vietnam-travel-riverchants-img04Traditional chants give us insight into a lost way of life.

For people engaged in manual labor, chanting was a means of passing the time in a sociable manner. Traditional chants were sung by those working in Vietnam’s rugged highlands, in the fertile river deltas, or the rivers or sea.

In Vietnam, as elsewhere, industrialization has put a stop to many traditional practices and folk arts. In days gone by, people rowing boats on the rivers always sang chants that began with “hò ơ…” Today, most people travel by motorboat.Discover the cultural life in floating Mekong area with Vietnam Travel.

In the Vietnamese countryside there were chants for all occasions. As they planted rice seeds, people sang hò Cấy lúa (rice planting chants). Fishermen sang hò giựt chì (net pulling chants). People climbing mountaints sang hò leo dốc (hill climbing chants). Lumberjacks sang hò kéo gỗ (log pulling chants).

While many of these chants have been lost, researchers have recorded some of these artistic verses. Drifting along Hue’s Perfume River, visitors can still listen to a beautiful hò mái nhì (row two times) chant:

Every day in the afternoon, on Van Lau Wharf,
Somebody sits fishing, melancholy and mournful,
Somebody is sitting there full of grief and nostalgia,
Some boat is rowing across the river
Your oar is stirring up the water’s heart…

Chants are typically sung by groups, with one person setting the tune (cái xướng) and the rest singing in chorus (con xô). Chants usually consist of rhyming sentences of six to eight words, which are easy to sing and remember. The sentences are broken into segments in different ways in each region. For exam, northern boat rowing chants (hò chèo thuyền) contain six to eight rhyming sentences, as in the following example:

(First singer) The husband fishes, the wife throws net.
(Chorus) Dô, dô khoan hò hầy.
(First singer) The wife throws the net and the child fishes.
(Chorus) Dô, dô khoan dô hầy.
(First singer) Floating life on an endless river.
(Chorus) Dô, dô khoan dô hầy.
(First singer) With no destination.
(Chorus) Dô, dô khoan dô hầy, dồ i khoan í dô ồ hầy.

The chorus, which repeats, consists, consists of exclamatory phrases. Upon hearing nonsense phrases like “hò ơ, ơ hò, là hụ là khoan, dô khoan dô hầy, khoan khoan hò khoan, khoan ới dô khoan” the listener is immediately aware that this is river chant.

Traditional Vietnamese folk music was variety of tasks: pounding rice, pulling lead-weighted fishing nets, hauling timber…These chants provided entertainment and encouraged people in their work. Chants often took the form of questions and answers, with participants divided into two groups according to gender.

“It seems that every aspect of a journey down the Ma River was recorded in a chant.”

There are many chants associated with river life, but hò sông mã (Ma River chants) are remarkable for their diversity. These chants could serve as a soundtrack for a journey up and down the Ma River, which lies in Thanh Hoa province.

On a boat, the boatman usually served as the first singer, with eight other rovers being divided into groups of four to sing the chorus. Sometimes they would exchange roles. During certain chants, the rowers would stamp on the floorboards as they sung to create a beat. In this way, on the Ma River, ferry boats provided entertainment as well as transportation. Historic records reveal that boat owners compeled to find the oarsmen with the finest singing voices. Boats powered by good singers would attract more passengers, especially female ones.

There are many rumors about female merchants falling in love with oarsmen who were talented singers. Mandarins’ wives and even nuns are said to have run away with these talented rowers. Choose the best Vietnam Travel Deals for your vacations.

Leaving the harbor and rowing upstream, the oarsmen would sing the hò rời bến (leaving the harbor chant), followed by the hò đò ngược (upstream boat chant) to encourage everyone to row in unison. Should the boat ran aground, they sang hò mắc cạn catching on a shoal chant, followed by the hò kéo thuyền (pulling the boat chant) and the hò vác thuyền (carrying the boat chant). While negotiating their way through dangerous waterfalls or whirlpool, the crew sang hòa vượt thác (getting over falls chant). When passing a temple or a padoda, hò làn văn (Holy Mother chant) or hò niệm Phật (pagoda chant) were sung to pray for a safe trip. An easy trip downstream would be accompanied by a hò xuôi dòng (downstream chant). At night, a hò ru ngủ (lullaby chant) might lull passengers to sleep.


vietnam-travel-cheo-img03The Ministry of Culture organises festivals for each of the professional arts in every five-year period. It aims to collect, recognise, and develop talents in the art, as well as encourage creative activities among Cheo artists.

The competitors will be professional Cheo troupes, including perfromers from the army and various  universities.

Each troupe, is permitted a performance ranging from 90 to 130 minutes. Priority is guven to performances regarding contemporary life. Performances based on legends will not be accepted.

Prizes will be awarded  to the best performance, the best actor, director, writer and others.

The performances will be free to enjoy during the festival.

Cheo is an original synthesis of folk songs, dance and narration. The words of the play are imbued with the lyricism of folk songs, proverbs and popular sayings.

A Cheo play could be put on stage in a large theatre, but could also be performed successfully on one or two bed mats spread in the middle of a communal house with a cast of only three: a hero, a heroine and a clown.

vietnam-travel-trauvan-img03The most significant cult song type of Vietnamese is Hat Chau Van. This is a kind of incantation music (although it was classified as ritual music), but its purpose was to hypnotize the person who was estranged from the spirits through musical airs, rythms and lyrics.

Hat Chau Van combines trance singing and dancing, a religious form of art used for extolling the merits of beneficent deities or deified national heroes. Its music and poetry are mingled with a variety of rhythms, pauses, tempos, stresses and pitches.

It is in essence a cantillation where the tunes and rhythm depend on the contents of the sung text and may be linked together into a suite, used in relation to a mythical happening, with hints at some features of modern life.

The art of Hat Chau Van originated in the Red River delta of Vietnam and dates back to the 16th century, spreading later to the whole of the country. During its development course, Hat Chau Van has taken in the essential beauty of folk songs from regions in the north, the centre and the south.

vietnam-travel-cheo-img01Born in 1946 in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, he came from a family of prominent musicians conversant in musical genres that span the Vietnamese musical spectrum from theatrical to chamber music, folk songs to Buddhist chants.

He was a traditionally-trained musician who had studied with village artisans from the age of five. At the age of 13, he took up Vietnamese theatre music and went on to perform professionally both Cai luong (reformed theatre) and Hat boi (classical theatre) styles.

He also studied with tribal musicians and learned to perform on some musical instruments, such as bamboo tubes, Hiho (bundle flutes) and T’rung (bamboo xylophone).

In 1973, he both studied and promoted Vietnamese traditional music in Japan.

He first stayed in France in 1974, where he performed frequently and got a doctoral degree in ethnomusicology from the Sorbonne University in 1982.

He then resettled in the United States and was invited to give lectures at many famous universities and conservatories in Canada , the UK , Japan , China , South Korea , Singapore , Taiwan , etc.