Elderly folk singer finishes career at the Hanoi Opera House

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The cold winter weather could not keep people from the Hanoi Opera House to witness the last performance of singer Ha Thi Cau on Tuesday, January 4.

Cau performed xam, a type of folk music dating back to the Tran Dynasty in the 14th century, at a show entitled Xam Ha Thanh (xam in Hanoi), organized to honor the contributions of xam musicians in preserving the 700-year-old art form.

Although she was only one of ten xam singers to receive certificates of merit from the Center for Preservation and Promotion of National Culture at the event, her unique performance of Theo Dang tron doi (Following the Party for eternity) on the dan nhi (a two-stringed bowed instrument) was truly exceptional and was the highlight of the show.

The performance featured 15 songs, including Giang sang vuon che (Moonlight on tea gardens), Ba bac (three footsteps) and Bac ky vui nhat Ha thanh (Hanoi is the most lively place in the north).

Xam artists often self-accompany their singing by playing on the dan bau (a single-stringed bowed instrument) or the dan nhi.

Born in 1917 to a family that had been singing xam for three generations, as a child Ha Thi Cau wandered the countryside markets and Hanoi with her parents performing xam to earn a living.

On Tuesday, the journey of the 94-year-old artisan culminated in this final performance on possibly the grandest stage in the country.

At the rehearsal on Monday, the elderly singer, who in 2004 was given the prestigious "People's Artist" designation, had to quit early to save her strength for the performance the next day.

According to Prof. Hoang Chuong, director of the Center for Preservation and Promotion of National Culture, it's not easy to book the singer, who often does not have the strength to last an entire performance.

She told him that this was her last performance.

Meritorious Artist Thanh Ngoan, Cau's protégé, founded a club named Xam Ha Thanh (Xam in Hanoi) with Cau's other students to commemorate Cau's contributions and to help in preserving the art form.

The most difficult thing, says club member Quang Long, "is to get people to come to our performances."

Thanh Ngoan says there are now young xam singers waiting in the wings. Ngoc Anh from Thai Binh Province has been singing xam since she was 9. The 11-year-old girl can now sing three xam songs.

"I hope my teacher will be able to set her mind at rest now that we have a new generation of xam singers," Ngoan said.

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