from pop to traditional music in such an interesting manner that the music of Vietnam is the most sought after tourist attraction. Vietnamese music has been influenced by the United Kingdom, United States, China, Korea and many other countries. With almost 54 minor ethnicities Vietnam's music on itself has a large number of variations and diversity.

Vietnam has about 50 national music instruments, the best being the percussion. Ever since monarchy prevailed in Vietnam, the locals used to create new and diverse music which is even popular now and you might still find locals singing folk songs with a guitar through the nights.
Traditional music in Vietnam
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Vietnamese music was essentially eastern in nature but since the 19th century, the music has seen a lot of westernization too when a lot of Vietnam's artists began adding the by-then-famous American music trends to their own music. A huge influence came from Korea, Japan and western countries. Vietnamese pop music is also very famous and Vietnamese artists today are striving to get their music known to the world. While pop music is gaining grounds undoubtedly, the traditional folk music remains at the heart of the older generations of Vietnamese people. Traditional music in itself is a variety across the lands of Vietnam among the northern, central and southern regions.

Types of Traditional Music in Vietnam

1. Đờn Ca Tài Tử (Southern Amateur Music)

southern amateur music in vietnam
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This form of traditional Vietnamese music is a world cultural heritage recognized by UNESCO. Established in the 19th century, it has been over a hundred years since this form of music combining lyrics and musical instruments was born. This type of traditional music is preferred by southern rural populations. This form was very famous as the band performance, combining five traditional music instruments of Vietnam: dan nguyet (moon lute), dan tranh (zither), dan bau (monochord), dan ty ba (pipa), and dan tam; sometimes accompanied by the flute. The singers are usually normal people who sing with no particular rhyme schemes just for passing time during community gatherings.

2. Cải Lương

traditional music in vietnam
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This is a kind of opera music that was born on the soils of Southern Vietnam and is inspired by the Đờn Ca Tài Tử and folk music from the Mekong Delta. These songs contain verses relating to old stories from Vietnam, France, India, Egypt and Japan. This variety of content makes it very special. These operas have an orchestra accompanying them that give the depth needed in portraying the characters in various dramatic situations. 

3. Hò and Lý (Chanty)

Chanty music in vietnam performance
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This form of music in Vietnam is very popular among the common folk for its precise depiction of lifestyle, habits and mood of the labourers in the valley of ancient Vietnam. These two types of music are closely woven together the only difference being Hò being related to the working movement. Locals are often seen chanting these music forms in central and southern Vietnam.

4. Nhã Nhạc (Hue Royal Court Music)

Hue royal court music
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Born under Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam, Hue royal court music is recognized as a masterpiece of oral and intangible world cultural heritage by UNESCO. This is a collection of 126 original songs all very different from each other and these were often performed at festivals and ceremonies during the monarchical times of the Nguyen. This music is known to have influenced a lot of present-day Vietnamese music trends. It is also known to contribute to creating the complete structure of orchestral music.

5. Ca Trù (Hát Ả Đào)

traditional vietnamese music
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Ca Trù was famous in the 15th century among bureaucrats of the time. UNESCO recognized it as a heritage form of music that requires urgent protection. There are three main components of a Ca Trù performance - the “đào” or a female singer using tongs, the “kép” or the male instrumentalist and the “quan viên” or the drummer. It has long been known as the court music of the 15th century.

6. Chầu Văn

chau van music in vietnam
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Associated with the Mother Goddesses worship, this style of folk music in Vietnam is mostly spiritual in nature with solemn and deep meaning verses. This music is mostly accompanied by instruments like the moon lute, small drum, tongs, cymbals, flute and the Vietnamese monochord. This being a worship song, is performed during spiritual activities and can be performed for long hours at a stretch.

7. Chèo

Cheo music in vietnam
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This is a performance-based music form which has recently gained a lot of ground in the Northern and Central Vietnam. This consists of folk music with a tint of ethnicity, poetry and romance. This form of music has recently become very famous and is preferred by a large number of people. The songs are meaningful and represent the Vietnamese people in general which makes it so influential. 

8. Quan Ho Folk Songs

Quan ho folk songs in vietnam
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Coming from the ancient region of Kinh Bac, it is one of the typical folk song forms of music in Vietnam. These songs are performed in groups of 5-6 which get segregated into brothers and sisters, who sing one after the other with or without music.

9. Tuồng

traditional music in vietnam
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This is a derivation of Vietnamese folk songs and traditional Chinese operas. This form of music has just one message. The victory of good over bad and how it acts as a pathway for everyone to follow. These performances are generally made to deliver life lessons, love for family and country and the respect for the national heroes.

10. Xẩm

xam music in vietnam
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This form of music is on the verge of being forgotten after its last singer Mrs Ha Thi Cau passed away in 2013. This type of music was known in Vietnam to be the music of the beggars who sang to earn a livelihood and so the instruments used are also very simple. Recently there have been efforts to create awareness of this almost dead form of music.

Pop Music Culture in Vietnam

pop music
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With passing time and upcoming generations in the music industry, even Vietnam has picked up a lot of trends from the international (western mainly) music. Countries like Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and China have also influenced Vietnamese music. With their singers like Hồ Quỳnh Hương, Mỹ Tâm, Hồ Ngọc Hà, Lam Trường, and many more performing on international stages, the Vietnamese music industry is at a booming high. In the last decade or so there has been a substantial grown in Vietnamese pop music. There have been a lot of mainstream, independent and labelled artists coming up in Vietnam in recent times. This also has succeeded in raising the bars for the quality of recording and editing of songs and their music videos. More and more private music recording studios are blooming in Vietnam. This has helped a lot of Vietnamese singers to collaborate with international stars.

Rock and Heavy Metal Music in Vietnam

Rock music in vietnam
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During the Vietnam War, the Americans brought with them the rock and roll style. This spread after the warlike wildfire and began growing until it became mainstream in most of the regions. So yes, for the past decade or so, Vietnam has even generated the Rock and Heavy Metal music culture, their current top bands being Buc Tuong Microwave and the Black Infinity.

Although the current generation is heavily inspired by contemporary music in Vietnam, traditional music there will always have a sense of intrigue to them and warmth to the older generations. The last decade has been really experimental and evolving in the Vietnamese music industry but this hasn't brought it down at any point of time. Instead, their love for their folk music forms has just kept growing and it remains one of the major tourist attractions till date.

This post was published by Swetanshu Subhrajit