It is said that Dum singing began with a traditional custom of people in Thuy Nguyen that women were supposed to keep their faces covered with a veil at all times. Hat dum is associated with the moment the girls uncover their faces at a festival known as the festival of unveiling. On this day, the village boys and girls gather at the communal house of the village where they sing love songs to each other.
Dum singing usually takes place at temple or pagoda festivals. It is sung solo or by groups of boys and girls. A boy will approach and sing to a girl that he has feelings for. The girl will unveil if she also has feelings for the boy. She will then hand him a souvenir and invite him home for dinner later that day.
Phung Van Manh, Director of Thuy Nguyen district’s Information and Culture Center, told VOV "Dum songs are about everything – greetings, declarations of love, or requests for wedding gifts, or about trees, animals, or the stars in the sky, or changes to each other’s poetry skills. Dum songs often reflect the wisdom and humor of old people."
As the popularity of Dum singing began to fade in the late 20th century, Thuy Nguyen authorities have taken steps to restore the art form. Spring festivals involving Dum singing have been revived, and clubs and training classes have been organized to teach Dum singing to the younger generation. Dinh Thi Yen, an 8th grader at Lap Le secondary school in Thuy Nguyen district, has belonged to a Dum singing club for 4 years.
"My parents encouraged me to join a Dum singing club to help preserve our traditional culture. I was shy about singing at first but I’ve improved a lot, thanks to the senior Dum singers who are our teachers," said Yen.
Dum singing is being revitalized in many localities in Vietnam’s northern delta and is now performed regularly at spring festivals.