This “beautifully evocative portrait” documents the life and activities of elderly quan ho folk singer, Nguyen Thi Ban, in Diem Village, Bac Ninh Province, northern Vietnam. As Ba Ban (grandmother Ban) recounts her life story, it becomes clear how closely her life is intertwined with her love of the music, indicating the intimate connection between quan ho folksong and the rhythms of village life.
Skillfully weaving together interview material and footage of everyday life, folk song gatherings, and village rituals shot over several years, the film reveals how quan ho singing is a powerful medium for sharing sentiment and for exchanging feelings of love, respect, and humility.
The even, slow tempo of the village quan ho singing, the narrow pitch range, and the controlled body language of the singers all belie the intensity of emotions generated through singing partnerships that are cultivated over long periods of time. Adherence to the rules of exchange in the genre is, for these singers, an expression of sentiment (feeling, emotion). Sentiment is not demonstrated openly through words of affection but rather through song and behavior. The strong sentiments created through singing come out strongly in Ba Ban’s explanations of her participation in quan ho activities, how she learned to sing, and how she balanced her love of the music with her work and family obligations.
In recent decades, quan ho has become ever more visible to national and international audiences. In 2009, quan ho was accepted to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which has resulted in redoubled attention to the genre and, in particular, to its elderly singers in the villages of Bac Ninh Province.
The portrait of quan ho presented in Singing Sentiment challenges the pervasive media and film representations of quan ho singers as objects of heritage in which their craft is presented as static and divorced from the daily lives of the singers. Here, in her own words, Ba Ban demonstrates that village quan ho is inseparable from the socio-cultural context of village life in northern Vietnam.
With its rich and intimate detail and compelling characters, Singing Sentiment will captivate students and generate thought and discussion in a wide range of courses in cultural anthropology, Asian studies, ethnomusicology, and women’s and gender studies. It was produced by Lauren Meeker, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, SUNY New Paltz. The film is in Vietnamese and English, with English subtitles.