Friday, 10 April 2015

Ca Trù | Vietnamese Sung Poetry

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the most authentic cultural performances of Northern Vietnam has to be Ca Trù (pronounced 'Ka Tchoo'); a complex form of sung poetry using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. It flourished in the 15th century when it was popular with the royal palace, and was a favorite activity of aristocrats and scholars. It was later performed in communal houses, inns and private homes.

I was first introduced to Ca Trù during my 2012 Vietnam Photo Expedition-Workshop when I spotted a pamphlet in our hotel lobby. I gathered the group, and we attended one of its evening performances in Ha Noi's Old Quarter. Due to a time conflict, I wasn't able to attend one in September 2014 during another Photo Expedition-Workshop, but I vowed I'd do so when I was next in Ha Noi...which was last fortnight.

Thanks to Ms Trần Thị Thanh Tú, a Ha Noi-based photographer, I attended two Ca Trù performances and photographed at will. Ms Phạm Thị Huệ is a virtuoso practitioner of the art, and is actively engaged in preserving, reviving and popularizing this cultural heritage.

Ca Trù singing is a traditional Vietnamese folk art, and is believed to have religious origins. It is said that it is a very noble and elegant form of art, not just singing but also for its poetry.

Not understanding a word of Vietnamese, the beauty of the sung poetry is lost on me but I was nevertheless always impressed by the overall atmosphere of these performances, by the poise and talent of the singers/musicians and by the elegance of their costumes.

For further background on Ca Trù, drop by THE ANCIENT ART OF CA TRÙ; a gallery of my  large photographs made during my recent visits to the Ca Trù Thang Long Club, at 28 Hang Buom Street, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi.

And take a listen to one of the songs performed by the group on April 2, 2015 which I recorded live.