Thursday, 1 March 2018

Beyond The Frame | The Ca Trù Singer | Fuji X-T1

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Ca Trù (pronounced “ka tchoo”) is a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Viet Nam 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. In 2009 Ca trù singing was inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage “Urgent Safeguarding List.”

Its performances involve at least three people: a female singer (đào nương) who both sings and plays the clappers (known as the phách), an instrumentalist (kép) who plays the đàn đáy (three-stringed lute), and a “praise drummer“ known as quan viên who beats the trống chầu.


Historically, when spectators (usually male) entered a Ca Trù performance, they purchased bamboo tally cards. In Chinese, Trù means card, while Ca means song in Vietnamese, and thus Ca Trù means tally card songs. The tallies were given to the singers in appreciation for their performance. After the performance, each singer received payment in proportion to the number of cards received.

This ancient art was frowned upon during the Ho Chi Minh era and beyond, but was reinstated as a national treasure since then. In fact, as a result of the UNESCO inscription, some Hanoi venues have booked Ca Trù performances (thought mostly for tourists) in the city’s historic quarter.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
The venue for the three performances I attended were held at an ancient venue on 28 Hang Buom Street, whose atmospheric ambiance was just perfect for this art form. It was a sort of reenactment of what would be experienced in the 15th century, with the musicians and singers wearing silk salmon-pink ao dais and headbands. The performances usually last for 45 minutes.

I chose to use my brace of Fuji X-T1 cameras; one fitted with a 18mm and the other with the absolutely delightful 56mm. Since the venue was so dark, the lenses were wide open.

The singer-musician seen in my photographs is Ms. Đặng Thị Hường who plays the traditional Vietnamese three-stringed lute, amongst other instruments. She (wearing the dress and headband typical to the royal Vietnamese court) is also featured in my photo essay The Ca Tru Musician; the result of a photo shoot at Hanoi's Ngoc Son Temple.

The technical details for the top photograph are: Fuji XT-1+ 56mm. 1/200th sec Hand Held. f2.0. iso 1600. Spot Metering. Date: 2014-04-02 at 20:16:00 (Hanoi time). Post Processed Using Color Efex and Iridient Developer 3.

The technical details for the lower photograph are: Fuji XT-1+ 18mm. 1/350th sec Hand Held. f2.0. iso 1600. Spot Metering. Date: 2014-04-02 at 20:36:00 (Hanoi time). Post Processed Using Color Efex and Iridient Developer 3.


Here's a short clip of one of the songs I recorded during one of the performances.