“Oh my husband
With your sword, you went to answer the king’s call
I wait restlessly for news of you
Stay up all night
I wait for news of you
All my being hurts…”
Every time the melancholy and yearning tune of Da co hoai lang is sung, one cannot help but be reminded of the moving image of the “husband-awaiting rock”, and grieve for the wife who longs for her husband at night.
Da co hoai lang is a traditional song composed by the late songwriter Cao Van Lau – also known as Sau Lau, a son of Long An, who later settled in Bac Lieu. Mr. Sau Lau was one of the protégés who excelled at the court music of master Le Tai Khi and was able to play the dan tranh, dan co, dan kim, and trong le fluently. When talking about him, people always think of Da co hoai lang, which is considered the precursor of vong co today and also the pride of the Southern people.
The moving story behind the song
Few people realize that behind the voice of a woman “longing for her husband” is an admirable heart of a husband who loved his wife so much that he wrote such a timeless piece of music.
Once he confided to his close friend, Mr. Cao Van Lau said:
“I composed this song because I love my wife dearly. In the year that I wrote Da co hoai lang, I had been living with her for 3 years without children. Which, as they say, meant we should no longer be married. If a couple live together for 3 years and the wife doesn’t bear any children, the husband is allowed to leave her for someone else to carry on his lineage. There were flawed notions in feudal times. People think that it is the woman’s fault for not giving birth to any children.
The family pressured me into leaving her, but I couldn’t. I secretly disobeyed their order, and didn’t return her to her parents but instead sent her to a family who was kind enough to sympathize with our misfortune and let her stay for a few days, with the hope that we would bear children and win against the harsh, outdated, and heavily feudal-based notion”.
Then, in “lonely winter nights”, Mr. Sau with a heavy heart knew naught more than to lend his soul to the instruments, and pour out his feelings to the night. He never stopped thinking about and sympathizing with his good wife’s pain. Pitying his own misfortune and the soul mate who was then separated due to prejudice, he finally composed Da co hoai lang.
If it had been merely about the feelings of a woman who “hears night drums and longs for her husband”, Da co hoai lang would still have been able to tug at people’s heartstrings. However, when the story behind the song was revealed, people were even further moved by the couple’s plight.
Da co hoai lang – the symbolic heritage of the Southern people
As if to prove the proverb good things come to those who wait, the couple were later reunited and had 7 children together. However, perhaps both songwriter Cao Van Lau and his wife had never expected their “spiritual baby” to quickly rise, and become the pride and a communal heritage of not only the Southern people.
Da co hoai lang quickly won over the hearts of its listeners because it was the culmination of a gift for traditional music, a sensitive soul, and the great love that transcends the trivial boundaries of the composer. This separation song was also the beginning of the musician’s successful career. To this day, the song has existed for more than a century and has been widely performed in all stages. According to Tran Phuoc Thuan’s comment: “Da co hoai lang didn’t stop at its original form like other traditional songs, but has gradually transformed and developed into the Vong co that has changed a large portion of Vietnamese folk opera”. Not only that, but Da co hoai lang was also the inspiration for other famous works such as Tan co giao duyen (Vien Chau), Dem Ganh Hao nghe dieu hoai lang (Vu Duc Sao Bien), etc.Every piece of art has its own fate. For Da co hoai lang, its fate has been in part determined by the moving story that it conveys.
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