Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Hát Văn Singer | Trịnh Ngọc Minh

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
"My life is a calendar of memories." -Trịnh Ngọc 'Tony' Minh
Hát Văn is a form of ritual music played by musicians known as 'cung van' as an offering to the various deities pertaining to the cult of Mother Goddesses in Vietnam. The songs and musical accompaniment call the deities to attend the Hầu Đồng rituals, and create the right atmosphere for the medium to go into the requisite trances welcoming these deities.

These musicians require considerable training and stamina; often helped by various traditional concoctions, since the rituals can last as long as 8 hours with non-stop music and singing.

At the start of my two-weeks stay in Hanoi, I was fortunate to be introduced to Mr Trịnh Ngọc Minh, known to all as Tony, a very generous man, who not only is a well-known (and a very talented) Hát Văn singer, an excellent musician and expert in the two-stringed đàn nguyệt, but also one of the better Hầu Đồng practitioners I've seen during my almost daily attendance of these rituals.

During one of our many meals together, along with other friends, he also displayed his talents as a fortune-teller and palm reader, and I was quite happy to learn that I was blessed in having four lines in my palm rather than the normal three...and other stuff that has no relevance to this post.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Trịnh Ngọc Minh studied literature and theater in 2006, and since then has been singing, teaching, researching and writing songs on a daily basis. He's passionate about his chosen profession, especially as it requires a high degree of spirituality. The study of Hát Văn takes 2-3 years, and to be reasonably proficient, one has to study and practice it for at least 5 years. My understanding is that there over 2000 singers in Vietnam, but only 10 of them can write and sing this traditional style of music.

He also delighted his audience at an all-nighter Hầu Đồng ritualistic performance at the Đền Tam Phủ temple in the outskirts of Quang Ninh. Members of the audience were ecstatic despite the late hours (or early morning hours), and he -to use a Western expression- rocked the place.

At Hanoi's wonderfully atmospheric Văn Miếu (Temple of Literature), we had the opportunity of photographing Tony playing the two-stringed đàn nguyệt (top photograph), and I recorded a Hát Văn song.