Vietnam’s Central Highlands ethnic music fading in urban showbiz

Few young ethnic minority artists from Vietnam’s Central Highlands are now willing to perform and compose works in their hometown’s hallmark traditional music.

(From left): Central Highlands' ethnic minority composers- singers Bunong (David) Boo, Nay Danh and Ksor Duc

Few young ethnic minority artists from Vietnam’s Central Highlands are now willing to perform and compose works in their hometown’s hallmark traditional music.

Songs composed and performed by artists from the Central Highlands typically boast wild tempos, haunting, resonant melodies and emotional lyrics which are suggestive of influences from their mountainous, forest-packed living environment.

Sadly, few singers and composers from the area who are working in the country’s entertainment hubs of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are willing to incorporate their hometown’s music into their compositions or performances.

Overwhelmed by the pervasive influence of Western pop, K-pop, J-pop and Canto-pop and other modern genres such as electro, hip hop and dance, their songs are now almost absent of their hometown’s hallmarks and sound just like the modern, popular songs from other countries.

“I’ve listened to many songs by Central Highlands composers, and have sadly realized that they’re increasingly straying away from their hometown’s iconic music,” remarked Linh Nga Nie Kdam, a Central Highlands music expert and teacher.

One of the reasons for this is that Central Highlands artists have to adjust themselves to most audience members’ taste for modern, popular genres.

The artists are also apprehensive about the risks of failure if they stay faithful to their hometown’s music.

S., from the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, eagerly joined a reality singing show in 2008, performing songs typical of the area in the Ba Na ethnic language.

The show’s music director yelled out in front of other contestants that S.’s songs would appeal to no one in the audience, and insisted that S. sing other types of music in Kinh language, the standard Vietnamese language of the majority of Vietnamese people.

S. soon walked away from the show with his dream dashed of joining urban showbiz.

J., a contestant from another Central Highlands province, who is a collector of ethnic minorities’ epics, partook in a reality show with his ethnic band, performing an ethnic song in the Kinh language,

Juror Q., a famed singer, laughed down their performance and strongly suggested that J. and his ethnic friends never perform ethnic songs in the Kinh language.

They soon left the show in dismay and promised never to return.

In the past few years, Nay Danh, a young composer and singer of the Gia Rai ethnic minority, has been a familiar name among online music listeners, including Vietnamese expats.

Though his songs are well sought after, he still agonizes over the fact that he has yet to adopt his favorite tunes, particularly Nhik folk songs, from his hometown in his catalogue of nearly 30 songs.

Y Kroc, a singer of M’Nong ethnic minority, has established his name as a rocker in the world of urban showbiz, with all his compositions featuring English lyrics and modern melodies.

Efforts to revive Central Highland music

Ksor Duc, a famed, prize-winning Gia Rai artist, recently switched back to his hometown’s music in his new compositions.

He is currently working on renovating his hometown’s signature Ching Cheng folk melody and incorporating them into his modern songs.

Bunong Boo, of the M’Nong ethnic community, a freshman at HCMC Conservatory of Music, recently launched his project of performing and recording several songs in both M’Nong and Gia Rai dialects.

Nay Danh is one of his partners in this project.

Linh Nga Nie Kdam, a Central Highlands music expert also launched the music faculty at Dam San School in Dak Lak Province, in efforts to instill youth’s passion for Central Highland music and promote it in the country’s modern music arena.

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