Traditional music as tourism bait
A proposal to use UNESCO-recognised Don ca tai tu music to attract tourists has given rise to conflicting opinions, with some veteran musicians warning that commercialisation could devalue a cultural heritage.
Nguyen Thuy Loan of the Association of Vietnamese Folklorists was in favour of the plan, saying it is inevitable.
“For decades cultural tourism has been developing well and become a key economic component for several countries,” she said at a conference held on the sidelines of the first National Don Ca Tai Tu Festival in Bac Lieu recently.
“It is a global trend and Viet Nam cannot stay outside the orbit.” Tourism promotes a nation’s culture and arts among local and foreign visitors, she said.
“Tourism will create job opportunities and incomes especially for artists.
“The incomes will encourage people to learn traditional arts.”
But she also admitted that tourism could damage the cultural values of Don ca tai tu, which is played only among close friends and not strangers.
It should not be performed for tourists at restaurants or hotels, only at venues where it is traditional – like boats and gardens – she warned.
A Binh Duong Province-based artist, who asked not to be named, said the music could be used to foster tourism but only with proper management to preserve its dignity.
“By doing this we will have money for nourishing talent and popularising the traditional art. But protecting it from commercialisation relies much on the authorities’ management.”
Phan Thang Loi, 66, of Can Tho, who has been a Don ca tai tu exponent since 16, rejected the idea outright, saying he often felt affronted by the audience’s behaviour.
He told Viet Nam News: “I feel unhappy to see tourists eating, drinking, and even talking to each other while I play the music. It is an insult. So Don ca tai tu should not be brought to the stage.
He said that it was inappropriate on his part to perform for tourists.
“When I play the music, I want my partner to understand me. It cannot be brought to tourists because they will not understand anything.”
Don ca tai tu artists normally do not play on the stage and do not need audiences. Most people who gather to watch a performance can perform themselves.
Prof Dr Tran Van Khe, an expert in Vietnamese traditional music, especially Don ca tai tu, said the music cannot be transformed into a product, commercialised, or taken onto the stage.
“Now tourism companies try to entertain tourists, most of whom are foreigners, with Don ca tai tu.
“In just 15 minutes artists cannot perform well and tourists cannot feel or understand the music.”
Since UNESCO has recognised Don ca tai tu as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, it should not be developed in this manner, he said.
According to Le Minh Hung of Vinh Long Province, in recent years the province has worked with tourism companies to organise eco-tourism tours to islets where Don ca tai tu is played upon visitors’ request.
“But the artists often sing some Cai luong and Vong co pieces. It is rare to see them playing Don ca tai tu since few of them can memorise [its] songs.”