During Tet or other holidays, while the Northern Vietnamese are fascinated with quan họ folk songs’ melodies, and Southerners are enjoying đờn ca tài tử (a musical art with both scholarly and folk roots) which has been with them since every childhood, the people of Central region take hát bài chòi (a diverse art combining music, poetry, acting, painting and literature) as an unmissable pleasure. This is also a cultural activity that tourists should not ignore in their chances to visit the Central provinces.
When folk formed art
Since long ago, bài chòi has been no stranger to the Central Vietnamese people, especially those who lived in the provinces of Quảng Nam, Bình Định and Phú Yên. In the 16th and 17th centuries, legend has it that the Central region was continuously harassed by the forest beasts, which led to the destroyed crops. To fight against wild animals, people had set up watchtowers on the forest edges with guards who were young men. The guards came up with the entertainment of singing out loud back and forth as a melodious conversation while they were on duty. Also during this time, when taking part in Lord Nguyễn’s reclamation march to the South, Mr. Đào Duy Từ, was inspired by this entertainment form of the guarding mountainous people to develop and create bài chòi.
Since its inception, the familiarity and friendliness of the lyrics, tunes, and emotions that the art of bài chòi bearing has won people’s favour in no time. The bài chòi songs have now been an indispensable spiritual diet for the locals. Although bài chòi is not equally conducted in different places, those musical elements of lyrics and melodies have already made their way into every cell that made South Central people who they are.
Bài chòi 101 – where and how
Bài chòi is usually conducted every holiday or Tet as a public entertainment that helps people relax on the occasion of New Year and start a bustling year. Bài chòi songs also contribute to the local – visitor cultural bridge by the creative melodies of the hiệu artists (bài chòi performers).
The literal translation of bài chòi means to play a card game in a hut. However, in some overcrowded events, people can sit on mats in a circle to listen to songs. Bài chòi has quite similar rules to Southern lotto. Although there are many local variations of the songs and the card sets, each set has two equal parts in general. One will be used to distribute to participants; another will be put into the tube for the performers to draw. Players will buy a hut to play as a unit; each hut will be given three cards. The hiệu artist then pulls a card from their tube and start singing. At the end of a draw, the person with the same card will shout out loud, and who shouts three times for three similar cards will be the winner.
Become a Heritage that carries the Viet soul
The charm of bài chòi is not in winning or losing but in the performers’ skillful and creative songs. As nowadays is a modern context, the old age pieces have been modified or translated, making it easier for listeners to understand. If you join a bài chòi in early spring, there will mostly be cheerful and exciting melodies to welcome a new year. The humorous, poetic responses of the hiệu artists are also one reason why visitors come to this art form. Through the melodious bài chòi, the hiệu artist could introduce players to the unique local cultural traditions, conveying the beauty of Vietnam to tourists from far and near.
The bài chòi culture of today has been spread to both the North and the South of Vietnam. In 2017, the Art of bài chòi in the Southern Central Provinces Quảng Nam, Bình Định and Phú Yên) has been recognized by UNESCO as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the World. In many localities, bài chòi has been taught in schools to nurture the children’s love for this national art. Generations that are nurtured in meaningful songs are the most significant legacy that bài chòi culture brings to Vietnam’s country and people.
This content is also available in: Tiếng Việt