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October 27, 2021, 12:53 am

France show ‘reshapes’ Vietnamese art ‘Đờn ca tài tử’

(08:47:07 AM 11/03/2014)
( - Over 100 years ago, ‘Đờn ca tài tử’, the unique traditional musical art of southern Vietnam, was first performed in France by a troupe from My Tho. Last month, the art was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


Members of the 'Đờn ca tài tử' musical group Tu Trieu in Maseille in 1906


 A 1906 tour of Marseille of a ‘Đờn ca tài tử’ troupe from My Tho helped reshape the art of performance in Vietnam and created a new art form called ‘cải lương’, a type of ‘Đờn ca tài tử’ with acting. It can be said that ‘Đờn ca tài tử’ is the father of ‘cải lương’, confirmed Ph.D. Tran Van Khe, a Vietnamese musicologist, academic, writer, teacher, and performer of traditional music.

A ‘turning point’ in Marseille

In the early 1900s, the ‘Đờn ca tài tử’ musical group directed by Tu Trieu from My Tho – now the provincial capital of Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta – was well known across southern Vietnam. The band performed every night at the theater owned by Mr. Nam Tu which drew members of elite society. The group was noticed by French officials working in Vietnam, who invited the band to tour their native country.

In 1906 the band performed many shows at the Marseille fair held from April 15 to November 11 in France. The band had 16 members including director Tu Trieu, eight men, five women, and two children. Altogether, they played nine musical instruments including the Vietnamese 16-chord zither, the Vietnamese 2-chord instrument, and a drum.

At that time in Vietnam, band members did not sit on a stage, but instead sat behind a background. In France, they were solemnly introduced and sat on a large stage to perform. After their tour of Marseilles, the Vietnamese musicians became used to this western practice and began to present themselves on stage so the audience could not only listen to them, but watch them perform. My Tho was the first locality to present artists in this fashion. Thus, the French tour was instrumental in changing the performance style of all Vietnamese bands.

Another man, Tong Huu Dinh from the delta’s Vinh Long Province, helped lay the foundation for ‘cải lương’ when he asked singers to not only sing but also act onstage as characters. ‘Cải lương’ was thus born around 1915-16.


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