Bach Van – The Most Well-known Ca Tru Singer

Bach Van, a famous Ca tru singer in the land of Thang Long (present-day Hanoi), has spent nearly 30 years and even sacrificed her personal life for reviving Ca tru (ceremonial song) which is recognized as a world cultural heritage by UNESCO.

One evening, we arrived at the ancient pagoda of Kim Ngan at 42-44 Hang Bac, Hanoi where there was a regular Ca tru show organized by the Hanoi Ca tru Club. During the Ca tru performance, the female singer with a sad face wore a long velveteen dress and sat on a mat in the middle of the chamber hall. She passionately played the Phach (castanet) and sang melodious lyrics. Although she is over 50 years old, her voice and performance is still perfect. Beside her were an accompanist and a percussionist who helped keep time in singing.

The later it became, the more the voice of the singer became intoxicating, wining the audience’s heart. Her sweet, smooth and delicate melodies together with sounds of Dan day and beat rhythms of Trong chau recreated the true essence of Ca tru and reminded the audience of the image of a Ca tru show at the royal court nearly 1,000 years ago.

She is Bach Van who has been a Ca tru performer for nearly 30 years. Bach Van was born in 1957 into a family with a tradition of Confucianism in Thanh Chuong Village, Nghe An Province. Therefore, since she was a little girl she was taught to recite Tang poems by her father and to sing folk songs of the land of Nghe An by her mother.

Meritorious Artist Bach Van (August 2013).

For years, artist Bach Van has performed Ca tru at Kim Lien Communal House in Hanoi.

Bach Van has devoted her life to Ca tru.

The artist puts her soul into performing Ca tru.

Artist Bach Van performs Ca tru at the ceremony of presenting the film “So do” which expresses the Vietnamese lifestyle in city during 1930s.

Bach Van talks with foreign audiences.

 Artist Bach Van spends much time teaching Ca tru to the younger generations
with a desire to preserve the world’s intangible culture heritage.

Bach Van and old artisans at the Hanoi Ca tru Festival 2012.

Bach Van started singing Ca tru in the 1980s and since then she has dedicated her life to this traditional unique art. During the first years engaging in this traditional art genre, Bach Van faced tremendous difficulties which, however, did not discourage her. She spent nearly ten of years looking for and doing research on ancient documents on Ca tru and learnt techniques on singing Ca tru from veteran artists in Hanoi, Hai Duong and Ha Tinh. And her extensive efforts were repaid.

She was taught by famous Vietnamese Ca tru singers, such as Quach Thi Ho, Nguyen Thi Phuc, Chu Van Du and Pho Thi Kim Duc and she acquired all singing techniques, from simple to difficult, many ancient songs, sitting position, dressing and idiosyncrasy. 

«Ca tru, also known as A dao singing, is an ancient genre of chamber music of Vietnam which was formed from late 15th and early 16th century and strongly developed in the 1930s. Ca tru is a unique combination of music and poetry and was performed at the royal court. Ca tru was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of Urgent Protection in 2009.»

She was so passionate about Ca tru that she discussed with her teacher, Chu Van Du who was the manager of Kham Thien Ca tru Club in the past to establish the Hanoi Ca tru Club with a hope to invigorating Ca tru. In 1991, the club was officially established with nearly 200 members, becoming the first one of its kind in Vietnam. Since then, Bach Van has made great effort to expand and develop the club. She even spent her money organizing professional Ca tru shows free of charge and she herself invited Ca tru artists to participate in each performance. To bequeath the art to young generation, Bach Van opened a training course for young people and helped the Department of Art Performance of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to organize the Ca tru Festival and Ca tru workshops.

She did her utmost and collected documents to help the Department of Culture Heritage to complete the profile of Ca tru for submitting to UNESCO which officially recognized this traditional form of music as an intangible cultural heritage needing to be protected in 2010.

Not only requiring experiences from the old artists, artist Bach Van has also researched and studied at cultural institutes. She successfully defended an MA thesis at the Institute for Culture Research and she will defend a PhD thesis at the Institute for Sciences and Society.

For her great contribution to Ca tru, Bach Van was honorably awarded the title “Meritorious Artist”.

Story: Vinh Hung – Photo: Trinh Van Bo