Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Music Man of Tho Ha

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
As all photographers know full well, serendipity plays an important role in offering photographic opportunities that are rarely repeated. I'm not talking of serendipitous events that happen in a flash, and that lucky photographers manage to capture in a blink of the eye by just happening to be there when it happens, but rather of unexpected opportunities that can arise from asking the right questions, sometimes from taking the wrong turn, and sometimes just a few seconds before giving up and returning home.

During The People of Tây Bắc Photo Expedition-Workshop, I decided to break off from Ha Noi's street photography schedule, and drive to the village of Tho Ha, about 45 kilometers from the capital city.  The village specializes in producing rice paper, used for spring rolls and other Vietnamese culinary dishes.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
While the village is known for its photogenic setting, we didn't find it that interesting, and were on the verge of leaving it when our interpreter Huyen stopped at an old house to ask for directions, and we were introduced to Việt.

We were welcomed in his house, and were offered brain-numbing rice wine, thankfully in small goblets. It didn't take too long for Việt to grab his many traditional Vietnamese stringed instruments, and start playing melancholic tunes. An accomplished musician, and to a certain extent, a passable good singer, Việt was very proud of his musical heritage. and we were made to understand that he served with the Viet Cong during the American (Vietnam) War, and he played music for his fellow soldiers.

Việt owns a small enterprise producing rice paper in the village, and he 's extremely proud of his son who works for a Ford assembly factory  in Hai Duong, as he is of his grandson who may have his musical talents.

The đàn nguyệt ("moon lute") being played is a two-stringed Vietnamese traditional musical instrument, is used in both folk and classical music, and remains popular throughout Vietnam. It's related to the yueqin, also known as the moon guitar, a traditional Chinese string instrument.

According to Xuan Tran (friend and travel agent supremo), the song is titled "Người ơi, Người ở đừng về", and it's a type of Quan Họ traditional music.