Viet Nam makes a UNESCO push for Dan bau
Update: Oct 24, 2016
Vietnamese agencies, including the National Institute of Music, Folk Arts Association of Viet Nam and Viet Nam Musicians’ Association, are aiming to ally with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports to propose to UNESCO to recognise dan bau, the nation’s monochord zither, as a world heritage.

The campaign was announced by the Chairman of the Folk Arts Association of Viet Nam, To Ngoc Thanh in a workshop on dan bau and its role in Viet Nam culture held by National Institute of Music yesterday.

The workshop drew researchers, artists and scholars including artist Thanh Tam, Nguyen Tien, who have significantly contributed to promote dan bau, Head of National Institute of Music, Nguyen Binh Dinh, artist Bui Le Chi, Hoang Anh Tu and Nguyen Thuy Loan.

The workshop focused on the history, development the role of dan bau in Vietnamese culture, and it discussed the path to preserving the instrument.

“If we were to choose an instrument to represent Viet Nam’s traditional music, to introduce and promote Viet Nam an its people, Dan bau would definitely be the one,” said Binh Dinh.

“Dan bau is the most unique instrument which represents Vietnamese people’s language and soul,” said artist Nguyen Tien.


Though it is hard to clarify the exact time when dan bau was created, most scholars agree that it is an indigenous instrument of Viet Nam and was used before 19th century, said Head of National Institute of Music, Nguyen Binh Dinh.

Nguyen dynasty historians noted in Dai nam thuc luc, (The true record of Viet Nam history) that dan bau was born in 18th century and Ton That Duc, a scholar who was keen on learning and excellent at literature and music created this instrument, said Dang Hoanh Loan.

In Viet Nam, there also exist many legends associated with the birth of dan bau. According to these legends, dan bau were often given to warmhearted yet overworked people by Buddha so that they could make ends meet from playing this instrument. These people then spread the popularity through teaching and performance, artist Thanh Tam said.

“This instrument was very close to life of ordinary people. It initially accompanied buskers in singing to make ends meet in the markets of rural villages and urban areas,” said Thanh Tam.

Dan bau has experienced ups and downs of history-as well as reforms over different periods--but it has become one of the most unique instruments in Viet Nam.

“Among traditional instruments of Viet Nam, dan bau is the one that attracts the most interest from composers and researchers. This can be proved by the dominant number of works composed inclusively for dan bau, the number and the scope of studies on dan bau,” said Dinh.

In addition, dan bau performance is among the must-haves for traditional art events for international audiences and diplomats as well as big events held domestically, said Dinh.

In wars against France and America, dan bau and sao truc (bamboo flute) performance were also the favourites for soldiers.

“From 1970s to early 1990s, dan bau was performed in many countries in Europe, Africa and Americas. The performing artists often said the international audience understood more about Viet Nam and its people thanks to dan bau. It has been considered as a representative and symbol of VN culture,” said Dinh.

Dan bau played an important place in Viet Nam music in 1990s as there was an increasing number of people pursuing this instrument and Vietnamese artists granted awards like artists Nguyen Tien, Thanh Tam, Hoang Anh Tu, Bui Le Chi, Hoang Xuan Binh and Phan Kim Thanh, said Thanh Tam.

Many well-known composers also composed beautiful masterpieces for dan bau, including composer Huy Thuc, Xuan Khai, Duc Nhuan and Ngo Quoc Tinh, said Thanh Tam.

Viet Nam needs to carry out some urgent solutions to protect and promote the values of cultural heritages including dan bau, said Dinh.

Relevant agencies need to co-ordinate a proposal for UNESCO recognition for dan bau to assert cultural sovereignty for this instrument, said To Ngoc Thanh.

Bui Le Chi recommended that training talents in arts field must start from an early age. In addition, initiatives like granting awards or financial support to encourage artists and teachers to engage more in composing work for dan bau are essential.