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Street singing revived at Opera House

A performance featuring xam, the music of blind street performers, along with contemporary music genres, will take place tonight at the Ha Noi Opera House.

Street singing revived at Opera House
Street singing revived at Opera House

Entitled Xam and Life, the show aims to revive xam, a type of Ha Noi street singing from the old days. It will tell stories of the life of the xam – its ups and downs, and how xam reflect on their lives, according to musician Nguyen Quang Long, who will perform at the show.

“I and other artists of the Xam Ha Thanh Group always thought about promoting this type of singing to the public, to save it from being erased from our culture,” Long said. “After many years working with tenacious effort, we have revived some xam songs and created some new tunes to share.”

During the first part of the concert, the artists will present classic xam songs that were popular in northern Viet Nam in the early 20th century, said Hoang Chuong, director of the Centre for Research, Preservation and Promotion of Vietnamese Traditional Culture. Chuong is also general director of the performance programme.

For nearly a century, starting in 1900, tau dien (tram) roamed the streets of Ha Noi filled with live entertainment. So-called xam tau dien singers – mostly travelling, blind artists accompanied by dan nhi (two-string violins) or dan bau (monochords) – would charm commuters on a daily basis.

Apart from xam tau dien, the wandering artists also produced xam cho (market performances). They sang humorous songs that advertised products they were selling, such as toothpicks, balm and herbal medicines.

Through the songs’ content and their choreography, xam artists told stories about their tragic lives, or the misery of the poor, and evoked sympathy from their audiences.

When the streetcar lines were abandoned in the late 1980s, this type of street singing fell into obscurity.

Old and new

In the second part of the show, the artists will introduce contemporary xam-inspired songs, composed based on old rhythms used on the street. The lyrics tell of modern life.

“Contemporary xam singing helps enrich the collection of xam songs and make xam more accessible to the audience,” Long said. “Xam isn’t only a music of the 20th century – it can reflect all of society’s problems.”

Long said the audience would be surprised by the final chapter of the show, where the artists would daringly combine xam tunes with jazz, hip-hop and beatbox.

“I’m sure even xam lovers couldn’t imagine how xam could mix so well with modern music genres,” Long said.

The event will feature Xuan Hoach, Thanh Ngoan and Thuy Ngan; young artists Mai Tuyet Hoa and Khuong Cuong; and beatboxer Minh Kien.

Ending the programme, the organiser will award scholarships to some young artists who have shown passion for learning about, preserving and promoting xam singing.

Director Nhat Giang said the Ha Noi Opera House’s stage will be decorated as a xam stage, with images and sounds of Ha Noi from the old days that will help audiences enjoy the performance.

The show will take place on 8pm at the Ha Noi Opera House, 1 Trang Tien Street.