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Traditional Vietnamese music is highly diverse and syncretistic, combining native and foreign influences. Throughout its history, Vietnam has been heavily impacted by the Chinese musical tradition, as an integral part, along with Korea, Mongolia and Japan. The ancient Indochinese kingdom of Champa also had a historical effect upon this music, because the Vietnamese court found it intriguing. However, even with these foreign influences, Vietnam has a unique musical tradition stemming from its native roots.
The most notable feature of Traditional Vietnamese music is that it is based on the Five Notes Scale, which is called "Ngũ Cung", meaning of Pentatonic. Instead of the scale of 7 notes: Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Ti, its 5 notes include: Hò Xự Xang Cống Liu.
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Nhã nhạc is the most popular form of imperial court music, specifically referring to the court music played from the Trần Dynasty to the very last Nguyễn Dynasty of Vietnam, being synthesized and most highly developed by the Nguyễn emperors. Along with nhã nhạc, the imperial court of Vietnam in the 19th century also had many royal dances which still exist to this day. The theme of most of these dances is to wish the kings longevity and the country wealth.
Classical music is also performed in honour of gods and scholars such as Confucius in temples. These categories are defined as Nhã Nhạc ("elegant music", ritual and ceremonial music), Đại nhạc ("great music"), and Tiểu nhạc ("small music") that was chamber music for the entertainment of the king. In Vietnamese traditional dance court dances were defined as either van vu (civil servant dance) or vo vu (military dance).
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Chèo is a form of generally satirical musical theatre, often encompassing dance, traditionally performed by peasants in northern Vietnam. It is usually performed outdoors by semi-amateur touring groups, stereotypically in a village square or the courtyard of a public building, although it is today increasingly also performed indoors and by professional performers.
Xẩm or Hát xẩm (Xẩm singing) is a type of Vietnamese folk music which was popular in the Northern region of Vietnam but is considered nowadays an endangered form of traditional music in Vietnam. In the dynastic time, xẩm was generally performed by blind artists who wandered from town to town and earned their living by singing in common place.
Quan họ (alternate singing) is popular in Hà Bắc (divided into nowadays Bắc Ninh and Bắc Giang Provinces) and across Vietnam; numerous variations exist, especially in the Northern provinces. Sung acappella, quan họ is improvised and is used in courtship rituals.
Hát chầu văn or hát văn is a spiritual form of music used to invoke spirits during ceremonies. It is highly rhythmic and trance-oriented. Before 1986, the Vietnamese government repressed hát chầu văn and other forms of religious expression. It has since been revived by musicians like Phạm Văn Tỵ.
Nhạc dân tộc cải biên is a modern form of Vietnamese folk music which arose in the 1950s after the founding of the Hanoi Conservatory of Music in 1956. This development involved writing traditional music using Western musical notation, while Western elements of harmony and instrumentation were added. Nhạc dân tộc cải biên is often criticized by purists for its watered-down approach to traditional sounds.
Ca trù (also hát ả đào) is a popular folk music which is said to have begun with Ả Đào, a female singer who charmed the enemy with her voice. Most singers remain female, and the genre has been revived since the Communist government loosened its repression in the 1980s, when it was associated with prostitution.
Ca trù, which itself has many forms, is thought to have originated in the imperial palace, eventually moving predominantly into performances at communal houses for scholars and other members of the elite (this is the type of Ca trù most widely known). It can be referred to as a geisha-type of entertainment where women, trained in music and poetry, entertained rich and powerful men.
"Hò" can be thought of as the southern style of Quan họ. It is improvisational and is typically sung as dialogue between a man and woman. Common themes include love, courtship, the countryside, etc. "Hò" is popular in Cần Thơ - Vietnam.
The Vietnam War, the consequent Fall of Saigon, and the plight of Vietnamese refugees gave rise to a collection of musical pieces that have become "classical" anthems for Vietnamese people both in Vietnam and abroad. Notable writers include Pham Duy and Trinh Cong Son. Singers include Khanh Ly and Lệ Thu.
Many of these composers, in the North, also contributed Vietnamese revolutionary songs, known as nhạc đỏ "Red Music."
The embrace of Modern Pop music culture has increased, as each new generation of people in Vietnam has become more exposed to and influenced by westernized music along with the fashion styles of China, Japan, and South Korea. Musical production has improved and expanded over the years as visiting performers and organizers from other countries have helped to stimulate the Vietnamese entertainment industry. Such performances include international stages like the Asia Music Festival in South Korea where popular Vietnamese singers such as Hồ Quỳnh Hương, My Tam, Ho Ngoc Ha, Lam Truong, and others have performed along with other singers from different Asian countries. During the recent years such as 2006 and beyond, Vietnamese pop music has tremendously improved from years past. Vietnamese music has been able to reach to audiences nationally and also overseas. There are many famous underground artists such as Andree Right Hand, Big Daddy, Shadow P (all featured in a popular song called Để anh được yêu) and countless others who have risen to fame through the Internet. In addition, there are also other singers that have gone mainstream such as M4U, Hồ Ngọc Hà, Bảo Thy, Wanbi Tuan, Khổng Tú Quỳnh, Radio Band, etc. There are also amateur singers whose songs have been hits in Vietnam such as Thùy Chi. These singers tend to view singing as a hobby, therefore not being labeled as a mainstream artist. Overall, the quality of recording and the style of music videos in Vietnam has improved a lot compared to the past years due to many private productions and also overseas Vietnamese coming back to produce a combination of Western and Vietnamese music.
Introduced by American soldiers, Rock and Roll was popular in Saigon during the Vietnam War. This genre has developed strongly in the South and has spread out over the North region after the rise of Bức Tường in the 90s. For the last 10 years, metal has become more mainstream in this nation. Unlimited, Ngũ Cung, Microwave, and the Black Infinity are the current top Vietnamese metal bands in 21st century.
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