Since long ago, Don ca tai tu (Amateur singing) in southern Viet nam giới has been rooted in the cultural và spiritual life of the southern people. On December 5, 2013 the art of Don ca tai tu was officially recognized as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO.

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Exploring the folk songs of the south

Mentioning Don ca tai tu, people often think of a unique folk art which is seen as a “specialty” of the southerners. People in the south, regardless of the rich or the poor, male or male, old or young can perform Don ca tai tu anywhere & at any time. Therefore, this musical art is performed at parties, in the orchard gardens on moon-lit nights, on the boats drifting along the green canals or at rituals, weeding, funerals and death anniversaries.


According lớn researchers, Don ca tai tu appeared in the late 19th century. It originated from Hue court music and soon became a ren of traditional folk music with the popular nuance of the southern watery area.

The word “amateur” in Don ca tai tu refers to lớn an artist who is excellent in ancient music & has a special talent for playing the instruments & singing. It does not mean “unprofessional”. It means that the “amateurs” perform not to earn their living but to lớn amuse themselves when they are happy và nobody can spend money buying their performance. However, their performing skill is not low because they have khổng lồ practice diligently và create their own style. This musical art does not have its own performance costumes & the performers are not finical about the costumes. They only pay attention to dressing khổng lồ suit the performance space when they perform at communal houses, temples or on stage.

According to Professor Tran Van Khe who has devoted his life to introducing the traditional music of Viet phái nam in general & Don ca tai tu of the south in particular to lớn the world, in the early 20th century Don ca tai tu developed strongly và quickly spread throughout the six provinces of the south. At that time, due to the interaction và emulation among the amateurs’ groups, their performing techniques were improved & the recording & systemization of the ancient songs were perfected. Many well-known artists in the Don ca tai tu circle in the south emerged, typically Nguyen Quan dai (or ba Doi) in Long An, Tran quang đãng Quon (or Ky Quon) in Vinh Long, Moc quan liêu Nguyen trong Quyen in Can Tho, Le Tai khi (or Nhac Khi) & monk Nguyen Chieu in Bac Lieu. These artists were accredited with promoting this art size to develop strongly in the first half of the 20th century.

The main musical instruments in Don ca tai tu include the moon-shaped lute, the two-stringed fiddle, the 16-stringed zither & the monochord, which are known as the “four major instruments”. In 1930, the guitar, violin và Hawaiian guitar were added. The song lan (percussion) was also used for beating time. Traditionally, the instrumentalists rarely perform solo, but they perform duets (on moon-shaped lute & 16-stringed zither) or trios (moon-shaped lute, 16-stringed zither and two-stringed fiddle), sometimes on the flute. The most interesting part of the Don ca tai tu performance is the prelude of the instrumentalist & the recitatives of the singer to tune the instrument và inspire the performer, creating the atmosphere for the band. In the impromptu performance the singers often perform with their own style after the original based on the traditional music. It is their elements that create the new và appealing features of the performance.Don ca tai tu has many different songs but in general it has đôi mươi major songs called “Nhi thap huyen khổng lồ ban” for four tunes, including six Bac songs expressing joy và broad-mindedness, seven Ha songs used in the solemn rituals, three nam giới songs expressing comfort & elegance and four Oan songs describing the scenes of sadness, sorrow and separation. Additionally, there are eight gàn songs, ten uninterrupted songs, many variants & new songs composed by maestros và talented artists.

For over a century, Don ca tai tu has existed, developed sustainably và become a daily spiritual food. It is also a “specialty” that the southern people use lớn treat the visitors lớn the southern watery area.

Vitality of Don ca tai tu

Unlike many types of folk songs, Don ca tai tu has a strong vitality. Not only domestic but also foreign tourists who visit Viet nam giới love this art from because of its rustic, familiar, romantic và unique characteristics.

Professor Tran Van Khe said that in 1963, he asked musician Nguyen Huu tía to record a single disc of Don ca tai tu khổng lồ introduce to UNESCO. In 1972, he sent lớn UNESCO the second disc of this music performed by him and professor of music, Vinh Bao. Cocora Radio France invited Prof. Tran Van Khe and professor of music Vinh Bao (in 1972) & 16-stringed zither artist, nhì Phuong (in 1994) khổng lồ record another two discs which were listed in the best-selling albums in France & were awarded the music critic award of the year.

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We came lớn Bac Lieu Province, an area with a strong Don ca tai tu movement in the south. It is also the native land of musician composer Cao Van lau who is the author of the tuy vậy “Da teo hoai lang” (Night drum beat causes longing for absent husband), a symbolic heritage of the Don ca tai tu village in Bac Lieu Province.

Every hamlet, village, commune, ward & city in Bac Lieu has Don ca tai tu clubs. At present, the province has 227 Don ca tai tu clubs with 2,143 members including 475 instrumentalists & 1,668 singers. Of these clubs, 55 clubs have been provided with equipment and tools for activities by the State. All clubs have periodic activities. Every year, Bac Lieu organizes a Don ca tai tu festival, providing more opportunities for the clubs lớn perform & enhance their professional skills.

For over 10 years now, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang and Ca Mau Provinces along with some southwestern provinces have annually organized a musical exchange khổng lồ promote the Don ca tai tu movement khổng lồ develop.

Nguyen Quoc Minh, Director of Cultural Centre & Chief of the Department of Culture in Bac Lieu đô thị said that the community training course on “Singing the Da co hoai lang (standard version) và Vong co (Longing for the drum beat) organized by the centre was attracting a large number of people of all ages, including elderly people who are over 80 years of age and teenagers.

Le Thi Thu Thao, a 14-year-old girl in Nha Mat Ward said: “I lượt thích Don ca tai very much because since I was little I have heard a lot of songs performed by my parents, my mother’s sister và brother in the family’s events or at parties. I learn hown khổng lồ take a breath và keep the rhythm so that I feel more confident when singing.”

With its achievements and proud tradition in the development of the Don ca tai tu art, Bac Lieu Province has been chosen lớn host the first Don ca tai tu festival in Viet phái nam by the State. The festival will take place in April năm trước with the theme “Don ca tai tu – The inner voice of the southern people”.

To prepare for this event, a part from continuing the conservation & promotion of the Don ca tai tu movement, Bac Lieu has built và repaired 26 keys projects, typically the commemorative area for the southern Don ca tai tu và musician Cao Van Lau, the cultural & artistic exhibition center and Cao Van vệ sinh Theature, & the Hung Vuong Square.

According to lớn the latest statistics, the Don ca tai tu movement has spread lớn 21 cities & provinces throughout the country and has 2,258 clubs with 13,800 members, of whom the youngest is six years old & the oldest is 99 years old.

Besides the strong development of the Don ca tai tu movement, attention & large investment have been given lớn the research and training of this art size in a professional way. Ho đưa ra Minh thành phố is the largest center for the training & research on Don ca tai tu in the country. Here, there are two units which can train professional artists in this art. They include the Traditional Music Faculty of the Ho chi Minh đô thị Conservatory & the Traditional Music Faculty of the Ho chi Minh Conservatory và the Traditional Drama and song Faculty of the University of Drama and Cinematography. There are also many Don ca tai tu classes opened by the house of culture in the city và districts and by the artisans to teach those who love this art.

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It can be said that Don ca tai tu is the “soul” of the southern cultural heritage. It is not only an art form which shows the cultural traits as well as the simple, friendly, generous và affectionate personality of the southern people but also has a high ability khổng lồ attract and connect the community, so it always has a strong vitality and exists immortally with the cultural life of the nation./.