Don ca tai tu

Preserving the Art and Tradition of Southern Amateur Music

Don ca tai tu Nam bo or Southern amateur music is a category of the old chamber music in Southern Vietnam created since the end of the 19th century. Because of its longevity for one, it is considered a tradition in the Mekong Delta City of Can Tho and is now being pushed to be recognized as an intangible part of the Vietnamese cultural heritage by UNESCO.

Also seen as an art form, Don ca tai tu Nam Bo however cannot be found in modern day stages, cultural plays or tourist festivals like most performances are, but rather on plank beds in the living rooms of the local residents’ traditional homes. Amateur musicians and singers who want to learn the folk music often converge at a common house where they all practice and teach each other until they master the art. Don ca tai tu Nam bo is played by using the following instruments: dan co or dan nhi, a two-stringed fiddle; dan tranh or dan thap luc, a 16-stringed zither; dan kim or dan nguyet, also known as the moon guitar; and the doc huyen cam or monochord, which today has been replaced with a guitar.

Professor Tran Van Khe and Mr. Vinh Bao are “great masters” of traditional Vietnamese music who stressed the significance of Don ca tai tu Nam bo in the lives of the Southern Vietnamese people. The age-old music is a constant presence in special occasions such as festivals, ceremonial worships, parties, weddings, post-harvest time and even funerals. Southerners also play the music at night after a long, tiring day at work to somehow soothe and comfort them. But most importantly, Don ca tai tu Nam bo aims to unite people with the same ideals and emotions and be able to share these with everyone else.

However, as perhaps with many traditional art forms, both experts have also expressed their concern over the possible total disappearance of Don ca tai tu Nam bo in the cultural memory or sector altogether. As such, they stressed the need to restore and preserve such important heritage.

The National Music Institute and the departments of Culture, Sports and Tourism in the South have been tasked by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to build a file on Don ca tai tu Nam Bo for submission to UNESCO and it is highly hoped that such an effort will meet favorable results, that the Southern amateur music will be recognized as an “intangible” part of the Vietnamese cultural heritage.


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