Hát bội (VIETNAM)
October 4, 2009, 2:45 pm
Filed under: Vietnam

I thought I was finished with Vietnamese posting and ready to move on when I got my hands on this interesting record. After discussing the record with Jason Gibbs I decided it was worth posting. Most of the information in this post comes from him.

Hát bội (or tuồng theatre) is a form of Chinese opera imported into Vietnam as early as the 13th century. It uses costumes, gestures and stock characters similar to Chinese opera. The double reed instrument is the kèn, similar to the Chinese suona.

By the 1950s, the communist government in the North was issuing records of folk music and opera with propaganda lyrics. The song is entitled “Đấu tranh chống Mỹ” – “Fight Against America.” It is sung in the khách and nam modes of the tuồng theatre repertoire. The words are by Mịch Quang and are sung by Võ Sĩ Thừa. The music is played by the surrealistically named Dàn Nhạc Đội Tuồng LK 5 (The Ensemble of the Tuồng Troupe of Interzone 5). The 5th Interzone consists of Quảng Nam, Quảng Ngãi, Bình Định and Phú Yên provinces — the coastal region between Đà Nẵng and Túy Hòa.

The significance of interzone is showing the solidarity between those who regrouped to the North with their comrades still below the 17th parallel (the Bến Hải river). They sing in the dialect and musical style of that region. The Bến Hải River marked the demarcation of the border between North and South Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The much evoked landmark for this border was the Hiền Lương bridge that crossed this river.
The below photo shot from the North show a gate to the bridge with the words: Hồ Chủ Tịch muôn năm – Premiere Hồ Forever.


TiengHat NC150

Three postcards showing Vietnamese opera troupes:




Thanks again to Jason Gibbs!


45 rpm Vọng cổ covers
October 2, 2009, 9:58 am
Filed under: Vietnam

Cải lương was commonly found on 45rpm 7 inch records in the 60s and 70s. As discussed in the previous post, the music consists of pop introductions and traditional vọng cổ. The cover designs are wildly inventive, with unusual typefaces and sometimes shocking color schemes. Here’s a small sample:



HungCuongLethuy Mychau


Vọng cổ 45 rpm (VIETNAM)
October 2, 2009, 9:54 am
Filed under: Vietnam

By the 1960s, Cai Luong had updated itself again. Now the vọng cổ sections were surrounded by Western pop styled intros and outros, from light swing to twangy rock, called tân cổ giao duyên (new and old songs of predestined affinity). On this record you can even hear the traditional instruments overlapping with the pop arrangement near the end.

The song title is Một chiều gặp gỡ – An Afternoon Encounter. Nhật Hạ (a pseudonym for the songwriter Khánh Băng) wrote the tân nhạc (modern music). The female vocal is by Thanh Nga, an idol of the cải lương stage and cinema in the South. The male vocal is Thành Được, a popular cải lương actor. Văn Vĩ plays the lục huyền cầm (literally 6 string instrument, guitar, in this case with scalloped out frets). Yên Sơn wrote the vọng cổ (lyrics that fit the skeletal melody).

>Mot Chieu Gap Go


Thanks to Stuart from Radio Diffusion Internasionaal for hooking me up with this record. He’s got a great guest post at Excavated Shellac right now that’s worth checking out.

And another big ‘thank you’ to Vietnamese music researcher Jason Gibbs for his continuing help with translation and more. Vietnamese popular music is Jason’s main focus, with any luck we’ll hear more from him on the subject.

Vọng cổ (VIETNAM)
September 25, 2009, 10:07 am
Filed under: Vietnam

In southern Vietnam, cải lương ( reformed theater) is the popular form of opera. In the early 1900s the musical theater underwent a modernization, updating themes and musical styles. Soon thereafter vọng cổ emerged as part of the musical structure of cải lương, as the popular song Dạ cổ hoài lang became a centerpiece of the cải lương performance. An unusual musical process began to take place. Over time, the phrases of the song were expanded with the musicians improvising throughout the elongated phrases, but always ending on the pitch of the melody. The number of beats between melody notes kept doubling over the years allowing for longer and longer periods of improvising. The melody has been expanded and filled in with improvising to such an extent that the original melody is basically unrecognizable, often not making it beyond the first three notes of the melody! If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is!

I was fortunate to connect with Jason Gibbs, a composer, bassoonist and researcher of Vietnamese music. Here’s what he has to say about the record:

The lyrics are by Viễn Châu, he also plays the guitar using another pseudonym Bảy Bá.
Năm Cơ plays the đàn kìm (aka Đàn nguyệt, a kind of 2 string lute).
Út Trà Ôn is one of the immortal actors of cải lương.
Mồ cô Phượng  translates as Miss Phượng’s Grave.
Miss Phượng was evidently a real person who was fictionalized in a newspaper in the 1920s. She was known as a beauty.
This article attributes her story to Hoàng Tích Chu. She is described as follows: “Her beauty was like the substance of opium. It was seductive, it absorbed people.
If someone was hooked it was hard to escape.”

Vien Chau2

Viễn Châu, lyricist and guitarist

  Út Trà Ôn 2

Út Trà Ôn

Please accept my humble apologies for the condition of this record…it’s scratchy, but better than nothing!

A million thanks to Jason Gibbs! Additional thanks to David Dahl and Eugene Nguyen.

July 29, 2009, 11:35 am
Filed under: Vietnam

Vietnam has a very rich diversity of musical styles, due in part to it’s geography, ethnic groups and the fact that it blends Chinese, as well as Southeast Asian musical influences.

Here’s an example of ca hue from the same Victor series as our last posting. Ca hue is a type of composed music that dates back to the 1500’s when Hue, in central Vietnam, became a cultural center independent of Hanoi in the north. The singer plays a wooden clapper and the ensemble usually consists of the “five excellent instruments”; dan tranh (zither), dan nhi (2 string fiddle), dan nguyet (2 string lute), dan day (3 string lute) and ty ba (pear shaped lute), sometimes a flute replaces one of the lutes.

This song is called Tu Dai Canh and is one of the standard pieces of ca hue repertoire.

>VICTOR  40028a


Thanks again to Terry Miller for label translation and musical info. Some information on ca hue came on from Phong Nguyen’s article on Vietnamese music in the indispensable Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music, edited by Terry Miller and Sean Williams.

July 23, 2009, 8:33 am
Filed under: Pictures, Vietnam

Although Vietnamese music is highly influenced by Chinese (Vietnam was ruled by China for almost 1000 years!), the are many distinctive instruments, especially stringed lutes with raised frets. Here’s a few old postcards depicting Vietnamese musicians and some unique instruments, ca. 1900-10.

On the left, the single string Dan Bau. On the right is the two string fiddle called Dan Nhi.

On the left, the single string Dan Bau. On the right is the two string fiddle called Dan Nhi.

Another uniquely Vietnamese instrument with raised frets, the Dan Day.

Another uniquely Vietnamese instrument with raised frets, the Dan Day.

L to R; another raised fret instrument is the Dan Nguyet (in the south called Dan Kim), a bowed Dan Nhi, the Vietnamese zither called Dan Tranh, I can't quite make out the next fiddle, but I think it's a Dan Gao, and finally the Dan Tam, related to the Chinese sanxian.

L to R; another raised fret instrument is the Dan Nguyet (in the south called Dan Kim), a bowed Dan Nhi, the Vietnamese zither called Dan Tranh, I can't quite make out the next fiddle, but I think it's a Dan Gao, and finally the Dan Tam, related to the Chinese sanxian.

July 22, 2009, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Vietnam

My apologies for the long delays between posts, I was sidetracked by some Greek music projects and summer vacation. So, without further delay, here is the first of a short series of records from Vietnam.

This record was recorded in 1927 for Victor’s 40000 series, a mysterious group of recordings from Indochina, as it was then called. I have yet to find any solid discographical information on this series aside from a mention of the above dialects in an old Victor catalog (thanks to Du Jun Min). This series is followed by the 42000 series of Chinese (mostly Cantonese) records.

I was fortunate to have Terry Miller translate and annotate a small group of records in this series. He writes:

This is a hat cheo theater song, Tả cảnh cô đầu thua bạc (describing a singer who lost her competition). The genre is cheo cai luong (reformed cheo theater), the singer is Dao (Ms.) Nha, and the place is rạp Cải Lương Hý Viên Hanoi (the Cai Luong Theater of Hanoi).

(Hat Cheo is an ancient form of vernacular theater from North Vietnam that reached it’s peak in the 19th century. It includes satire, songs, dances and skits.
Annamite refers to a region of central Vietnam then called Annam, but at the time was used to refer generally to all Vietnamese people. -Haji Maji)

>VICTOR 40027a


Please have a look and listen at Excavated Shellac’s current post from Laos!