Artists devoted to preserving traditional music in modern life

Saturday, 2016-10-22 18:16:21
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Musician Nguyen Le (right) and instrumentalist Ngo Hong Quang practice for their “Hanoi Duo” album
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NDO—Faced with the fact that traditional music has become less attractive to audiences due to the development of many new kinds of entertainment, many artists have made an effort to blend traditional music into modern life and to delight listeners with a new and interesting way of enjoying music.

Fusing traditional tunes with global music

Born and raised in France, Nguyen Le is known as a talented jazz musician who has contributed to introducing Vietnamese music to the world. The 57-year-old artist believed that he could only find himself if he headed to his homeland, since he feels connected with the cultural background of his Vietnamese family when he works on Vietnamese folk music.

Twenty years ago, Le released an album entitled “Tales from Vietnam,” featuring ancient Vietnamese songs and Southern folk songs through the voice of singer Huong Thanh and traditional musical instrumentalists. The album surprised many audiences, as it blended jazz and traditional Vietnamese music in such a smooth way. “Tales from Vietnam” quickly became a best-seller on the Western market, elevating Huong Thanh from an obscure name into a famous singer in global music.

In 2011, Nguyen Le started developing music projects in collaboration with Vietnamese artists, with the most noteworthy project among them being Doc dao (Unique Path) with A-list singer Tung Duong in 2013. The combination of folk music with monochords and flutes, as well as the blend of contemporary songs with jazz music has given an authentic Vietnamese feel to the album, helping it win the “Programme of the Year” prize of the Cong hien (Dedication) Awards in 2014. The album has also been released in France and has received enthusiastic appreciation from music lovers there.

Le is working with traditional instrumentalist Ngo Hong Quang, who is proficient in the music of Vietnamese ethnic minority groups, on a joint project entitled “Hanoi Duo,” which is scheduled to go public in early 2017. According to Le, this will be the album with the strongest Vietnamese character of all his productions so far.

“Hanoi Duo” will include ten songs by Nguyen Le and Hong Quang, all inspired by Vietnamese folk music. The pieces of music are accompanied by traditional musical instruments and electronic music and are performed in different styles of music, offering listeners a new experience.

Finding a new way of expressing traditional art forms

Pianist Pho An My performing at 'Bong' (Shadow) show (Photo:

Also inspired by traditional Vietnamese tunes, pianist Pho An My has chosen a more difficult task in trying to create a dialogue between folk music practices and Western classical music. Born in 1977, she stared working with the piano at age of 13, My is a graduate of the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Music College, one of the best music training centres in Germany. She won first prize at a piano and clarinet competition in Berlin in 1996.

She taught piano at Nanning University in China, and started performing in Vietnam in 2005. Despite being well-versed in Western classical music and having made remarkable achievements in her performance career, My did not figure out how to establish herself until she started working on Vietnamese folk music. Her first project combining traditional music and piano was born in 2006, when she was invited to perform at the Hue Festival.

The warm welcome of listeners to the project fuelled My to conduct bigger projects on folk music. Notable among them are Bong (Shadow) in 2011, which was a combination of piano and hau dong (mediumship) and Lua (Fire) in 2014, which brought piano and tuong (classical drama) together.

These projects are a response to audiences and stage artists who once doubted the feasibility of harmonising Vietnamese folk music and Western classical music.

After “Shadow” and “Fire” caught the attention of critics, audiences and the press, Pho An My decided to challenge herself in traditional Vietnamese cheo (traditional opera) with a show entitled Gio (Wind), scheduled to be held at Cong Nhan Theatre in Hanoi on October 29. The show, run by My and musician Dang Tue Nguyen, is inspired by a very popular cheo show, Quan am thi kinh, which is a folk tale.

Aside from Nguyen Le and Pho An My, there are many other artists devoted to folk music trying new ways to find a common voice for Vietnamese folk music and contemporary music. Their silent contributions have significantly helped preserve and uphold the evergreen vitality of traditional Vietnamese music in today’s constantly changing life.