Thursday, May. 13, 2010


Best Request Line
Bac Ninh, Vietnam

For years, fans of quan ho — centuries-old Vietnamese love duets — have been struggling to keep the music alive. In the face of pop music and karaoke, traditional ballads of young love and homesick soldiers have seemed like a lost art. But that very desperation, coupled with a sense that national culture needs to be preserved in the face of modernization, has given impetus to a fresh campaign. Last year, quan ho was recognized by UNESCO as a part of humanity's cultural heritage. With dozens of new troupes starting up, and with village elders rallying to teach a new generation of singers, the odds are good that quan ho can be rescued from the dusty vaults of world music's forgotten curiosities.

In fact, these days anyone can call for a song — literally. Rural singers in Bac Ninh province in northern Vietnam, the ancestral home of quan ho, are giving their contact numbers to music lovers and the just plain curious. Dial them up, and they'll serenade you over the phone — even if you don't speak Vietnamese. "If a foreigner calls for a song, they can simply say quan ho, and I will sing, we will all sing," says Nguyen Thi Quynh, director of the Dang Xa village club (84-1683-520-628). Other groups to try are the Hoa Dinh village club (84-95-372-3234) and the Dao Xa village club (84-97-633-5601).

It's best to call in the early evening, when singers have returned from the fields but haven't turned in for the night. And while the music will take you back to another era, don't drag the performers into yours: check time zones before you dial.