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The Ca Trù Musician

Story by Tewfic El-Sawy July 4th, 2017

The Ca Trù musician

Ms. Đặng Thị Hường is a Ca Trù singer and musician, and plays the traditional Vietnamese three-stringed lute, amongst other instruments.

Ca Trù (pronounced “ka tchoo”) is a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Viet Nam using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. It flourished in the 15th century when it was popular with the royal palace, and was a favorite activity of aristocrats and scholars. It was later performed in communal houses, inns and private homes.

Ca Trù performances involve at least three people: a female singer (đào nương) who both sings and plays the clappers (known as the phách), an instrumentalist (kép) who plays the đàn đáy (three-stringed lute), and a “praise drummer“ known as quan viên who beats the trống chầu.

When spectators (usually male) entered a Ca Trù performance, they purchased bamboo tally cards. In Chinese, Trù means card, while Ca means song in Vietnamese, and thus Ca Trù means tally card songs. The tallies were given to the singers in appreciation for their performance. After the performance, each singer received payment in proportion to the number of cards received.

All photographs ©2015 Tewfic El-Sawy/The Travel Photographer.

Hanoi, Vietnam