The story of Quan Ho Bac Ninh folk songs | SonDoong Cave in Vietnam

The story of Quan Ho Bac Ninh folk songs

Quan Ho Bac Ninh recognized as intangible cultural heritage
Vietnam has in total ten UNESCO’s Intangible cultural heritage, five of which belong to the Vietnamese folk music style category. Hanoians are very familiar with Quan Ho Bac Ninh folk songs. This heritage originates from Bac Ninh, a province that is just 30 km away from Hanoi. It is easily recognized by the signature content (almost every song is about love and/or reminiscence), and two groups of female and male singers who sing in verses of challenges and responses. Online travel Vietnam

Quan Ho Bac Ninh recognized as intangible cultural heritage

Quan Ho Bac Ninh recognized as intangible cultural heritage- source: internet

A brief history of Quan Ho Bac Ninh folk songs

Quan Ho was born in the 13th century in Bac Ninh province, and is widely associated with the spring festivals following the Lunar New Year celebration. Historically, Quan Ho folk songs were culturally used to strengthen the relationship among different villages. Scholars’ research has concluded that ‘quan ho’ is a spoonerism of ‘quan he’, which means ‘relationship’ in Vietnamese. This meaning well covers the cultural activity behind it: sing for passion, sing for building and reinforcing relationship, and sing to express love for their people and their country.

Singing activity in Lim festival

Singing activity in Lim festival – source: internet

There are about 49 Quan Ho villages that are recognized in Vietnam with their individual singing festivals. The biggest Quan Ho festival is the Lim festival in Bac Ninh, which is held every year on January 13th of the Lunar calendar, attracting thousands of pilgrims from all over the country.

What singers wear while Quan Ho singing

There are always two groups of Quan Ho singers: the male group and the female group. The male group is called ‘lien anh’ and the female group is called ‘lien chi’. They take turn singing in challenge-and-response style: one will sing a ‘challenge phrase’ and the other offer ‘response phrase’ to form a couplet. The couplet shares the same melody. Tours of Indochina

‘Lien anh’ and ‘lien chi’

‘Lien anh’ and ‘lien chi’ -source: internet

For ‘lien anh’, the costume is male traditional five-panel dress, with the outer layer in black or different shades of blue. Male singers wear black Vietnamese turban hat and usually hold in their hand a black umbrella. For ‘lien chi’, the costume includes colorful four-panel dress with Vietnamese kerchief (‘khan mo qua’) and ‘non quai thao’ (a type of traditional large round hat with silk string around the brim).

Traditional and ‘modern’ Quan Ho Bac Ninh

Traditionally, Quan Ho singing is without accompanying music and audience. It is solely and privately sung between ‘lien anh’ and ‘lien chi’; the performers also play the role of being their own audience. There are rather strict rules associated with traditional Quan Ho. The songs are poems and idioms with beautiful words and phrases about passion and loving couples; they are mainly performed during spring festival.

Modern Quan Ho comes with stage performance in festivals, community and travel-related activities. Modernization means that ‘lien anh’ and ‘lien chi’ can be invited to different events all year round. Modern Quan Ho always has audience, and thus the songs are no longer just about couples; they also express hospitality between the singers and their spectators. Newer Quan Ho songs come with music and modified music.

Quan Ho Bac Ninh performed on stage

Quan Ho Bac Ninh performed on stage -source: internet

Quan Ho Bac Ninh might not be your cup of tea the first time you hear it, but we encourage you to truly listen. In those songs lies the love Vietnamese people have for the life around them, for the feelings they encounter every day that are hard to say in words, and for the beloved country that is striving to keep this beautiful tradition for the later generations.

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Aisa Travel lover

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