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By Ngoc Si

In the countryside there is a melody that originated thousands of years ago. It still mesmerizes us today. The Quan họ singing of Bac Ninh, is one of the signature folk cultural activities of the ancient Northern capital.

Quan họ is magical. The mellow and heartfelt voices of artisans, born and brought up with these folk chants, makes listeners want to stay forever.

The melodies of Quan họ are easily rhymed, no matter what generation you are from. More than singing, it is also a game. A refined player knows a lot of ancient Quan họ songs. Embraced by locals who sing and play with it at festivals, it is also heard at work and memorial feasts.

Bac Ninh, the Northern capital reputed for its spring outings is home to Quan họ singing. Infatuated onlookers from all over the globe come to hear the romantic verses echoing far and wide throughout an astounding cultural space. Quan họ villages were founded and gathered into a region of the Quan họ. Most are now located in Bac Ninh. According to artisans, there were once up to 49 Quan họ villages.

Quan Họ Eternal Melodies
Quan Họ Eternal Melodies

The melodies and lyrics of Quan họ have survived numerous generations and social tumult. They are associated with people’s lives and enrich and honor good community relationships and cultural exchanges with other regions. As a result, Quan họ is frequently associated with festivals, rituals, gatherings and social exchanges. Quan họ reflects the emotional lives and minds of workers who have known how to reach toward the beauty of life for centuries.

Quan họ contains numerous meaningful verses and idioms. The wording may sound rustic, but it is  extremely subtle, sensitive, imaginative and sentimental. Once struck, those melodies produce rich, tranquil and soothing vibes. Each song may be subject to different variations, yet in general they all share a common mellow vocal style exercised with exceptional technique. Male and female arts exchange their Quan họ melodies in a calm manner. Their sentiments are very polite and enchanting.

Following a hectic harvest or during springtime, male singers clad themselves in traditional, layered headscarves, long dresses and loose white pants and their female counterparts don twill silk four-flap tunics, loose and long tied belts and traditional flat palm hats. They converge and sing tunes devoted to their dear homeland. These melodies have been passed down over the years to different generations who cherish, nurture and develop the lyrics even more.

Northern capital locals created the Quan họ to pray for conjugal love, fortune, wealth, good luck and overall harmony. They think of the Quan họ as a bridge to heaven, earth and deities. Their auspicious wishes of life are fully conveyed through every single word of these passionate melodies. They pray for the supreme reign of peace all over this country, or favorable weather and crops. This mindset contributed to the foundation of beautiful customs and habits in each community and family of Quan họ singers. It was this mindset that prompted the desire to preserve, promote and develop the genre far into the future.

Vietnamese folk music also laid the foundation for the country’s music to develop in general. Every Vietnamese citizen is aware that Quan họ of Bac Ninh is the essence of Vietnamese folk culture. Promotion of the Quan họ helps to preserve this proud and praiseworthy ancient cultural treasure.

In 2009, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage named Quan họ an Intangible Cultural Heritage.