Vietnamese indie artists revive centuries-old singing tradition with hip-hop

By Ngoc An, Thanh Nien News

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Traditional xam singing is combined with hip hop and electronic music in the "Xam and Life" concert on January 20, 2015. Photo: Hai Ba

A group of researchers and musicians in Hanoi are reviving xam, a traditional music genre often performed by blind street artists, with a new ambitious project. 
At the Hanoi Opera House last week, Xam Ha Thanh performed xam with contemporary music. 
Their concert, “Xam and Life”, featured both old and original xam songs. The group of independent artists also creatively mixed xam with hip hop, jazz and world music in a few numbers. 
It was the second concert for Xam Ha Thanh following the first four years ago. 
Members of the group say they funded the second show with their own money and whatever they could collect from friends and families. 
Xam used to be popular in northern Vietnam. Some say its root can be traced back to the 14th century.
But like many other traditional art forms, xam is now considered “endangered” as most of the melodies are not well preserved. 
Members of the group have for years traveled to northern cities and provinces to search for xam performers to collect xam melodies. 
“Whenever we heard about someone who can sing xam, we’d go and find them,” researcher Nguyen Quang Long says. 
The group hope that they will raise enough funds to organize more xam concerts in the future. As an independent group, it cannot easily secure financial support from the government. 
“I think the state should set up a fund to support independent groups to preserve traditional music, or it could use the tax revenues earned from commercial music to set up a fund for traditional music,” Long says.

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