Categorizing Southern Vietnamese Music Performance based on daily activities as a reasonable approach to familiarize with the genres of ru, hò and lý. 

Under the analysis angle of the surrounding environment, the genres of diễn xướng (Vietnamese art performance) exist within the folk environment of Southern Vietnam, where the genre is based on the diễn xướng environment. Naturally, this type of category has its own limitations, as many diễn xướng environment can overlap- such as the genre hò on the paddling boat can sometimes come to shore, the genre of hò on the working field goes into funerals, or how hát ru and hát lý can step into contemporary stage…Such transitional process between contexts have brought many of those performance genres moved its diễn xướng environment. Additionally, the strong fusion of folk & traditional performance with professional performance have also shifted the usual occupied environment of diễn xướng. In order for us to slowly feel the stream of Southern diễn xướng, we can start looking at these genres based on their environment.

Hát ru – Diễn xướng genre within the family space

Hát ru (lullaby) is the only musical genre that exists for the family environment. In this distinctive cultural space, hát ru became the first song that a person gets to listen to. It’s not only unique due to its utility and social practices, but also thanks for its internal and external structure. When it comes to the external structure, this genre of music is performed by one person and to one person only. This has made hát ru to be a unique diễn xướng genre of its own.

You can listen to a playlist of hát ru from Southern Vietnam, performed by auntie Song Oanh and uncle Sáu Hưng.

Hò – Diễn xướng genre within the working space 

The genre Hò originated from the working environment. The Southern part of Vietnam, where the waters are a vital element for the workers to sing on these flowing streams. Back then, the genre of hò đường thuỷ (singing on waterways) was rather popular. From diễn xướng environment, hò eventually separated into different genres- hò trên cạn (hò on land) and hò dưới nước (hò on water). Based on the carrying content, reflected themes, hò continue to evolve into various genres to adapt with different forms and narratives (hò thơ, hò văn, hò tuồng, etc.) In general, with its characteristic of being adaptive to the environment, each diễn xướng genre has its way to flow across spaces, and down to the hearts of the people.

You can listen to a playlist of hò from Southern Vietnam, performed by auntie Song Oanh and uncle Sáu Hưng.

Lý – Diễn xướng genre within the activity space

Lý is a common performance genre across all three regions of the country, although it could be the most popular in the Southern region. Pétrus Ky, a renowned Vietnamese scholar, once mentioned the saying “Southern region has lý, Huế region has hò, Northern region has thơ.” (Nam lý Huế hò Bắc thơ) as it points out how lý is a specialty of the Southern locals. In reality, lý not only has its mainstream popularity but also achieved a high level of craft and essence in traditional culture and professional life of the Southern region.

You can listen to a playlist of lý melodies from Southern Vietnam, performed by auntie Song Oanh and uncle Sáu Hưng.

Vè – Diễn xướng genre within the community space

Based on how literature organizes this genre, vè is a part of folk literature that carries a narrative under a rhythmic form. However, during the process of archiving and researching, vè also illustrates musical characteristics with constructed elements in melodies, a rhythmic cycle, and other creative forms. A notable thing about vè is about its form, which requires diễn xướng (active) instead of through reading (passive) that is based on a documentative format.

You can listen through “vè about markets” composed by researcher Lê Giang, an excerpt from the CD “A Journey of Lý about a black horse”.

Hát đưa linh – Songs for the spirits

Hát đưa linh (or hò đưa linh) is a form of spiritual customs that appear in funeral environment. Hát đưa linh can be considered as a form of hò due to how this diễn xướng genre tends to use the melodies from hò cấy. Through the conversational method, this is all for the purpose of sending a departure for a person’s last stop. Additionally, people can also use Vọng cổ to express their gried towards the death of a loved one.

Hát sắc bùa – Songs for the holidays

Hát sắc bùa is a genre of “travelers’ song” in Vietnam, where you can observe it in the Southern regions like in Phú Lễ (Bến Tre region). Retrospectively, hát sắc bùa is similar to how Christmas carols are performed, where these songs are sung for the holidays. Hát sắc bùa is often sung during Lunar New Year by the performance artists in Phú Lễ. This genre is also a type of hybrid performance, where it consists of elements such as religion, entertainment, praisings, etc.

Hát sắc bùa has many separate phases, such as: songs on the road (hát trên đường), including lý pieces; songs outside the gate (hát ngoài cổng), including songs like Open the door (Mở cửa rào), Open road (Mở ngõ); songs to sing in front of the house (hát trước cửa nhà) with songs like: Southern place (Cõi nam), Welcome gate (Khai môn); songs for the alter (hát trước bàn thờ) with songs like: Welcoming spring (Rước xuân), Spring joy (Chơi xuân), Ancestors (Tiên sư), Exorcism (Trừ tà); songs for spiritual charms (hát dán bùa), and lastly, songs for chatter (hát góp vui).

You can listen to the song Southern place (Cõi nam)- one of the standard pieces of hát sắc bùa from Phú Lễ (Bến Tre region).

Hát bóng rỗi – A shaman practice 

Hát bóng rỗi is a diễn xướng genre within the religious practice of the Southern Goddess. The staging setup for this performance arts tends to set place at alters (miếu)- a cozy space that situates within the architecture complex of shrines (đình). Hát bóng rỗi includes performance acts like: Khai tràng, Thỉnh tổ, Chầu mời, Mời tiên ra tuồng, Phước Lộc, Thanh Đường hạ san, Bả trạo nghinh Bà, Hội năm Bà, Trạng – Nàng xuống huê viên, múa bóng. In which the act of Khai tràng has a purely ritualistic element, of course, it also adheres to the drumming signalling of the goddess medium (bà bóng), while the rest of the acts are mainly art performances.

To learn more about Hát bóng rỗi, you can watch this short film “The art Bóng rỗi in the South” through this clip

This article was written by researcher-musician Lê Hải Đăng for the project “Phong hoa ca vịnh” organised by Cultural Fish. Please credit us with full references and don’t repost it in any form. You can read more about “Phong hoa ca vịnh” via this link:

Author: Lê Hải Đăng

Editor: Lục Nhi | Huyên

Graphic Designer: Dương Trương

Translator: Trang Hà

This project is sponsored by the British Council under the program Heritage of Future Past- A 2018 project which aims to conserve and cultivate the archive of Vietnamese music and film, especially focusing on the untapped values of these mediums that are under the threat of being forgotten. You can learn more about the Heritage of Future Past program via this link: