Vietnam Art Books -- Ca Tru – valuable art or “social evil” (February 14, 2006)

Ca Tru – valuable art or “social evil” (February 14, 2006)

VietNamNet – Nguyen Xuan Dieu discovers Ca Tru folk music is an ancient Hanoi art form.

According to books, the oldest Ca tru song in Hanoi was ‘Looking for an actress at night’ by Hoang Nghia Phu, who was born in 1480, and became a doctoral candidate in 1511. The poem/song is about the entertainment of men at the time: going out at night and looking for actresses. It shows that performing services appeared in Hanoi at that time.

Another poem about Dong Ngac Village, Tu Liem District, Hanoi transports readers to an ancient festival in the village in 15th century. According to words in the poem, Dong Ngac had eight parts at that time, and singing performances were enjoyed at its communal house.

Actresses (known as co dao) sang poems respecting the village’s tutelary spirit and wishing good things for villagers. The performance gradually became known as Ca tru, which was sung accompanied by rhythmical bamboo sticks, and later, with a traditional instrument, Dan Day, or as players called it Kep. A bowl was placed in front of co dao, where audiences were invited to pay.

In Hanoi, the legend and heritage of Ca tru has a long history, with many stories around Ca tru told. According to the oldest story, co dao Nguyen left her homeland in Ha Tay Province, travelling to Hanoi where she successfully supported Vu Kham, a poor student to become a royal official.

Vu Kham was born in Hai Duong Province, where he lived with a wicked stepmother, before leaving home to become a beggar. After arriving in Dich Vong Village, Tu Liem District, Hanoi, Kham was helped by a kind man, and began studying again. At a Dich Vong festival, he met co dao Nguyen, who helped him obtain his doctorate in 1727.

Other stories surround Trinh Lord’s actresses. Among them, co dao Nguyen Thi Hue was a 21-year-old singer of Cuu Lau theatrical company near Luc Thuy Lake (present day Hoan Kiem). She was recognized and invited to live with Lord Trinh Cuong, and was later honoured as one of his wives. When Thang Long (Hanoi) was attacked by an epidemic, she spent much money to buy medicine to save the people. At 71 she took a holy order at Cuu Lau Pagoda, where people now worship her at 82 Hang Trong Street.

According to legend, a Hang Trong family once invited co dao to sing at its festival, and while singing, the actress suddenly fell into a dead faint. People fearfully prayed to the gods, and the ghost of Nguyen Thi Hue appeared and said through a psychic that she was angry with co dao, and people must not invite them again. Since that time, Hang Trong people have not dared to invite co dao to join holy events again, and people do not worship Hue flowers (Tuberose), as a way to respect the holy actress.

In late 19th and early 20th centuries, France attacked Vietnam, and many Ca tru theatrical companies had to move to other locations, or collect in streets such as Hang Giay, Kham Thien, Nga Tu So, Cau Giay, Kim Ma, Van Dien and Gia Lam.

According to the book ‘Research of Co Dao’, Hanoi had 216 Ca tru groups with nearly 2,000 co dao in the 1920s. Working alongside the co dao were dao ruou who did not sing, but only served customers. Since then, Ca tru was seen as immoral work, or even imputed as prostitution, an idea that has prevailed until relatively recently.

However, fans of Ca tru still see it for its musical value and honour its performers. Quach Thi Ho, Chu Thi Nam, Thuong Huyen, Kim Duc, and Chu Thi Bo are closely related with the art, and famous fans include poets Tan Da and Truc Hien, and writers Nhat Linh, Tran Tieu, Tuong Bach, Huyen Kieu, and Nguyen Tuan, who have attempted to change the bad reputation of the valuable performance art.

Reprinted from VietNamNet


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