– Gameness til the End
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Vietnamnet | Last update 17:52 | 13/02/2017
The Lim festival, for many, including me, is synonymous with quan ho, the traditional love duets that Bac Ninh Province is famous for.
Main act: The big stage at the Lim Festival in Bac Ninh Province on Thursday, February 9.
The festival might have several other activities, but at its heart lies the rich tradition of quan ho, already recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.
While there were quan ho performances aplenty at this year’s festival, my expectations of getting immersed in the authentic singing tradition were belied.
The Lim festival is held on the 12th and 13th day of the first lunar month. This year, as in other years, people flocked to the festival, although it fell in the middle of a working week, on Wednesday and Thursday.
Along with calligraphy, wrestling, cock-fighting and other activities, the biggest celebration of the year in the northern province did feature quan ho performances aimed to preserving and promoting the traditional cultural values of the locality.
I arrived in Bac Ninh on the second day of the festival, joining people who had converged on the Lim Hill from different parts of the country. The place was packed, like rush hour traffic in Ha Noi. It was good that people were walking and not driving.
At the entrance gate, I could hear the sweet melodies of quan ho through loudspeakers. The performance was taking place on the main stage, with lien anh (male love duet singers) and lien chi (female love duet singers) looking elegant in their traditional ao dai and ao tu than dresses.
Standing among some young people focused on selfie sticks and livestreaming the performance, it was like being in free concert than a festival.
The quan ho songs were also being performed in five other areas close to each other. Each area had its own loudspeaker, CDs ‘seller’ and women in their ao tu than dresses offering betel leaves and areca nuts to the audience.
I felt a bit sad that the beautiful tradition of women offering betel leaves to the audience has turned into soliciting tips from the audience, and to try and persuade people to buy their CDs. Although the soliciting of tips has been banned by authorities, the practice continued.
Amateur and professional lien anh and lien chi from only Bac Ninh as well as other provinces and cities like Hai Duong, Hai Phong and Nam Dinh sand with enthusiasm. Many festival-goers able to sing quan ho also joined the performance and were applauded by the audience.
However, the traditional singing of quan ho, a cappella, without instruments, was not continued at the festival. To try and reach the large number of visitors and audience, singers used microphones and instrumental music. With the singing arenas close to each other, there was a clash of sounds not pleasant to the year.
Local officials said they have mobilised hundreds of local security officers and volunteers to ensure smooth conduct of the festival, but I feel more should be done to preserve the quan ho tradition’s authenticity.
A capella performances without microphones and musical accompaniment should be maintained so that this special, unique tradition and skill is not lost forever.
More attention should be paid to having good sound systems, and preventing sound clashes between quan ho performances.
Stories through the lens: Love is in the air at Lim festival
Ten of thousands of people gathered this week at Lim Town in Tien Du District, Bac Ninh Province for one of the country’s oldest and largest Spring festive events: the Lim Festival.
The festival centres around Lim Pagoda, located on top of Lim Hill where the creators of quan ho (love-duet singing) are worshipped.
Quan ho, as locals believe, was created based on the legend of a fisherman named Truong Chi, who had an excellent voice. His love, a highborn lady, fell for him just by listening to his singing as he was paddling down the river. Truong and his lover were never meant to be because of the difference and their status and he later died of a broken heart.
Typically lasting for 3-4 days, the Lim Festival consists of two major elements: worship ceremonies to honour local deities and festive activities such as wrestling competitions, cock fighting, calligraphy writing and love-duet singing.
Pen mightier than the sword: The festival features calligraphy writing – a Vietnamese tradition at Spring festive events.
Enchanting: Women in traditional outfits performing love-duet singing on top of Lim Hill. — Photos Huy Hung – Thuy Duong
Down and dirty: Two wrestlers compete during the festival’s wrestling competition.
Time-honoured: Male and female singers on a boat, a tradition carried down from the old time of the Tieu Tuong River.