This one-stringA�zitherA�has been gone along with Vietnamese for a long time ago. Especially, singing the songs played with this instrument by buskers helps players to earn a living. Gradually, it becomes traditional culture feature of Vietnam. As a result, international audiences use the phrase a�?A�A�n ba?�uA�countrya�? or a�?A�A�n ba?�ua��s homelanda�? when they talk about Via��t Nam.
This unique instrumentA�remains shrouded in mystery about its history. But scholars agree that it is an indigenous instrument of Via��t Nam which appeared before the 19th century.
According to some scholars and records,A�xa?�mA�singers (blind busker singer) in the north broughtA�A�A�n ba?�uA�to Hua?? to accompany singing performances for the Vietnamese royal court in 1892.
Legends and the past
There is no historical record of the birth ofA�A�A�n ba?�u. But many legends and stories are still told from generation to generation about howA�A�A�n ba?�uA�came to the Vietnamese people.
It is said that in the old days, a couple lived with an elderly mother. When the son, Tr?�??ng ViA?n, was asked to join the army, his wife, Tha�� Ph?�??ng, took good care of her mother-in-law in their poor rural hometown. After some years, Tr?�??ng ViA?n had not yet come back. Tha�� Ph?�??ng and her in law wandered the region, trying to find the man. Unluckily, the two women encountered a gang of robbers during their travels. They were robbed and the young woman was blinded. The mother and daughter-in-law had to beg to live. Moved by the piety of Tha�� Ph?�??ng, a fairy gifted her a zither and taught her how to play it. The fairy suggested Tha�� Ph?�??ng sing and play the zither to make ends meet. After that, the two unfortunate women wandered the region and started their busking life singing traditional songs while playing the one-string zither. This is howA�hA?t xa?�mA�(blind buskera��s singing) was also created.
A?A�n ba?�ua��sA�existence was also recorded in ancient historic documents.
InA�Kia??n VA?n Tia�?u La�?c, a book on Via��t Nama��s literature, geography and history, LA? QuA? A?A?n (1726-1784) wrote a�?In parties, there were often ten men and ten women sitting in two lines on the ground. Instruments includingA�tA� bA�,A�tranh, andA�ba?�uA�were used to perform works with melodies which resembled ancient music.a�?
Based onA�A?A?na��sA�book, many scholars feel that string instruments, like theA�tA� bA�,A�tranhA�andA�ba?�u, appeared in Via��t Nam from the 13th century, said music lecturer Nguya��n Thanh HA�.
A?A�n ba?�ua��sA�creation remains shrouded in mystery. But scholars agree it is an indigenous instrument of Via��t Nam which appeared before the 19th century, said music teacher A?a��nh.
To this day, locals still celebrate the death anniversary of the progenitor ofA�hA?t xa?�mA�with gratitude duringA�February and August of the lunar calendar in the Ha??i D?�??ng, Ha??i PhA?ng, H?�ng YA?n, and VA�nh PhA? areas.
Vietnamese music history
“Having been part of Vietnamese culture and society through hundreds of years of ups and downs,A�A�A�n ba?�uA�music radiates a strong vitality. The very existence ofA�A�A�n ba?�uA�demonstrates the vivid expression of the cultural identity of Via��t Nam,” said music teacher TA?m.
According to scholar HoA�ng Ya??n,A�xa?�mA�singers in the north broughtA�A�A�n ba?�uA�to Hua?? to accompany singing performances for the Vietnamese royal court in 1892,A�saidA�Tra?�n Quang Ha??i, PhD in ethnomusicology from Francea��s Research Centre of Ethnomusicology.
At the end of the 19th century, King ThA�nh ThA?i, a patriotic king during the period of French colonialism, lovedA�A�A�n ba?�uA�music. Recognising the symbolism of the indigenous instrument, he decided to replace theA�A�A�n tamA�(36-chord zither) withA�A�A�n ba?�uA�in the royal court orchestra which included five musical instruments:A�tranh, ta�?, nha��, nguya��t and ba?�uA�(16-chord zither, pear-shaped 4-string guitar, two-string fiddle, moon-shaped lute, and monochord zither).
Starting in the 1950s,A�A�A�n ba?�uA�troupes were founded and many artists sought ways to develop the instrument. They began promoting the Vietnamese monochorda��s role in solo, ensemble and recitation work, according to Thanh TA?m.
“1956 was a landmark year forA�A�A�n ba?�u: the Via��t Nam National Academy of Music – the countrya��s first musical school – opened andA�A�A�n ba?�uA�and other traditional instruments were included in the teaching curriculum,a�? said Thanh TA?m.
a�?Whenever the country was beseiged by bombs and wars, broadcastingA�A�A�n ba?�uA�melodies on the national radio, Voice of Via��t Nam was always a great encouragement for the soldiers,a�? said artist Kim Anh.
Famous solo A�A�n ba?�u performances – such as VA� mia�?n Nam (For the South), TA�nh quA? h?�??ng (Homeland Love) – were among the favourite pieces on air during 1960s and 1970s. Many such performances were chosen as theme music for radio programs, according to Kim Anh.
A?A�n ba?�uA�was also so closely linked to the lives of soldiers that it was played on battlefields. This beloved music was a great comfort and encouragement to soldiers during war and a means of enriching their lives in harsh battle conditions.
Since then, the demand to learnA�A�A�n ba?�uA�has risen sharply.
“Using 5-line musical notation in studies and performance – and playing an electronic one string zither capable of a higher volume than the original instrument – helped many musicians and artists to research and apply more performance techniques,” TA?m said.
A?A�n ba?�uA�is an indispensable part of Via��t Nama��s music scene. It holds a unique place on domestic and international music stages.
Frenchman Sylvain Streiff first heard of theA�A�A�n ba?�uA�from his wife. He spent two yearsA�learning to play the instrument in Via��t Nam in 2013-2015. Last month, he returned to the zithera��s homeland to hold mini musical events featuring theA�instrument.A�”I chooseA�A�A�n ba?�uA�because it is completely specific to Via��t Nam,”A�he said.
Sun Jin, a Chinese student at the Via��t Nam National Academy of Music, wrote in his graduate thesis: a�?A?A�n ba?�uA�is a unique instrument of Via��t Nam which has long been played to enrich the spiritual life of Vietnamese people.a�?
“More people – including both Vietnamese and foreigners – are interested in learning about this instrument,” musicianTia??n said. a�?It is not difficult to learn to playA�A�A�n ba?�u. One can play this instrument beautifully, as long as they understand the soul and characteristics of Vietnamese people.”
To preserve the values of this traditional instrument and to develop it further, artist BA?i La�� Chi, a lecturer at Traditional Instrument Faculty of National Academy of Music, recommended training talent at an early age. Chi also advocated granting awards and financial support to encourage artists and teachers to compose more new works forA�A�A�n ba?�u.
During the workshop, researchers also urged the Via��t Nam cultural authority to make a UNESCO push forA�A�A�n ba?�u.
“Relevant agencies need to co-ordinate and submit a proposal for UNESCO recognition ofA�A�A�n ba?�uA�to assert cultural sovereignty for this instrument,”A�TA? Nga�?c Thanh, chairman of the Folk Arts Association of Via��t Nam, said.VNS