Lauren Meeker: Sounding Out Heritage – Cultural Politics and the Social Practice of Quan ho Folk Song in Northern Vietnam

SoundingOutHeritage[ndlr] Avis de parution de l’ouvrage de l’anthropologue Lauren Meeker sur le chant traditionnel de la province de  Bac Ninh : Sounding Out Heritage: Cultural Politics and the Social Practice of Quan Ho Folk Song in Northern Vietnam (University of Hawai’i Press, 2013).

Sounding Out Heritage explores the cultural politics that have shaped the recent history and practice of a unique style of folk song that originated in Bắc Ninh province, northern Vietnam. The book delves into the rich and complicated history of quan họ, showing the changes it has undergone over the last sixty years as it moved from village practice onto the professional stage. Interweaving an examination of folk music, cultural nationalism, and cultural heritage with an in-depth ethnographic account of the changing social practice of quan ho folk song, author Lauren Meeker presents a vivid and historically contextualized picture of the quan họ “soundscape.” Village practitioners, ordinary people who love to sing quan họ, must now negotiate increased attention from those outside the village and their own designation as “living treasures.” Professional singers, with their different performance styles and representational practices, have been incorporated into the quan họ soundscape in an effort to highlight and popularize the culture of Bắc Ninh province in the national context.

© Profile picture: Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies
© Profile picture: Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies

With its focus on the politics of rescuing, preserving, and performing folk music, this book makes a timely contribution to studies of cultural politics by showing with considerable nuance how a tradition can become a self-conscious heritage and national icon. In 2009, Quan Họ Bắc Ninh Folk Songs was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Defining and reframing quan họ as cultural heritage has further complicated the relationship between village and professional quan họ and raises crucial issues about who has the authority to speak for quan họ in the international context. Sounding Out Heritage offers an in-depth account of the impact of cultural politics on the lives and practices of quan họ folk singers in Vietnam and shows compellingly how a tradition can mean many things to many people.

Source : University of Hawaii Press

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© Lauren Meeker
© Lauren Meeker

See also : Singing Sentiment

Director: Lauren Meeker (SUNY New Paltz)

TRT: 43 minutes

This film documents the life and activities of elderly quan ho folk song singer, Nguyen Thi Ban, in Diem Village, Bac Ninh Province, Vietnam. As Ba Ban (grandmother Ban) tells her life story, it becomes clear how closely her life story is intertwined with her love of the music, indicating the intimate connection between quan ho folksong and the rhythms of village life.

The even, slow tempo of the village quan ho singing, narrow pitch range, and controlled body language of the singers belies the intensity of emotions generated through singing partnerships that are cultivated over long periods of time. Adherence to the rules of exchange in the genre, proper spoken language exchanged among singers and correct bodily comportment are for these singers, expressions of morality and of sentiment (feeling, emotion). Sentiment, proper feeling is not demonstrated openly through words of affection but rather through song and behavior. The strong sentiments created through singing come out strongly in Ba Ban’s explanations of her participation in quan ho activities, how she learned to sing, and how she balanced her love of the music with her work and family.

In recent decades, quan ho has become ever more visible to national and international audiences. In 2009, quan ho was accepted to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which has resulted in redoubled attention to the genre and, in particular, to its elderly singers in the villages of Bac Ninh Province. The portrait of quan ho presented in this film is meant to challenge the pervasive media and film representations of quan ho singers as objects of heritage in which their craft is presented as static and divorced from the daily lives of the singers. Here, in her own words, Ba Ban demonstrates that village quan ho is inseparable from the socio-cultural context of village life in Northern Vietnam.

Film Screenings:

  • Institute of Cultural Research, Vietnamese Academy of Social Science, Hanoi, Vietnam, July 2013.
  • NYCAS (New York Conference on Asian Studies), Film Panel entitled “Vietnamese Traditions on Film: the Old and the New,” September 29, 2012.
  • Vietnamese Studies Group, Yale University, November 16, 2011.

Source : Lauren Meeker page – New Paltz (SUNY)

Citer ce billet
indomemoires (2013, 7 octobre). Lauren Meeker: Sounding Out Heritage – Cultural Politics and the Social Practice of Quan ho Folk Song in Northern Vietnam. Mémoires d'Indochine. Consulté le 20 juin 2024, à l’adresse