Learn about Quan Ho folk songs in Bac Ninh
Quan Ho is a type of traditional folk music that originated in the Bac Ninh province of Vietnam. Known for its rich melodies, unique harmonies, and lyrical content that often tells stories of love and life, Quan Ho has become an integral part of Vietnam’s cultural heritage. Despite its popularity, however, many people outside of Vietnam may not be familiar with this unique style of music. In this article, we will explore the origins, characteristics, and significance of the folk songs in Bac Ninh, providing a comprehensive introduction to this important aspect of Vietnamese culture.
The origin of Quan Ho in Bac Ninh
Every year, people from the 49 Quan Ho villages return to their homeland to attend traditional festivals associated with Quan Ho performances.
Because it has been around for a long time, Quan Ho Bac Ninh has many stories about its origins. Some believe that folk has existed since the 11th century, while others think it dates back to the 17th century. All the surveys and research conducted so far have confirmed the enormous value of the intangible cultural heritage of Quan Ho. This folk song is considered the core of the Kinh Bac cultural heritage. The folk songs have been preserved for thousands of years. The value of Quan Ho’s intangible cultural heritage, especially the folk songs, is widely recognized.
According to a survey conducted by the Department of Culture of Ha Bac province (now Bac Ninh and Bac Giang provinces), before the August Revolution in 1945, there were 49 Quan Ho villages scattered throughout Tien Son, Yen Phong, Que Vo, Viet Yen districts, and Bac Ninh town. Each Quan Ho village in Bac Ninh has its own unique characteristics.
What is the Quan ho Bac Ninh folk song?
Folk songs are a form of alternating singing between male and female singers. It is one of the typical folk songs in the Red River Delta region.
The male singers wear traditional costumes such as folded hats and silk robes. The female singers wear charming outfits consisting of the “Ao Mo Ba” and “Ao Mo Bay”, wearing “Non-Quai Thao” on their heads.
They sing simple and sincere songs, following traditional techniques without accompaniment, yet still full of musicality, demonstrating the refined culture of Quan Ho singers.
According to Professor Vu Ngoc Khanh and Pham Minh Thao in their book “The Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Performance,” Quan ho singing can be divided into the following forms:
- Singing at festivals or gatherings, also known as Hoi singing.
- Singing at weddings, also known as Mung singing.
- Singing at the gate of a temple or shrine, also known as Thu hat Cau singing.
- Singing between two groups of Quan ho singers invited to each other’s homes, also known as Canh singing.
Among the above forms, Hoi singing and Canh singing are prominent forms with high cultural value.
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Costumes in Quan Ho Bac Ninh singing
Men often wear silk shirts, waistcoats, baggy pants, and folded scarves.
While women wear:
- “mo bay mo ba” skirts,
- multi-colored four-part dresses,
- split swallowtail tunics,
- cherry blossom belts,
- apricot blossom,
- and gold earrings.
When singing outdoors, men usually use umbrellas to shield themselves, while women wear conical hats to add elegance and charm to their appearance.
In general, Quan ho singing is always performed in pairs. When one pair sings in Quan ho, the other pair prepares to sing in response. Therefore, Quan ho singing is a type of interactive singing, a type of singing dialogue. Quan ho singers are often called “Lien Anh” and “Lien Chi” (meaning “brother” and “sister”).
The structure of each song is formed from bonding ceremonies. The bonding ceremony begins with sincere inquiries or vows. Then they have a meeting at the male’s house. Here they can sing all night to reveal their feelings to each other.
Based on the uniformity of vocal range and intonation, they are arranged into pairs: “Anh Ca – Chi Ca (one), Anh Hai – Chi Hai (Two), Anh Ba – Chi Ba (Three), Anh Tu – Chi Tu (Four), etc. The folk songs mainly talk about love between men and women and their loyal bond.
But in reality, they don’t think about falling in love, they only have a relationship based on mutual respect and equality. They call each other “Anh”, and “Chi” (meaning “brother” and “sister”) and refer to themselves as “em” or “tôi” (meaning “younger sibling” or “I”). The duration of bonding between Quan ho people can last from one generation to another or only a few years. Singing locations are usually in the courtyard, in front of the temple or pagoda, under the banyan tree, on the hillside, on boats, or by the riverbank.
The Bac Ninh Quan Ho Folk Song Festival
The Bac Ninh Quan Ho Folk Song Festival is an annual cultural event held in Bac Ninh province, Vietnam. The festival celebrates traditional folk songs. The folk songs are recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Bac Ninh Quan Ho Folk Song Festival is an annual event. The festival is typically held in the spring, usually in late January or early February, following the lunar calendar. The exact dates of the festival may vary from year to year, as they are determined by the lunar calendar. However, the festival usually lasts for several days, with various performances and activities taking place throughout the duration of the event.
The festival attracts thousands of performers and spectators, creating a diverse cultural atmosphere. The folk songs singing competition, judged by professionals, is a significant part of the festival. Contestants compete by performing traditional call-and-response songs from Bac Ninh province.
The festival also includes other cultural and artistic activities, such as traditional dance performances, music demonstrations, culinary arts, and handicrafts. The festival provides an opportunity for artists and audiences to interact and learn about Vietnam’s traditional arts. It is also a platform for honoring and preserving the unique cultural heritage of Bac Ninh province.
If you love art and want to learn about the traditional culture of Vietnam, then participating in The Bac Ninh Quan Ho Folk Song Festival will be an excellent experience. This is an opportunity for you to learn about the culture, history, and art of Bac Ninh province, as well as experience the vibrant and colorful festival atmosphere. However, if you do not like crowds and noise, you may want to consider this before participating in this festival. You should prepare mentally and accompany local people to enjoy a memorable experience at this festival.