Hát Xẩm or Blind Singing in North Vietnam

Xẩm is a Sino-Vietnamese word which means blind. Hát Xẩm or Blind Singing is a type of folk singing art form in North Vietnam. In the past, the blind, the poor often used this art type to earn a living in the market or where many people were up and down. In this article, let’s explore this art form seeming strange.

According to legend, in the Tran Dynasty, King Tran Thanh Tong had two princes Tran Quoc Toan and Tran Quoc Dinh. As a result of the power struggle, Tran Quoc Dinh was killed by Tran Quoc Toan. Tran Quoc Toan blinded Tran Quoc Dinh’s eyes and dropped him in the middle of the forest. Waking up, because of the blind eyes, Tran Quoc Dinh just cried and fell asleep. In his sleep, he dreamed to see a fairy teach teaching him how to make a Vietnamese two-chord fiddle. Waking up, he made it and strangely, the echoes of the sound so good. The birds heard the echoes,  landed and bringing fruit to him to eat. After that, the foresters heard the echoes and found him. Tran Quoc Dinh taught the poor, the blind music and songs. Rumors about his music spread to the palace, the king called him to come to sing and recognized his son. Returning to royal life, Tran Quoc Dinh continued to bring the sound of the Vietnamese two-chord fiddle and songs to teach people to earn a living. Hát Xẩm was born from that and Tran Quoc Dinh was worshiped as an ancestor of Hát Xẩm. The people took 22 February and 22 August of the lunar calendar to celebrate his death.

The musical instruments of Hát Xẩm are very simple. If a player, just using a Vietnamese two-chord fiddle is okay. If a player group, there are more other instruments such as a small drum, sênh sứa (2 pieces of bamboo), sênh tiền (coins), a flute or a monochord.

Hát Xẩm has 2 main tunes as Xẩm Chợ and Xẩm Cô Đào. Xẩm Chợ, strong singing, and Xẩm Cô Đào gentler singing. In addition, Xẩm also uses other folk melodies of the Red River Delta such as Trống Quân, Cò Lã, Hát Ru, Quan Họ, Chèo, Thơ. The folk melodies used in Hát Xẩm have been bent according to Xẩm tune. The content of the Xẩm songs is very rich such as lamenting the condition of poverty, praising national heroes, criticizing human bad habits.

Hát Xẩm was considered a form of livelihood for the poor, especially the blind before. Xẩm was performed in markets, streets, crowded places, but was not performed in the large stage. Therefore, in the present, few people know about this traditional art form. However, Hát Xẩm is still loved by the workers and the old in North Vietnam, is highly appreciated and tried to preserve by the state.

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