Hosted by the Cultural – Historical Promotion Club of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, the event aimed to bring together the two folk art genres of ‘Then’ singing, a cultural and spiritual heritage of Tay and Nung ethnic groups, and ‘chau van’ (spiritual singing), a singing genre related to the ‘len dong’ mediumship ritual.

As an ancient singing genre, ‘chau van’ used to be practiced only in spaces of social intimacy. However, over the past few years, ‘chau van’ has been brought to the stage in order to reach a wider audience.

At the event, cung van (vocalist) Van Ty recreates an incarnation of the spirit of the Tenth Prince (Ong Hoang Muoi). With the support of his assistants, who helped him to burn incense, offer him with cigarettes and alcohol, and change into his costumes. As well as instrumentalists, Van Ty performed invocation songs and dances praising the merits of Ong Hoang Muoi in either a solemn or joyful atmosphere.

Chau van melodies have also been introduced in the performances of water puppetry, cheo (traditional opera), and circus.

As the first person to blend chau van into the ‘Lang Toi’ (My Village) circus act, vocalist Van Ty has also collected and preserved the lyrics and tunes of chau van. The Meritorious Artist said that nearly 20 ancient chau van melodies have been preserved, adding that many new chau van songs and tunes have been composed based on the ancient ones, receiving much appreciation from audiences.

With approximately 3,000 cung van nationwide who have been active in opening chau van singing classes, the singing genre’s vitality has been well preserved in modern times.

Most heartening of all is that most of participants at the class are young people who wish to learn more about the country’s traditional culture and bring chau van singing closer to the public.

A ‘chau van’ singing performance at the event (Photo: Cultural – Historical Promotion Club)

As another form of spiritual singing, Then singing is a unique art practice of the Tay, Nung and Thai ethnic groups. It is an indispensable part of rites of passage marking important stages in villagers’ lives.

Participating in the talk show, artisan Xuan Bach brought to the stage an excerpt of an ancient Then ritual. During the performance, he took many roles at the same time: a singer, an instrumentalist, a story teller, and a Then master.

Born in Lang Son province, which is one of the cradles of Then folk singing in the northern mountainous region, Bach is currently working as a lecturer at the Thai Nguyen-based Viet Bac Art and Culture College. He has also made positive contributions to safeguarding and promoting the traditional art form of his ancestors.

He said that researchers can study the practice of Then singing using different approaches regarding the history, culture, religion and heritage of an ethnic community.

Then and chau van singing are unique traditional cultural practices of Vietnam. Thanks to efforts made by such artisans as Van Ty and Xuan Bach, the beautiful melodies of the singing styles have been sung in the community and the love for the country’s traditional practices has been further inspired among the public.