Vietnamese folk songs boast diverse forms and melodies, which vary from region to region. Accompanied by traditional instruments, folk songs are associated with the daily life of Vietnamese people, reflecting their feelings, motivations for working and fighting, their wishes for a better life, and many more. This article will introduce a collection of folk songs from the 12 best traditional Vietnam music genres.
1. Quan Ho folk songs
Originating in Bac Ninh province, Quan Ho is one of the typical Vietnamese folk songs of the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam. They are performed in rituals, festivals, competitions, and informal gatherings, expressing the spirit, philosophy, and cultural heritage of the region. Since 2009, Quan ho folk song has been recognized by UNESCO as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Quan ho folk songs are often performed in couples or in groups of male singers (“lien anh”) and female singers (“lien chi”). They will sing the alternating verses in harmony, with the same melodies but different lyrics. Boasting 200 melodies and 400 song lyrics, this genre of Vietnamese folk songs expresses the people's true feelings like longing, happiness, sadness, sulking, embarrassment, nostalgia, etc.
Here are the best Quan Ho folk songs of all time, where you can immerse yourself in the enchanting melodies and heartfelt lyrics:
- Cây Trúc Xinh
- Khách Đến Chơi Nhà
- Người Ơi Người Ở Đừng Về
- Lý Giao Duyên
- Chàng Buông Vạt Áo Em Ra
2. Ca Tru songs
As one of the most unique genres of Vietnamese folk songs, Ca Tru originated in the North and North Central Coast regions and marked its heyday in the 15th century. Ca Tru served as court music and was favored by the aristocrats and intellectuals. It is said to be the perfect combination of poetry and music.
Typically, Ca Tru is performed by three artists:
- A female vocalist (called “dao” or “ca nuong”) sings and plays "phach" - two wooden sticks beaten together on a small bamboo bar.
- A male instrumentalist (called “kep”) plays the "dan day" - a three-string plucked lute that is used exclusively for Ca Tru.
- A spectator (called “quan vien”) plays the "trong chau", a kind of drum, to punctuate the song and express pleasure through the drum sound.
The top Ca Tru folk songs of Vietnam are now also available on YouTube, including:
- Chí Làm Trai
- Bài Ca Ngất Ngưởng
- Uống Rượu Tiêu Sầu
- Chí Nam Nhi
- Bài Ca Lưu Biệt
>>> Get immersed in the world of Vietnam art and discover its distinctive features!
3. Vietnamese Xam folk songs
Having existed for over 700 years, Xam is a distinctive genre of Vietnamese folk songs rooted in the Northern region. Xam singing is mainly found in the countryside and is performed by poor artists who sing for a living. In the past, crowded trams, markets, and street corners were the main stages for buskers. Another special thing is that most of the Xam artists were blind.
In a Xam performance, one artist plays the drum, one plays the castanets, one plays a two-string fiddle (“dan nhi”), one plays the Vietnamese monochord (“dan bau”), and all sing together. These Vietnamese folk songs are rich in content, praising love, homeland, historical traditions, moral education, etc.
Xam now appears in drama, films, and circus performances as a way to revive this traditional art form. To enjoy the rhythm of Xam, you can search for these famous songs:
- Dạo Chơi Long Thành
- Nhớ Mẹ Ta Xưa
- Xẩm Hồn Quê
- Quyết Chí Tu Thân
- Cô Đôi Cam Đường
4. Chau Van songs
Chau Van is a religious art form that originated in the Red River Delta, and mainly in Nam Dinh province. This type of Vietnamese folk song combines singing and dancing and is often performed during rituals to honor the Mother Goddess and communicate with other gods.
The main Vietnamese traditional music instruments used in Chau Van performances are the moon-shaped lute, bamboo clappers, drum, and gong. The melody of Chau Van songs is blended with a variety of rhythms, pauses, tempos, stresses, and pitches. Its lyrics focus on praising the merits of gods or national heroes, creating a lively and dynamic atmosphere.
Today, you can watch Chau Van performances in temples and pagodas in Vietnam on special occasions, or you can listen to these popular Chau Van songs on the Internet:
- Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn
- Bản văn Cậu Bé Đồi Ngang
- Bản văn Cậu Thả Lưới
- Văn Cậu Bé Hoàng
- Bản văn Cậu Quận Phủ Dầy
5. Vietnamese folk songs featuring Xoan singing
Xoan is a traditional art form of Phu Tho province, featuring singing, dancing, drumming, and clapper beating. This type of music in Vietnam is associated with the worship of Hung Kings. Xoan singing is often organized in groups of 15-18 members, with 2-9 male instrumentalists (“kep”) and 6-12 female singers (“dao”), led by a master Xoan artist (“trum”).
This genre of Vietnamese folk songs has three forms: worship singing (to honor the Hung kings, gods, and national heroes); ritual singing (to praise nature, people, crops, and the community's life); and festival singing (to express aspirations and dreams for love through call-and-response songs performed by girls and boys).
To experience the distinctive tunes of Xoan singing, you can find the most outstanding Xoan songs to listen to in this list:
- Nhập Tịch Mời Vua
- Giáo Trống Giáo Pháo
- Thơ Nhang
- Đóng Đám
- Trống Quân
>>> Check out the most popular songs in Vietnam that are huge national hits!
6. Vietnamese Ly folk songs
Another interesting genre of Vietnamese folk songs is Ly, which is much more developed in the South. Originating from the living habits of Vietnamese people, Ly folk songs depict the activities of production, emotions, and motivations to overcome difficulties and sadness.
The lyrics of Ly songs are often simple, concise, and easy to remember. They are derived from “luc bat” poems, combined with phrases and proverbs, and added to rhythm. Ly songs can be sung anywhere and anytime, such as while rowing boats, trading on rivers, farming, etc.
When it comes to Ly folk songs, the most famous traditional Vietnamese songs that leave an impression on people's minds are:
- Lý Giao Duyên
- Lý Con Sáo Bạc Liêu
- Lý Ngựa Ô
- Lý Mười Thương
- Lý Quạ Kêu
- Lý Chiều Chiều
- Lý Mỹ Hưng
>>> Discover the traditional Vietnamese culture through foods, festivals, beliefs, costumes, architecture, and many more!
7. Vietnamese folk songs featuring Choi singing
Rooted in Central Vietnam, the Bai Choi art form combines music, poetry, painting, literature, and acting. Bai Choi is often performed at spring festivals and serves as a game in which participants use playing cards and village huts. The song’s lyrics are improvised and can be about festivals, daily life, or work.
Passing down many generations, Bai Choi singing is intricately linked to the local life in the Central region. With its simple, sweet lyrics and beautiful melodies, Bai Choi has become one of the most popular Vietnamese folk songs. It was also recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2017.
8. Don Ca Tai Tu (Southern Amateur Music)
Don Ca Tai Tu, an intriguing genre of Vietnamese folk song, emerged in South Vietnam at the end of the 19th century. This art form has its roots in ceremonial music and Hue court music. Performers are mostly amateur musicians and singers. They gather on the occasions of post-harvest, birthday, wedding, anniversary of death, etc. to play music and sing for pleasure.
The songs are continuously adapted from 72 classic songs and 20 original pieces for four tunes. Musical instruments in Don Ca Tai Tu performances include Vietnamese monochord, moon-shaped lute, two-stringed fiddle, sixteen-stringed zither, pear-shaped lute, percussion, and bamboo flute. Afterward, the guitar was added. Like many other Vietnamese folk songs, Don Ca Tai Tu originates from everyday life with simple and close themes.
Don Ca Tai Tu is now preserved and promoted as a tourism experience, included in many tour packages to the Mekong Delta. Find these songs on the Internet to know more about this music genre:
- Lưu Thủy Đoản
- Bình Bán Vắn
- Kim Tiền Huế
- Hành Vân
- Tứ Đại Cảnh
9. Vietnamese lullaby songs
Lullaby (“hat ru” in Vietnamese) is one of the oldest genres of Vietnamese folk song and has been passed down over generations. Most Vietnamese did listen to lullaby songs when they were children, especially in the countryside. Each region has its own lullabies, but all share the common purpose of soothing the child to sleep.
A lullaby has gentle, sweet, and emotional melodies that convey the meaning of life. It weaves images of rivers, moonlight, rice fields, grass, bamboo clusters, and white storks into each child's memory. Lullabies originated from folk verses, children’s songs, or chants. The melody is stretched harmoniously, resembling a gentle dialogue between mother and child.
With these typical Vietnamese folk songs of lullaby, you will have a vivid glimpse into the peaceful childhood of many Vietnamese people:
- Gió Mùa Thu Mẹ Ru Con Ngủ
- À Ơi… Con Cò Mà Đi Ăn Đêm
- Công Cha Như Núi Thái Sơn
- Cái Cò Đi Đón Cơn Mưa
- Trèo Lên Cây Bưởi Hái Hoa
10. Vietnamese folk songs featuring Ho singing
Ho singing is one of the initial forms of cultural exchange among the Vietnamese people and is sung while people are at work. Central Vietnam stands out as a hub for Ho singing and the birthplace of renowned melodies. Over time, these songs spread to all corners of the country.
Ho singing is typically divided into two distinct parts: "xuong" and "xo", forming a singing interaction between the main vocalist and the participating groups. The main vocalist ("cai") sings the opening portion of a melody (“xuong”), while the participating groups ("con") respond by singing the concluding part (“xo").
Many Ho melodies have become iconic and are preserved to this day. Let’s enjoy some of the best Ho songs throughout the years:
- Hò Hụi Bình Trị Thiên
- Hò Giã gạo
- Hò Mái Nhì
- Hò Đồng Tháp
11. Ca Hue
A trip to Hue cannot be complete without enjoying Ca Hue on the Perfume River. Ca Hue was invented in the 18th century and served as the Hue royal court music during the reign of the Nguyen dynasty. Over time, Ca Hue spread to other regions and had its own variations, combining Vietnamese folk songs and court music.
These Vietnamese traditional songs are played on traditional musical instruments such as 16-string zithers, two-string fiddles, moon-shaped lutes, and wooden clappers. While singing, performers make unique clapping sounds by clapping two tea cups in one hand. Ca Hue consists of 60 music pieces, divided into two melodies: “dieu Bac” and “dieu Nam”. “Dieu Bac” features lively and dignified melodies, while “dieu Nam” is infused with emotions of sadness, grievance, and entreaty.
12. Vietnamese Vi, Giam songs
Vi-Giam songs originate in Vietnam’s North Central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh. Unlike other Vietnamese folk songs, which are normally attached to a specific performing space, Vi-Giam is sung anytime, anywhere, and without instrumental accompaniment.
The Vietnamese folk song lyrics of Vi-Giam combine specific dialects and linguistic idioms of the Nghe Tinh region. These songs focus on social and historical issues, philosophy about life, morality, patriotism, love between men and women, etc., and are performed with the distinct Nghe Tinh accent. Today, Vi-Giam songs appear at cultural events, festivals, and community spaces.
This UNESCO intangible heritage offers a musical pathway to discovering an aspect of Vietnam’s cultural heritage, with must-listen songs such as:
- Ví Giận Thương
- Ví Ghẹo
- Ví Phường Vải
- Ví Đò Đưa
- Hát Giặm Kể
Apart from the genres of Vietnamese folk songs mentioned above, Vietnam is home to many other distinctive traditional performing arts, such as:
- Cheo is a wonderful combination of dance and singing in the form of music theater to tell the story of the play.
- Tuong, the most classical and scholarly drama in Vietnam, attracts audiences with instrumental and vocal music.
- The culture space of the Gongs in the Central Highlands of Vietnam features the rich heritage of 17 Austro-Asian ethno-linguistic communities.
- Hue Royal Court Music, an old form of art performance, includes worshiping ritual music, court ritual music, court dances, chamber music, and opera.
- Cai Luong, a form of modern folk opera, features a dialogue part and a singing part to express thoughts and emotions.
- Dum singing, a kind of love duet in Hai Phong province, is associated with the custom at a spring festival when a female singer reveals a veil if she has feelings for a male singer.
- Trong Quan, a unique type of Vietnamese folk song in Hung Yen province, features response singing between couples or groups with drum accompaniments.
Not only traditional Vietnamese folk music, Vietnam culture enchants tourists with vibrant festivals, fascinating folk games, delectable traditional cuisine, and awe-inspiring destinations such as Hanoi, Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Hoi An, and Ha Long. Every corner resonates with a deep-rooted cultural charm that invites exploration and connection.
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Vietnamese folk songs are an integral part of the country's rich cultural heritage. These songs encapsulate stories of love, nature, history, etc. passed down through generations. Boasting various forms and melodies that differ from region to region, these folk songs stand as a testament to the timeless beauty of Vietnamese traditional music.