World status gives 'ca tru' no respect at home

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A ca tru performance in northern Vietnam. Officials and experts admit the music has been neglected even after it won UNESCO heritage status in 2009. Photo by Ngoc Thang

When preparing to report to the UNESCO about the status of a music tradition four years after it had won world heritage status, Hanoi authorities found that no agency had kept track of the art since.

The culture ministry recently asked the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism to make a report on ca tru, as promised to the United Nations agency in 2009.

"But when we sent out requests for information, we really panicked when we found that the music has not been managed or observed by any unit," an unidentified official said.

Ca tru was most popular northern Vietnam in the 15th century. It enjoyed high status, favored by the wealthy and educated class, as it was considered a clever combination of the best of music and poetry.

It is the UNESCO recognized cultural heritage with the largest influence in Vietnam, as it is sung almost all over the northern region in 11 cities and provinces including Hanoi, the capital city, and in some central provinces.

Department director To Van Dong said a report will be available in October.

But researchers say it'd better be a report about how the music needs help, now that it has been left on its own.

Music researcher Dang Hoanh Loan said a UNESCO heritage application has to present an action program that is approved by the government. The program should contain specific plans, like organizing classes teaching the music.

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"It now turns out Vietnam set an action plan but did not act at all," Loan said.

A small number of artists are still holding classes and putting up performances on any venue they can find, but it is not clear if they have high attendance.

While the music is a Vietnamese tradition, the only proper event featuring it over the past years was organized in June last year by the French culture center L'Espace in Hanoi.

The program, with free entrance, gathered many music professors and teachers including Pho Thi Kim Duc, a ca tru icon who started performing the art when she was just 13.

Loan said Hanoi authorities organized many conferences after the music won its recognition, and officials stood up to make plans and promises about providing location and other support for the music to be practiced, but these were empty promises.

"Hanoi abandoned ca tru long time ago, though it used to be the music's biggest center."

Le Van Toan, director of Vietnam Institute of Musicology that drafted the ca tru application, said they have not received any response from Hanoi about training projects for the music since.

"There's no such academic cooperation. We sent out statements, but Hanoi did not respond. Some provinces were active in cooperating, but not Hanoi," Toan said.

Loan said ca tru is a music that belongs to too many localities to be really cared for by any, unlike quan ho, which has received attention and investment from Bac Ninh Province or nha nhac, which originates in the former feudal capital of Hue.

He said the culture ministry, known officially as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, should take some blame for not issuing any directives on preserving and protecting this national treasure.

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