On a Sunday night in Hanoi’s Old Quarter you will be able to hear the motors of the motorbikes, the salutations of the street vendors and the click of the camera shutter when tourists try to capture the city’s vibrant atmosphere.

But if you’re alone wandering along Hang Bac Street – also known as “Silver Street” – you might be attracted by another sound. Because, the very different sounds of Ca Trù – one of Vietnam’s most cultured musical genres – are really hard to ignore. It is an ancient traditional form of Vietnamese poetry, which has existed for more than 1,000 years.

In 2009, UNESCO recognized Ca Trù singing as an intangible cultural heritage that needed urgent protection. After hearing Ca Trù for the first time, you will understand the reason why.

But as artists age and the younger generation is no longer interested, it is feared that Ca Trù may be on the brink of extinction. Fortunately, there are now people working to maintain this unique culture of Vietnamese culture.

Ca Trù is not institutionalized – there is no textbook or sitting school teaching this complex singing style. It is fully maintained by word of mouth and the transmission of singing technique from artist to practitioner, a process that can take 3 to 10 years. Learners must memorize up to 100 songs before the teacher allows them to perform in front of the audience.

After performing on stage in the old town with a small audience, some artists expressed their concern that “Ca Trù may die with us”.

Ca Trù is performed every Sunday night at Dinh Kim Ngan, 44 Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.

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