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Xam Singing in the life

June 16, 2016

 A performance of Xam singing, a form of unique traditional folk music, took place recently at the Hao Nam communal house in Hanoi. 

The event, titled “Pondering life through the rhythms of Xam”, was co-organized by the “Toi xe dich” (I move) project and the Vietnam Musical Development Center to raise youths love for this traditional art form and further their understanding of the country’s cultural essence.

“I Move” is a social media project encouraging the youths to travel widely, live deeply and further their understanding of traditional values.

Under the project, many discussions on Vietnam’s traditional culture have been held, including “Ca Tru – Ceremonial Singing”, “Dong Ho folk art paintings”, and “Cheo – Traditional Opera”.

The topic of this month is “Xam singing”, a traditional art form, has been recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.

The wonderful and attractive melodies caught the particular attention of Vietnamese and foreign audiences alike

The wonderful and attractive melodies caught the particular attention of Vietnamese and foreign audiences alike

Le Xuan Phong, Head of the organizing board, clarified the purpose of the work. “This month, we chose a topic called “Pondering life, through the rhythms of Xam” to bring young people a more complete and deeper understanding of this traditional art form.

There seemed to be an invisible connection between the performers and the audience

There seemed to be an invisible connection between the performers and the audience

This is also the first time audience got the opportunity to experience Xam while blindfolded. The unique interaction is a way to help audiences further become immersed in the notions of Xam through the perspective of the blind artist.”

Despite scattered rain showers, the back yard of the Hao Nam communal house was already full of people young and old, Vietnamese and foreign. The audiences sat on mats, creating a closeness and warmth between the audience and artists.

People were eager to see the artists and listen to traditional Xam songs while blind-folded, a unique way to experience the features of the art form.

All the participants were quickly fascinated by the art when the artist raised his voice. There seemed to be an invisible connection between the performers and the audience.

Xuan Phong elaborated, “The stories told in Xam are those of life. Among traditional Vietnamese art forms, Xam is considered something that’s very simple and a familiar part of normal life. The artists sing like they are talking to their audiences.”

“Xam songs are diverse in content, some praise love, family bonds, some tell stories of people’s lives. Through the performances, we want to raise awareness of people of the prized tradition of Xam singing,” he added.

The Deputy Director of the Vietnam musical development center, researcher and composer Thao Giang said Xam singing is not just an art, but also the essence of Vietnamese culture, and hoped that the event could raise people’s awareness of this art form.

“To create opportunities for the youths to learn and find inspiration from traditional Vietnamese values, the Vietnam musical development center has coordinated with many NGOs and universities in or around Hanoi to revival Xam singing,” she said.

“It is a good sign that, amid the variety of so many modern musical genres, the younger generation does’t turn their backs on traditional art forms. They should still nurture love, appreciate and uphold the beauty of the country’s cultural treasure,” Giang added.

Audience member Nguyen Van Bon, from Ha noi couldn’t hide his emotions. When Bon was young, he used to listen to Xam songs on the trams or in the markets; thus, the familiar images of the blind artists are still fresh on his memory. The performances brought him memories of Hanoi in the past.

Bon said, “I used to listen to Xam singing in the 60s and 70s. The melodies of Xam songs and the sound of the streetcars’ bells in Hanoi were part of my childhood memories. When the artists raised their voices, it was like touching the listeners heart. At this age, I rarely go out too late. However, when I heard news of the event, I told myself that I would definitely have to come to listen to the songs and stay till the end”

The wonderful and attractive melodies caught the particular attention of Vietnamese and foreign audiences alike.

Andrew Riese from the US said this was not the first time he had listened to Xam songs, but the live performances brought him new feelings and emotions.

“Oh, I’m interested in finding out more about Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese music. This is the first time I heard it in live music. By the way, I heard it at different places in Vietnam before. You know, it makes me feel happier and you know, it just has an exciting sense to it,” he said.

Besides the performances by professional Xam artists, the Vietnam musical development center created opportunities for their students, who had just started studying Xam for 2 months before performing Xam songs.

This helped the youths enter a world of a modest genre of traditional music that is so filled with love, appreciation and joy. 10-year-old Vuơng Ngoc Hieu talked about his first time being on stage.

“I have dreamt to be on stage since I was very small as I wanted to preserve and maintain the traditional Xam songs as well as the beauty of my homeland through Xam melodies.”

Researcher/Composer Thao Giang said the event was a success because it conquered people’s hearts.

“The event not only focuses on the performances, but also highlights the feelings of the audience about differences genres of Xam. Interspersed between the performances are  explanations of the metaphors used in the previous songs. This is not about playing a song list; this is about feelings, and the vibration of the audiences’ hearts when touching the performer’s soul,” she said.

“For me, the event is a success. Xam singing and its traditional values live on as it receives so much love and awareness from the people, especially from the younger generation,” she added.

The event hopes to increase younger people’s understanding and love for Vietnamese traditional values as they will definitely be the most enthusiastic and effective preservers and promoters of the country’s culture to the world.

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