Ca Hue, a unique form of singing born in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue, has been listed as an item of national intangible heritage.
The artform was put in the list of the year’s 26 newly recognised items, which was officially announced last week by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Ca Hue, also known as “the Hue tune”, is a variation of nha nhac (Hue royal court music). The tune has lyrics with some being Hue folk songs.
Ca Hue is considered a chamber music item originated from performances in royal and mandarin houses during the feudal era. Originally, ca Hue has a total of 60 basic songs. Other great songs were composed by the feudal intellectuals who staged these performances in their homes.
The artform has a history of nearly 500 years in the former royal capital city of Hue.
Ca Hue is said to bear similar significance to Vietnamese traditional music like don ca tai tu (Southern folk music) and ca tru (ceremonial singing) performed in the north.
The tune performances are produced on traditional Vietnamese musical instruments, including dan tranh (16-string zither), dan nhi (two-string fiddle), dan nguyet (moon-shaped lute), and sanh tien (wooden clappers).
Performers also make unique clapping sounds with teacup clappers held in one hand, amusing audiences with their skills and the uniqueness of the instrument.
Local department of culture, sports and tourism filed a petition for ca Hue as part of the nation’s cultural heritage in April last year, resulting in the status this year.
Delights cheer among lovers of the artform, but worries also exist as there’s no authorised agencies in the city conducting a thorough research on the development of ca Hue. Several local researchers did study different angles of the artform individually.
Today the music is performed on modest home stages or on small stands on river boats. Vocalists and instrumentalists are all dressed in ao dai, Vietnam’s traditional costume.
Performance of ca Hue is on high demand among visitors to Hue, both nationals and foreigners. The melodies of ca Hue stir people’s souls, with both sorrowful or delightful moods, while lyrics contained life stories.
But many shows present ‘fake’ ca Hue and local authorities fail to control the shows. The culture department licensed 500 performers and musicians. They also regulated payment of VND150,000 (US$7) each performer/musician per show, attempting to stop overcharge to visitors.
However, the practice of these is not really effective and visitors are advised to follow local tourist guides in picking the shows.