Charming “Then” singing, a traditional kind of performing art of several ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, has regained its spotlight, thanks to the effort by local artists in the northern mountainous province of Tuyen Quang.
“Then” singing, a unique combination of singing, music and dance, is practiced by the Thai, Tay, Nung ethnic groups in northern Vietnam. It is traditionally accompanied by a handmade gourd lute called “dan tinh” and “tinh tau”.
To Tay ethnic minority people, “Then” means “god” so that the art is closely associated with God worshipping rituals and the spiritual life of them.
It is believed to have been handed down from their god, who lives in a mysterious world with which only “Then” singers, “ong Then” and “ba Then”, can contact.
During rituals, “ong Then” and “ba Then” sing and play a musical instrument at the same time, while presenting offerings to their deity, representing the ethnic community’s contact with their god and asking him for blessings such as good health, bumper crops, happiness and a long life.
As an orally-transmitted art form, Then would have slid into oblivion if there were no artisans with passion for ancestral tunes working to save it.
Folk artist Ha Thuan from Tan Hop village, Tan An commune, Chiem Hoa district has devoted himself to collecting, composing and performing hundreds of both ancient and new Then songs. He has opened musical classes to offer free Then singing lessons and delivered lectures about Then at local schools to Then lovers of all ages. Many of them are from different ethnic groups and even from overseas.
Another outstanding Then master is Meritorious Artist Ma Van Duc from Tuyen Quang city, who is the author of the 1,000-page book “Ancient Then in Tuyen Quang”, the only of its kind in Vietnam. The former Director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism has spent more than 30 years studying the art form.
Tuyen Quang province has been working with the Hanoi Conservatoire of Music and neighbouring provinces, where the music is also practiced, to compile application documents towards seeking UNESCO recognition of the world cultural heritage, said Director of the provincial Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Vu Phan.
According to Phan, the documents will be submitted to the UNESCO this December.