Xoan Singing - World Intangible Cultural Heritage of Vietnam

Xoan singing - an unique traditional orally transmitted art, also known as Lai Len singing, Dum Singing, Cua Dinh singing (singing at the communal house) is originated from worshipping King Hung custom in Vietnam. So far, Xoan singing has become one of the unique cultural activities in Phu Tho province.

A Xoan singing performance

Formerly, Xoan singing was called Xuan Singing (sing in the Spring); later, word “Xuan” was changed to Xoan. Legend has it that, In Huong Nha commune, Tam Nong District there was a temple worshipping Ms. Xuan, or Xuan Nuong woman general; in Huong Non commune, Tam Nong District, there was a temple of Le Xuan Lan Holy Mother; in Huu BO, Lam Thao district, there was Xuan Dung Holy Mother temple. Annually, the villages organized festivals at the communal house and invited the Xuan singing troupes invited to perform the worship singing. Since the village's tutelary God named Xuan , the troupes had to change their name from Xuan to Xoan.

In seventeenth century, many villages in Phu Tho built communal house to worship Gods, hold the village meetings, ... Then, Xoan troupes had to transfer the performance place from at the temples to at the communal house.. This change forced the Xoan troupes to find suitable art solutions to integrate and adapt to new performing place (Cua Dinh singing).

The artists are singing Xoan at the communal house’s yard

Until eighteenth century, most villages in Phu Tho had their communal house. In the festive season, the village often invited Xoan singing troupes to perform the worship singing. This custom came from the fact that communal houses in the villages of Phu Tho worshipped the historical person or mythological figures related to Hung Vuong era. Ancient people believed that Xoan singing had been taught by Hung kings to worship the ancestors of Lac Viet country. Therefore, in the spirit and belief of people living in Van Lang formerly and in Phu Tho nowadays, Xoan singing is the most sacred and attractive form of worship singing.

Normally, a complete Xoan singing performance consist of three stages :
(1) – the Worship singing – this stage aims to commemorate the Hung Kings, the gods, the people who had merit for the country and ancestors of the clan;
(2) – the Ritual singing which praises the nature, human beings, productive life, community life through 14 different melodies called 14 Qua cach;
(3) - the Festival singing expressing desire for life, love between men and women and serving the cultural needs of the community with the lyrical and funny tunes performed through the alternate and repartee between men and women and between the singers and instrumentalists in the guilds... However, depending on the activity in the local area, in many cases, Xoan singing is only performed one of two of the three above- mentioned stages.

The alternate singing between men and women

Music in Xoan singing is constituted primarily from the simple notes. Xoan melodies are rustic, rhythm is simple, the singing voice is close to speaking voice. Xoan singing instruments only consists of a small drum and some pairs of bamboo clappers.

Currently, in the province of Phu Tho, people has preserved the 31 Xoan songs and 4 Xoan guilds (named An Thai, Thet, Phu Duc and Kim Dai) which all belong to Viet Tri city. A Xoan music guild is headed by a leader (called a Trùm) . In Xoan singing, the male instrumentalists (kép nam) often sing first (act as Chanters), dance, and beat the drums; meanwhile, the female singers (đào nữ) often repeats, alternate singing, or dance... Additionally, when Xoan music guilds are invited to perform in other places, in the Festival Singing stage, there has the participation of men and women representing the local community....

Xoan singing is recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding of humanity by the UNESCO

With all the historical, cultural and scientific value of this unique art form, on November 24, 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially recognized Xoan singing of Phu Tho as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding of humanity. Therefore, the protection and promotion of the values of Xoan singing art will positively contribute to the maintenance of national cultural identities and maintaining diversity of human culture.

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