UNESCO has recognised the need to preserve Ca Tru singing and has added it to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage items in the hope that it will help in its preservation. It is in fact poetry sung in the North of Vietnam using a female singer who plays clappers while two others playing lute and drum. If you are travelling in Vietnam in Hanoi and the region to its north, there should be a chance to see a performance. If your Vietnam tour package includes an entertainment evening, it is Ca Tru that you may see because it can be performed with dance as well.
It regularly forms part of ancestor worship and indeed there are Ca Tru competitions. There are over 50 different tunes and musical forms. They have been handed down through families for generations and hopefully with the stories open to everyone, interest in the singing will continue.
Years ago, Ca Tru was the common form of entertainment throughout Hanoi. When the Communists took over from the French bars were closed because it was felt they were places of gambling, drugs and prostitution. Public performances largely died out until a more liberal approach to life began to emerge in the 1990s.
Fortunately, there were families who were determined to keep the tradition going and once the liberalisation came, students who wished to learn about, and perform, Ca Tru singing. A case in point is Nguyen Van Mui who was determined that Ca Tru would survive. The Ca Tru Thai Ha Ensemble is a family affair and as well as performing in Vietnam, it has toured Asia and beyond into Europe.
UNESCO’s recognition of Ca Tru is important and Ca Tru clubs have opened across the country and national festivals take place. Mui’s granddaughter now sings and has appeared on ‘’Vietnam’s Got Talent’’ with TV exposure an important element in increasing the singing’s popularity among the younger generation. The Vietnam Government is now responsive both to the cultural past and the importance of tourism. There are many people who decide upon a holiday in Vietnam because of its culture and hence Ca Tru, whilst still not common, seems certain to survive. A Hanoi travel agent is certainly able to arrange for visitors to Vietnam to enjoy a performance in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
One of the problems currently is the lack of sufficient people with the knowledge of all the songs and stories associated with Ca Tru. In addition, many of the words used date back to the 18th and 19th Centuries and are no longer in the modern vocabulary. There are old recordings that help to retain all the stories that are told in the singing so in that form they are preserved.
There are moves to sing more modern songs in Ca Tru style but that should not mean that the traditions are watered down in any way. Tourism Will certainly help to maintain Ca Tru if number go along to the performances and show their appreciation of the art.