“Nha to” or “Cua dinh” folk singing is usually performed at spring festivals in Quang Ninh province.
The performance takes place in front of a communal house to honor the genies and national heroes who made great contributions to national construction and defense and to pray for peace, health and bumper crops.
This folk music genre is now popular only in Van Ninh, Quang Nghia and a few coastal communes of Van Don, Hai Ha, and Tien Yen districts.
Nguyen Quang Vinh, Head of the Folk Literature Association of Quang Ninh province, said, “This folk genre appeared in Quang Ninh province in the 13th century, when Ly Thuong Kiet and his troops who came from the central region were stationed in this region."
"Most local people came from Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Thanh Hoa or Hai Phong province. They set up temples to worship national contributors. Van Ninh commune is the cradle of “nha to
” or “cua dinh
” folk singing,” he added.
Cua Dinh folk singing is a genre of ceremonial singing which is the original form of Ca Tru folk singing. The genre includes singing, instrument playing and dancing and is performed in the front yard of the communal house.
But it’s different from Ca Tru folk singing because it’s accompanied by incense, flower and candle offerings to the genies and because it only takes place at spring festivals. The songs are passed down from parents to children.
“Cua dinh” artists sing and dance at the same time and the performance is accompanied by drumming to stir up excitement. Each Cua dinh group comprises 5 artists - a person playing a 3-string guitar, a drummer and 3 singers.
80-year-old Hoang Thi Thao, a member of a Cua Dinh singing club in Nam village, Van Ninh commune, Mong Cai city. said “In the old days, my mother taught me to sing. I love singing very much,” she shared.
Phung Thi Gai and Nguyen Thi Tu are also members of the singing club in Nam village. 84-year-old Nguyen Thi Tu said, “We have to pray before singing. We must sing correctly to show our respect for the genies. We sing to pray for prosperity, longevity, peace and happiness”.
After singing prayer songs, artists can improvise to show off their talent and knowledge. Their songs often contain lessons about loyalty, morality, faith and friendship. The songs also reflect the panorama of society and culture in the coastal communes of Quang Ninh province.
Though this folk genre is not easy to sing, it attracts a lot of young enthusiasts.
Le Thi Loc, Head of the Folk Literature Club in Nam village in Van Ninh commune, noted, “In Van Ninh commune, generation after generation has sung this musical genre. From an initial 18 members, our club now has 40 members. We meet tow or three times a week to practice”.
Quang Ninh province is sponsoring a project that promotes folk arts like “Cua Dinh singing” as tourism products. The Provincial Folk Literature Association supports the artists who are trying to preserve and promote the folk genre by publishing books and CDs of “cua dinh” songs.
A number of “Cua dinh” folk singing festivals have been held to introduce the genre to other localities around Vietnam.