The Tay and Nung ethnic people in Bac Giang province live mainly in the districts of Son Dong, Luc Ngan, Luc Nam, Yen The, Tan Yen and Lang Giang. In their spiritual life, they own a rich treasure of folk arts such as proverbs, chants, parallel sentences, poetic stories and myths... Especially, in addition to the heritage of Then singing and Tinh gourd lute, the Tay and Nung people have ‘sli’ and ‘luon’ songs bearing their own identity, attracting listeners.
‘Sli’ and ‘luon’ singing is an indispensable cultural activity in the spiritual life of the Tay and Nung people in Bac Giang. In the past, in the market days, on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month, and in January, festivals were opened everywhere and the Tay and Nung boys and girls invited each other to join groups to sing ‘sli’ and ‘luon’ songs. They sing happily at the weddings and birthday parties, and along the roads. Boys sing and follow girls to their houses...
Nung ethnic children in Luc Ngan sing folk songs.
The ‘sli’ songs have rich contents, maybe visiting and congratulating someone, expressing love, faith and nostalgia when living far apart, and exchanging production experience... The most popular are the ‘sli’ songs featuring love exchange which are divided into many genres and sung in different contexts.
It is a form of poem singing that expresses the flexible repartee of the singers, “sli” comparative words with many implications. The love exchange “sli” songs are often sung by a couple or several couples in a repartee style. Usually, a party stands out and sings first with gentle and clever greetings to invite the other party to sing together.
When this party stops greeting, the other has to quickly reply. Just like that, the two sides get caught up in the singing. They sing about many topics such as homeland, family, gratitude to parents, crop, trees, flowers on the forest and love of couples, which are expressed in many different levels and nuances.
The ‘luon’ songs are often sung by young Tay men and women during the spring festivals and the moonlit nights in the free time. If singing at a friend's house, the first words are always those expressing thanks to the house owners and congratulating them.
After that, the two groups come to sing in response to each other. Initially they sing the ancient stories of the nation, the homeland and the village, and then the lyrics exploring and studying the partner’s thinking, and expressing the nostalgia from a secret way to a deep and bold manner. The ‘luon’ lyrics are often sad, expressing the tormenting nostalgia and the feeling of wondering whether they become a couple or not, and when they meet again.
In Luc Ngan district, as a routine, on the Chu market day (the 18th day of the second lunar calendar), Tay and Nung boys and girls, in traditional indigo colored costumes, come to the market to show off their talent and beauty. They meet in the marketplace and sang the ‘sli’ and ‘luon’ songs for love exchange smoothly and gracefully, creating a unique bustling market space.
Across the roads leading to the Chu market, on the sides of “sim” and “mua” flower hills next to the roads, the sounds of ‘sli’ and ‘luon’ echo everywhere, intertwined with the sounds of life. The ‘sli’ and ‘luon’ lyrics are smooth, simple and close like indigo on the shirt or like a row of trees on a hill. The ‘sli’ and ‘luon’ lyrics fly very high in the space of the highland day market, creating a unique characteristic of the ethnic people here.
With such unique meaning and value, since 1998, Luc Ngan district has taken the 18th day of the second lunar month as the folk song festive day of ethnic groups. The festive day is held in Chu township. Not only the Tay and Nung people but also many other ethnic groups participate in singing at the festival, creating their own cultural beauty in the highland district, contributing to the preservation of national cultural heritage.
Dong Ngoc Duong