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Thousands attend quan ho in Bac Ninh

A long procession leads people to the heart of the Lim Festival

Finishing the song Ngoi tua man thuyen (Sitting close to the boat’s side), 65-year-old Nguyen Thi Lan continues with the song Ngoi tua song Dao (Sitting close to the window), then proudly says, "I could sing quan ho (traditional folk music) since I was five years old."

Lan is one of the older generation of singers at the annual Lim festival of quan hovillages of Bac Ninh Province, which started yesterday. The festival is becoming more popular each year, but many performers and audience members are concerned that the younger generation is losing interest in this very important part of Vietnamese culture.

The festival, which is dedicated to the traditional folk singing ritual in the area, attracts thousands of domestic and international visitors.

People not only sing quan ho in the village, many couples can be found singing quan ho in a boat on the nearby lake. The festival looks brilliant with the colourful traditional tu than (four-panel traditional dress) of the young women and the traditional costumes of the boys.

The festival, however, is not all about quan ho, but also attracts competitors keen to test their strength in the wrestling arena. Human chess and the very important contest to select the most beautiful girls in quan ho villages’ are also high on the list of must-see events.

Ha Noi resident, Nguyen Tien Quyet, 30, who has been coming to the event for many years said he loves to take part in the Lim festival.

"I know that the songs are still the same year after year," he said. "But l am fond of listening to them, and enjoying the performance of the quan ho girls and boys."

The bus fare to the festival from Ha Noi only costs VND2,500 one-way which was a big reason why so many people turned out to watch the event this year.

However, Le Thuy Hoa, 26, said she was concerned with the level of organisation put into the event. "The festival is too crowded," she said. "It seemed the police were not really in control of the situation and I saw many people, mostly children, fall down in the crowd."

Others complain that there were many people who organised gambling game stalls at the festival, and this caused a lot of disorder in the crowd as people flocked to win a game.

Tran Duc Duong, head of the festival managing board, said that about 100 police and local militias have been mobilised to control the traffic. However, festival-goers are concerned that this number may not be enough to deal with the thousands of people attending the festival.

Traffic and crowd congestion are just a small problem compared with the concerns of many visitors about the future of quan ho when they find that older singers now outnumber the younger generation.

Many people wonder whether the youth of today wish to continue the tradition of quan ho and ask how they can be encouraged to keep singing the songs.

Lan said she failed to persuade her granddaughter, who is a trader in Ninh Hiep market in the capital city’s suburb, to become a quan ho singer. She now has little time to attend the festival.

"My granddaughter, Thuy, sings quan ho very beautifully," said Lan. "She would have made an excellent quan ho singer, but she told me that by working as a trader, she can achieve a better living standard.

"All I do now is share my quan ho singing talent with other girls who have an interest in the songs of my village of Lung Giang. Sometimes I feel a bit sad and wish that some of the young girls were my kin." she said.

"I used to be a quan ho singer but I don’t think that I will let my daughter follow in my foot steps," said Nguyen Thi Thu, who was selling dried fruit at the festival.

"I want my daughter to concentrate on her studies to become a teacher and help me with the housework. She should do something which can earn money instead of singing all day," she added.

On the other hand, there are some youth who wish to continue the old traditions. Not belonging to any traditional quan ho village, Bui Thi Huong, a third year student at the Ha Noi Medicine College, tries her best to be a quan ho singer. As one member of an amateur group of quan ho singers, Huong and her friends travel through the area to learn all the melodies of the folk songs in Bac Ninh - the birth place of quan ho.

"I am fascinated by the songs and want to learn all of them as well as hear others continue to sing these beautiful songs," she said.

"I hope that more and more Vietnamese people can sing the songs, and I want the songs to be famous in the world as one character of the Vietnamese culture."

Last year, the Ministry of Culture and Information submitted a document asking the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to recognise quan ho as a world heritage culture worthy of protection.

VNS - (23/02/2005)

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