Dao Dang village is home to Ca Tru ceremonial singing in Hung Yen province. One of the most famous Ca Tru singers of all time is Lady Dao Thi Hue, who has been worshipped in the village.
Ca Tru singers often gather in the front yard of Lady Dao Thi Hue Temple to practice and listen to old people talk about the origin of Ca Tru.
“Dao Dang is the birthplace of Ca Tru ceremonial singing. This land had a talented woman, who used her singing to kill Chinese Ming invaders,” said Do Thi Thanh Nhan, a Ca Tru singer in the village. “We, her offspring, will preserve the art and tell our children of our homeland’s history.”
Ca Tru is a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Vietnam using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. Ca Tru groups comprise three performers including a female singer who uses breathing techniques and vibrato to create unique ornamented sounds, while playing the clappers or striking a wooden box, and two instrumentalists who produce the deep tone of a three-stringed lute and the strong sounds of a praise drum.
Some Ca Tru performances also include dance. The varied forms of Ca Tru fulfill different social purposes, including worship singing, singing for entertainment, singing in royal palaces and competitive singing.
Elderly people in Dao Dang village still remember the golden days of Ca Tru, when both young and old could sing it, making Dao Dang singers and musicians famous in the Red River Delta.
Veteran singer Dao Thi Thanh said proudly “We gathered on the dyke and sang to call people in other villages. We sang ‘if you want to sing, please come. Don’t make me wait in cold dew.’ They came out to sing with us through the night.”
In days gone by, Hung Yen’s Ca Tru troupe was invited to perform in different events, even at the Royal Court to entertain the King.
With social development, the younger generation lost their interest in Ca Tru traditional singing to modern singing genres.
Since Ca Tru was recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009, the local authorities and people have organized Ca Tru clubs to revive the artform and for villagers to relax after work.
Hung Yen province now has 3 Ca Tru clubs with about 100 members in communes with Ca Tru tradition.
“We don’t collect fees from members or those who want to learn Ca Tru. Sometimes we travel to very far places to teach them,” elaborated Tran Thi Do, a Ca Tru singer in Vinh Khuc commune. “We are all 70 to 80 years old and we want young people to develop the art.”
At Ca Tru clubs, people learn by practicing together. Once a week they gather to sing and play drums, bamboo percussion, and long-necked, 3-string lutes.
Hung Yen province has carried out a program to preserve Ca Tru and Trong quan folk singing which are performed at festivals and tourist sites. The province also organizes training courses for Ca Tru club members to improve their skills and exchange with singers from other places.