Music & The Arts:

Music of the Montagnards of Vietnam

By Dr. Tran Quang Hai
French National Center for Scientific Research, Paris





Whoever looks for the first time at a colored ethnolinguistic map of Southeast Asia -- such as the one published in 1949 by the ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient -- may have the impression of being in front of a tachiste canvas, or a fairly complicated mosaic. Such an impression would be justified, since Southeast Asia is the most complex region in the world from either the linguistic or ethnographic point of view.


This complexity of human groupings is a reflection of the habitats. If we step back and glance at a physical map of Southeast Asia as a whole, we see it has a surprising relief, cut by five great rivers with sources in the Himalayan foothills which, as they distance themselves, look like the five spread fingers of a hand placed flat. Long mountain chains fan out, following in general the directions west-east and north-south of the major water-flows, with each reaching the sea via vast deltas, interrupting the winding, jagged Southeast Asian coasts. The climate of the region is that of the humid tropics, perhaps better characterized when recalling that this is part of monsoon Asia.


We spoke above of the complexity of human groupings, evident on all maps. All possible forms of technological levels and political systems are there side by side, from bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers in the deep forest to states of vast size with highly hierarchical political structures. In between, there is a whole range of political forms: from acephalic villages to chiefdoms, from principalities to confederations. A considerable variety of agricultural techniques for the cultivation of rice is deployed, ranging from different kinds of shifting slash-and-burn methods, to different types of flooded rice-paddies, by rains or by irrigation.


As for religions, one may say that, in general, animism reigns in the mountainous regions, with the sacrifice of buffalos as culminating rite. Islam is implanted on the coast of central Vietnam, among the Cham, where a rump form of Brahmanism also survives. Finally, if Catholicism has almost failed in areas of Hinayist Buddhism (the "Base Career"), it has succeeded in implanting itself among the Mahayanists (the "Great Career") and on the Highlands.


It is above all on the linguistic side that the greatest complexity is manifest. Southeast Asia is in fact the territory for five families of languages. Of course, in each of these families, the speakers of different languages do not understand one another any more than do the French, Russians and Germans (who are notwithstanding all part of the one Indo-European language family). Let us stress the fact that belonging to a particular language family is no indication at all of a given technological level nor of any particular political or religious system. Indeed, there is a large variety of technological levels and of politico-religious systems.


We may now look at each of these language families. If we cite first the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family (or the Mon-Khmer) this is because it seems autochthonous to Southeast Asia in its largest sense. Apart from that, this is the family that has the most varied range of social organization: from forest-dwelling nomads, like the Ruc, to those speakers residing in powerful states, like the Viet.


Between these two extremes, we may distinguish a great variety of social spaces wherein Austro-Asiatic languages are spoken. In the north the most numerous are the Khmu and the Muong. The Muong language belongs to the same sub-group as the Viet language of which it constitutes in some ways an archaic form. In the center are the Montagnards of the highlands -- a term preferable to "Moi" as used by explorers and colonial administrations, which is highly pejorative and was borrowed from the Viet language. We thus suggested a more neutral term, Proto-Indochinese, to characterize in a general way those populations, wherever in the country they may live. The great mass of Austro-Asiatics of the Center may be subdivided into two groups, separated by the Austronesians. North of the latter, one may find the Katu, the Sedang, the Bahnar, the Reungao, and the Jeh. South of the Austronesians is the Mnong-Ma ensemble, represented on by the Sre, the Ma and the Lac.


The Austronesian family is present here thanks to recordings collected among the Proto-Indochinese Jarai and Rhade (or Ede). As regards the Cham, the descendants of the former maritime kingdom of the Champa, they are, according to George Coedes, "Hinduized Rhade".


The name of the Thai-Kadai family was made-up in 1942 by the linguist P.K. Benedict, following the evidence of Auguste Bonifacy in 1904 of a direct linguistic relationship between residual groups living on either side of the Sino-Vietnamese border. A.G. Haudricourt associated the Thai and Chuang languages. This linguistic family includes the Tay, the Nung, the Lu and the Black Thai.


The Miao-Yao family brings together languages which are among the most complex that be in the world. The Hmong belong to the first group (Miao), and the Mien who belong to the second (Yao), live along the mountain tops and owe their wide renown to the beauty of their costumes and jewellery.


The Tibeto-Burmese family includes small groups living in the high mountains traversed by the frontier separating Laos and Vietnam from China. Here we may cite, among others the Hani, the Lolo (or the Yi) and the Phula.


We have emphasized the linguistic complexity of Vietnam. Now, the mosaic of the ethnolinguistic map is only partially revelatory, above all in the northern regions. As early as the beginning of the XXth century, Edouard Lunet de la Jonquiere emphasized the overlapping and terracing of different groups. At the valley bottoms, on the banks of watercourses, the Thai are to be found, and at the beginning of the slopes, hamlets of Austro-Asiatics. Above the latter, and sometimes above the proper Kadai, one finds settlements of Yao and Tibeto-Burman speakers. Finally, on the crests, among clearings for cultivated poppies and maize, are the latest arrivals, the Miao. Although this schema is not quite complete everywhere, most of the time we find two or three different populations on levels according to altitude.


We find a comparable diversity and complexity in music, as shown by an extraordinary variety of musical instruments. These range from a simple blade of grass to elaborate orchestras of gongs and drums (among other instruments), not to mention a multitude of diverse sound-makers whose prime material is bamboo. We should not overlook stone (such as sonorous scarecrows), and above all the lithophones of central Vietnam, of which the oldest type (without going back to the Hoabinhien period) illustrates a southern feature of the Dongsonien (a bronze-age civilization of ca. 2300-2000 BP of Northern Vietnam whose most characteristic surviving object is the bronze drum). This lithophone has intrigued musicologists because of its unusual scale, as also has the specific voice-placements of certain present-day Montagnard minorities. Now, this musical richness, belonging to the Vietnamese cultural heritage, is in danger of disappearing: it has been made fragile through thoughtless actions by agents of development, insensitive to the diversity of modes and genres-which they ought, for all that, to be able to appreciate in the music and poetry of the Viet (or Kinh), the majority people. The preservation of diversity and musical richness is not only important in its own terms, but would also help to recall the sources of the originality of Vietnamese music.




As with its neighbors, Laos and China, Vietnam shelters (on a rather limited territory) one of the largest varieties of ethnic groups to be found anywhere. There are fifty-three minorities besides the ethnic majority of the Kinh (or Viet) which make up the pluricultural Vietnamese nation. These minorities represent 15% of the total population, some 12 million people, and include all the five major linguistic groups to be found throughout Southeast Asia and southern China. This mosaic of cultures reflects the past migrations which constitute today's Vietnamese population.


On the central highlands, the Austro-Asiatic minorities -- who are the genuinely autochthonous people of this Asian region -- have particularly suffered from the war, and their way of life has changed. Family and social relations have been transformed, the longhouses abandoned in favor of nuclear residences, rites are tending to be folklorized, traditional costumes are no longer worn. In the north live populations more nomadic than in the center, coming from the south of China (some of them very recently). In such mountainous regions, difficult of access, these minorities have been better protected from external influences: each strongly asserts its identity, in particular through the use of its own language and the daily wearing of costumes specific to each sub-group.



Peoples of central Vietnam


The Jarai

With more than 240,000 individuals, the Jarai are the most numerous of the Montagnard peoples of the highlands of Central Vietnam. The majority of them live in the province of Gia Lai, while smaller numbers are found in the provinces of Kon Tum and the north of Dac Lac. Speaking an Austronesian language, they are related to the Cham and other Proto-Malay cultures of the Indonesian archipelago.


They grow rice, for the most part by slash and burn cultivation, but also in wet paddies without irrigation systems. They are good herdsmen and skilled hunters who have developed a great variety of fishing and trapping techniques.


Group cohesion depends on a social organization based on the maternal clan. A clan is primarily defined by its name, transmitted by the mother to her children, and those bearing the same clan name cannot intermarry. After marriage, a husband will settle with his wife in the longhouse to which she belongs. This large building, erected on piles, shelters several households, those of an elder woman, her daughters, and sometimes even her



A village is made up of parallel longhouses, all oriented on a north-south axis. The grain-stores are built on the periphery. Each village has a community house at its center, the place for the communal activities of the men, above all the young unmarried men. The cemetery, close to the village, is an extremely important place for the Jarai, who have particularly developed funeral rites. On the very elaborate tombs there are figurative sculptures -- human beings and animals -- keeping company with the deceased.


The Jarai recognize the political and spiritual authority of three Potao, best known under the name of Sadet: the Lords of Fire, Water and Air, whose prestige extends to neighboring ethnic groups, as far as Cambodia.


One of the richest elements of Jarai culture, but the most difficult to understand, is its oral literature -- long poetic songs dealing with customs, tales of love, epic and mythic recitations -- which Jacques Dournes has collected for over twenty years, and untiringly made known during his life.


The Bahnar

The Bahnar are part of the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family, numbering about 136,000 in the provinces of Kon Tum and western Binh Dinh. They are divided in several regional sub-groups such as the Reungao or the Alacong.


As with all populations of the region, the Bahnar grow rice by shifting cultivation, with vegetables, cotton, and all the edible and useful plants they need. They are skilled herdsmen, and rear buffalo, beef cattle and poultry for their own diet, and also for commercial exchange.


Everyone lives in houses raised on piles, which are rather smaller nowadays than the traditional longhouses where all couples of an extended family used to gather. Every village has a community house, a remarkable edifice topped by a thatched roof, where men meet to deal with village affairs or to organize various rites. The village community is led by a chief and a council of elders.


The Bahnar have developed a particularly egalitarian society. They follow a cognatic system of kinship and residence. Children share inheritance equally. As equals, girls may select their husbands, and young couples may choose to go and live with one or other of their parents, as opportunity arises.


The Ede (or Rhade)

The Ede (Rhade is a name attributed to them by the French colonial administration) number about 195,000, spread in the provinces of Dac Lac, the south of Gia Lai, and the west of Khanh Hoa and of Phu Yen. As with the Cham and the Jarai, with whom they share a great number of cultural traits, the Ede speak an Austronesian language.


The village is dense with both houses and grain-stores in the same orientation, an ensemble which evokes the scales on a tortoise's shell. The longhouses are always built on piles and in the past sometimes extended a hundred meters. Today they are smaller, the most usual being from 30 to 40 meters according to the number of persons they shelter. A house is divided in two parts: one is communal, where visitors are received and where the men gather, and the other consists of compartments, each for a couple, closed off with a bamboo partition, each with its own kitchen.


As with the Jarai, the Ede follow a system of matrilineal descent: mothers transmit their family names to their children, and only women have inheritance rights. A husband settles with his wife in her longhouse, where the extended matrilineal family lives under the authority of the eldest woman, who leads the community and rules on conflicts.


The Ede possess a very old and rich oral tradition, which only a few men in any village will know how to present in its poetic and rhymed forms, but of which everyone knows the subject matter.


The Sre and the Lac

Vietnamese researchers have included the Lac and the Sre with the Cil under the name of the Coho, to show that their language in fact resembles that of the Ma and is akin to the Mon-Khmer family. The three groups thus called Coho total over 100,000 people living in the province of Lam Dong, south of Dalat. The most numerous, the Sre, live on the Di Linh plateau. With the Lac, they are the most ancient sedentary rice-cultivators, living in

longhouses on piles sheltering several couples, under the authority of an elder.


The Lac and the Sre follow a matrilineal and matrilocal system. After marriage, the young man settles with the family of his wife, and their children will take the name of the maternal family. Each nuclear family has its own fields and paddy storehouse.


The Sre and the Lac both believe in a large number of genies, yang, dwelling in nature or certain prestigious objects: the sun, moon and water-courses, or jars of rice wine. One of these yang is chosen by each family as its genie-protector. The sacrifice of buffaloes remains an essential social and religious act.


The Ma

Speaking Austro-Asiatic Coho, like the Sre and the Lac, the Ma number about 26,000, in the province of Lam Dong. They live in dispersed villages, in longhouses on piles, with only one lineage in each. Some of these longhouses reached nearly 100 meters of length. The greater part of the Ma practice shifting cultivation, using very rudimentary implements.


Their craft activities are strictly familial and utilitarian. The Ma are very adept weavers, as the finesse of their different baskets continue to demonstrate. The women make remarkable textiles with woven figurative motifs.


The family of the Ma is patrilineal, the extended family giving way more and more to the small nuclear family. Inheritance goes to the eldest son. Most of their rites are connected to the agricultural cycle. As with other groups in the Mon-Khmer language family, the Ma believe in yang genies, dwelling in nature or in everyday life or prestigious artifacts.


Peoples of the north of Vietnam


The Hani

There are about 12,500 Hani spread between the provinces of Lai Chau and Lao Cai. They belong to the Tibeto-Burmese ethno-linguistic group, which in Vietnam is only represented by some small, rather little-known groups: the Lolo, the Phula, the Xapho, the Sila, the Lahu and the Hani. Coming from the Chinese province of Yunnan, as early as the 15th century, but mostly since the 18th century, they are established in the mountains of the northernmost part of Vietnam, preferring altitudes above 1500 meters.


Most of their houses are built either on the ground, as among the people practicing shifting cultivation, or on piles, as among the cultivators of wet rice. Of all groups living in the mountains of northern Vietnam, the Hani are highly experienced in the construction of rice-paddy terraces, dug from the mountainsides, fed with water by canal networks.


The Hani are patrilineal, the father and the eldest son having authority over the whole family. They regularly honor their ancestors on the family altar found in each house. Some offerings are also made to the spirits of nature, such as those of rice or of wild game, to ensure abundant harvests or good hunting.


The Hani sing long poems recounting myths, heroes of the past, tales and legends. One of the marriage songs of the Hani of Lai Chau is known to have 400 verses.


The Yao

The Yao are called Dao (but pronounced as Zao) by the Viets, and known as Man in French texts of the colonial epoch. There are two million Yao in China, half a million in Vietnam, and several thousand in Laos. There are a dozen Yao groups in Vietnam speaking one of two different languages: Mien and Moun. Thus the Yao Do (the Red Yao), the Yao Tien (the Yao with coins), the Yao Quan Chet (the Yao with tight trousers), or the Yao Lo Gang, speak the Mien language, while the Yao Lan Tien (the indigo-blue Yao) or the Yao Quan Trang (the Yao with white trousers) speak the Mun



The Yao arrived in Vietnam beginning in the 18th century and settled at many different altitudes, from the plains up to the mountain heights, but generally lower down than the Hmong. According to their zone of habitation, their house styles differ. The most frequent is a house built on the ground, but one also finds among the Yao living in the valleys, in the proximity of the Tay or the Nung, some large houses on piles of wood or of bamboo. A third style of house also encountered is constructed on mountainsides, half on piles and half on the ground. The forms of agriculture practiced, from irrigated rice paddies to slash and burn cultivation, is also diverse. The social unit is the patrilineal family. Monogamy and patrilocality are de rigeur.


The Yao have been strongly influenced by Chinese culture, adopting writing and Taoist rites. Shamanic trance is widely practiced as a mode of direct action towards the invisible.


The Hmong

The popular name for the Hmong is the Meo. There are about ten million Hmong today, of whom nine million are in China, nearly 600,000 in Vietnam, with the remainder spread between Laos, Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). The Hmong arrived in Vietnam rather late, the greatest wave of migration coming in 1868 after the crushing of the Tai Ping in China. They settled near the Chinese and Laotian frontiers, in the Vietnamese provinces of Thanh Hoa and Nge An.


We find several groups of Hmong in Vietnam: the White Hmong, the Flowered Hmong, the Green Hmong, the Black Hmong and the Hmong "with striped sleeves". These groups speak different dialects of the same language and can only be differentiated through details of their dress. Women's dress, in very varied styles, everywhere includes an ample skirt, generally wrapped with hemp, decorated with batik, embroidered and appliquéd.


The Hmong rarely settle below 1000 meters, practicing shifting cultivation on steeply sloped fields. After one or two rotations of the crop cycles, when the soil is near exhaustion, the cultivated territory is abandoned and the village community disperses. When the relief permits, the Hmong settle today around irrigated terrace rice paddies. Kinship and residence are patrilineal, the head of the family controlling the finances of the



The Nung

The Nung number today more than 700,000, settled in the same regions as the Tay (the former Tho), living along the Chinese frontier in the provinces of Lang Son, Cao Bang, Ha Giang and Lao Cai, and also as far as Bac Thai and Tuyen Quang. They are divided into sub-groups, named after their places of origin in China (Nung Inh, Nung An, Nung Phan Sinh, Nung LoiSÿ). Belonging to the Thai-Kadai linguistic group, the Nung language is very close to that of the Tay, both of them having adopted a form of writing based on Chinese ideograms.


The Nung left Guangxi in south China beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries, reaching the territories of the Tay, who conceded to them mediocre, barely fertile land. This they improved with considerable effort, and now cultivate irrigated rice paddies with success in the valley bottoms, as well as terraced paddies on the mountainsides. Other products are grown with slash and burn cultivation above the paddies. In the villages, the basic unit is the patriarchal family, a woman once married becoming totally dependent on her husband and parents-in-law.


The Nung are Buddhists and Confucianists. Shamans continue to play an important role in village society, and are the last ones who can read the traditional ideograms.


The Pa-y (or Pa Di)

Classified as part of Tay ethnic group by the Vietnamese authorities, the Pa-y (which is Pa Di in Vietnamese, pronounced "Pazi") live in only a few villages in the north of the province of Lao Cai.


The women's costume consists of a long tunic decorated with a large band of silver buttons across the breast, and a long skirt covered by an apron. Their headdress is very characteristic, a kind of rigid helmet of indigo cotton , which is decorated with a silver jewel at the rear, with a ribbon of silver nails over the forehead.


The Pa-y remain poor, and as agriculturalists they grow maize and mountain rice for the most part by shifting cultivation. They live in cob-wall houses, with floors of beaten earth. Living in close relations with their neighbors the Nung, the Pa-y have adopted a number of their traditions, in particular the rites attached to birth and death.


The Lu

There are only about 3,700 Lu, spread among several villages of the province of Lai Chau, in the districts of Phong Tho and Sin Ho. They speak a Thai language, and are much more numerous in the north of Laos, but mainly in the Sip Song Panna of the south of Yunnan.


Their villages group together over fifty houses which, as with other Thai, are built on piles, well-aerated and spacious. Basic nourishment is of sticky rice cultivated in irrigated paddies. Other plants may be grown by slash and burn cultivation. Women's costume is particularly elaborate, with its small short vest, whose waisted form is emphasized by decorations of pieces of silver. The upper part of the skirt is brocaded with traditional motifs, a weaving technique in which the Lu women are among the best. A long turban is enrolled around a chignon, worn always on the left.


The Lu family is patrilineal. As among other Thai groups, a young husband comes to live with his wife's family for two or three years, before settling in his own house. Young people are relatively free to choose their marriage partners, although the agreement of the parents is always necessary, together with that of the astrologer, who plays an important

role in social and religious life.


The Lu are the only Thai minority to have adopted Hinayana Buddhism which is, as in Laos and Thailand, strongly impregnated with animistic beliefs.


The Thai

From the south of China, their original habitat, the Thai have spread over a vast territory, extending from the east of India to Vietnam, passing through Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Laos. The beginning of their migrations is very ancient, seeming to have started about 2000 years ago. Some of them created states, as in Laos and Thailand; others have remained minorities, among whom the Thai of Vietnam, numbering over a million today,

spread in the provinces of Lai Chau, Son La, Hoa Binh and Nghe An, in the northwest of the country.


Two principal sub-groups, the White Thai and the Black Thai, may be differentiated by the color of the women's vests. The short, close-fitting vests are today in different colors, but have kept to their traditional buttoning of chased silver butterflies. All women wear a long black skirt fastened around the hips.


Constructed of wood and bamboo and perched upon high piles, the houses of both the White and Black Thai are surprisingly spacious. The most beautiful of them are often over ten meters long and shelter, around a central stove, a family of a dozen persons (usually three generations). The houses of the Black Thai have magnificent, rounded thatched roofs, said to be in the form of "the carapace of a tortoise".


We find a social organization based on a feudal system among all the Thai, which remained rigorous among the Thai in the west of Vietnam up until the beginning of the 20th century. The society, strongly hierarchized, included the aristocratic class of lords and their kin, the one of the highest-placed notables; the remainder of the society was constituted of freemen-peasants and of servants, emancipated former slaves coming most often from neighboring minorities, in particular the Khmu.


Feudal social organization has now disappeared, but traditional beliefs in spirits, phi, and the strongly hierarchized genies of the soil, impregnate the religious life of all Thai. With a script adapted from the Sanskrit alphabet, as in Laos and Thailand, their cultural and spiritual heritage has great richness.


The Khmu

With 43,000 individuals in the provinces on the frontier with Laos, from Nghe An to Lai Chau, the Khmu constitute the most important Mon-Khmer linguistic group in the north of Vietnam. Coming from Laos (where they are still very numerous), their immigration into Vietnam seems to go back to the 17th or 18th centuries. Settled in Thai principalities, the Khmu constituted, until the beginning of the 20th century, a class of peasants enslaved to local lords. Strongly influenced by the Thai, the Khmu have adopted a number of their cultural traits, such as the Thai's feminine costume, which more and more replaces their own traditional garments.


Generally settled above the Thai, the Khmu practice slash and burn cultivation on often steeply sloping fields which quickly lose fertility. Hunting and food gathering are therefore a far from negligible addition to the diet. The Khmu, for the most part, still lead a nomadic life, and are rather poor.


The family name of a Khmu most often designates a plant, an animal, or an object considered as the ancestor of the lineage, which is recalled in the origin myth that each lineage possesses. The Khmu thus retain an important heritage of myths, cosmological accounts and popular tales, marking an ethnic identity that is still strong today.


The Muong

The Muong number more than 900,000, mostly settled in the province of Hoa Binh and in part of Thanh Hoa. Originally, the Viet and the Muong formed a single, unique population, and did not separate until about the beginning of our era. The Muong remained in the valleys and foothills of the mountainous zones, and did not fall under the influence of Chinese culture as did the Viet, but to that of the Thai, their most immediate neighbors.


As with the Thai, the traditional social system of the Muong was organized in chiefdoms, some of which could expand to a hundred villages. Each of these chiefdoms was ruled by a single lordly family, sharing power under the authority of the eldest, the head of the family. Thai Family and administration forms the one and only structure.


A Muong family lives in a large house built on piles, with large openings. The women wear a long black skirt of which the belt, woven in colored motifs, is drawn high upon the breast. They cultivate irrigated rice paddies in descending terraces on hillsides. To irrigate, large bucket-waterwheels drawing water from the rivers are in current use. Other cereals and vegetables are also grown in shifting cultivations above the paddies. Fish have an important role in the diet, and the means and techniques of fishing are very varied, and known to everyone.


Up until today, during funerary rites, rites of possession by medium and sacrifices to the spirits, historical, legendary and cosmological accounts of the Muong are sung or chanted








Only a few instruments will be described below. Other instruments were used in times past, such as bronze drums and lithophones. Some instruments are still played today: tubes of struck or pounded bamboo, lutes with two or three strings (called tinh tau among the Thai), the tube-zither with two strings (the bro' of the Jarai), etc. Apart from those made of metal, instruments are ordinarily made by their players and should be destroyed or buried with them when they die.




To designate gongs, one and the same term cing is employed by several Montagnard populations from two linguistic families of the highlands of the center (Jarai, Ede, Bahnar, Koho, Sedang, Mnong Gar). The gongs are made from an alloy of copper and other metals. Either imported or purchased, the most recent have been made in Vietnam, the older ones which came from Laos or Cambodia being now very valuable (as much as 30 buffaloes for the largest gong). Tales and epic songs often mention gongs, which have always been exchange goods among the Montagnards of the highlands of central Vietnam.


There are two sorts of gongs: the flat gong struck on the interior with a mallet of green wood or by the bare hand, and the knobbed or bossed gong (gong with a round swelling on its central surface ) struck with a cloth-covered mallet.


Among the Jarai, "every gong has its edge pierced by two holes where a cord is passed through for portability, as a shoulder-strap (light gongs), or for suspended carriage from a beam over two men's shoulders (heavier gongs), or for hanging permanently in the house (very heavy gongs). Except in special cases, gong-players stand in line or march in file. The place for each gong in the series is ordained by a rule as inviolable as the placing of notes on a musical staff ; if a man changes place to take another gong that he knows better, it is he who changes place and not the gong. Each instrumentalist sounds just one note, at the time required by the melody. The air is often sung through before it is performed (this being also the case among the Lac). The right hand of the player strikes the gong, and the left (when it is a light gong) is placed, or not, on the other side to deaden vibrations and resonance" (Dournes 1965, p. 218). Several gongs of different sizes are habitually grouped in instrumental ensembles, sometimes including a drum. Thus it is among the Montagnards of northern Vietnam (Thai, Tay, Muong, Kho Mu) that two gongs with boss and a large drum beat the rhythms of the dances. In the central Vietnam, small ensembles of three gongs with boss with a large drum are the most widespread, but we also find some ensembles comprising a bigger number of instruments: among the Jarai , Bahnar, Sedang, Ro Ngao, Ede , Ma, Koho, Lac, Hore. Among the Ma, women can play gongs as well as men.



Among the Jarai, the korac-korang "are cymbals of copper [about 15 cm in diameter], with a boss and hammered, that one rubs one against the other, with alternating rotational movement. These instruments, bought elsewhere (Cambodia or Laos) at the same time as the gongs, serve only for accompaniment, when desired, to the cinq arap gong-playing " (Dournes 1965, p.214).



Among the Jarai, the trung xylophone consists of eleven bamboo tubes of 36 to 94 cm in length, beveled at one end and attached by a cord, so that alternate tubes have their bevels on one side, and the others on the opposite. One end of the cord will be tied to a house-post or to a tree trunk, and the other end tied around the ankle of the player, so as to suspend the instrument like a hammock. The tubes are struck with two wooden mallets, or with four if it is a duet. Each tube has its name according to its pitch, being ania (94 cm), ci (80 cm), krah (74 cm), keu (72 cm), hloai (64 cm), ania hloi or bot (54 cm, octave of ci (53 cm), octave of krah (52 cm), octave of keu (42 cm), octave of hloai (37 cm) and ania ddat, double octave of the longest tube (36 cm).


Neighboring peoples know the same type of instrument under different names: dding dol (Kšho), kleng klong, deng or to glong gloi (Bahnar), kleng klang (Sedang). When two musicians play in duet, one plays the principal melody and the other an accompanying part.


The xylophone is played for simple pleasure in the village or in the rice paddy. It is also played to chase away animals which might damage the harvest. Today it also accompanies songs and dances, or is played with other instruments such as the leaves ken la, the one-string fiddle koni, or various flutes.


Bamboo buzzing-forks

The dao of the Khmu is made from a tube of bamboo between 100 and 120 cms in length. One of the ends is shaped into two facing tongues 30 cm in length, at the base of which, and on each side, a slit of about 20 cm is kept slightly apart by a string (or wire) crossing the diameter of the tube. When one of the tongues is struck against the palm or the forearm, the instrument starts vibrating and the two slits cause a buzzing sound. The other end is left open, some 15 or 20 cms past a pierced node of the bamboo. Two small holes are placed so that they can be closed or opened by a thumb and one of the fingers, to modify the timbre.


Several of these instruments, of different sizes, may be struck simultaneously while accompanying a song. Playing the dao is the preserve of Khmu women of the regions of Tay Bac and the mountains in the west of the province of Nghe An. The Black Thai of Son La have learned to play it and call it hum may.



The Montagnards of Vietnam have two main types of jews-harp whose forms differ according to the material used, whether bamboo or brass. The bamboo jews-harp -- called goc (Ma, Lac), rading (Jarai), tuong (Kaho), then (Bahnar), hun toong (Thai), co ech (Ede) -- is made from a sliver of bamboo into which a tongue is cut. The musician holds the instrument between his lips with the left hand and plucks the extremity of the tongue

with the right thumb. By modifying the volume of the mouth's cavity the player selects overtones to make a melody. A small ball of wax fixed to the middle of the vibrating tongue can be adjusted in position to change the pitch of the fundamental.


The djam jews-harp of the Hmong is made from a piece of hammered brass, into which a slim tongue is cut. The instrument is held in front of the mouth, and its tongue is set in vibration by plucking with the thumb. This instrument is much prized among the Hmong youth, and used for courtship. Often a girl will give one to a boy in the hope that he will come after nightfall to her bedroom and murmur some amorous messages.




Drums with double skins (one at each end) have a body made from hollowed wood. The skins are of buffalo or oxen, held in place with small wooden pegs.


"The Jarai have two kinds of drum: the big one (a meter or more in diameter) is placed horizontally in the house, upon two wooden supports, as if cradled, and the small portable drum used for processional rites (with shoulder-straps, or carried on a beam by two porters). There are two ways to play the drum: tong when it is struck with a piece of green wood (stripped of its bark); pah when it is struck with the open hand. The drum, which marks the meter, is a primary element of Jarai music, being much more rhythmic than melodic. The first of the drummers has the role of a conductor of the other instrumentalists, by giving the cues to start and to stop, by deciding on the rhythm and the loudness" (Dournes 1965, p. 222). Among the Montagnards of central Vietnam the generic term for the drum is hogor (Jarai), or hogor (Bahnar), songgor (Koho). The big drum -- hogor m'nang or hogor prong (Jarai), ho gor tak or p'nung (Bahnar) -- is used by the Jarai to send messages or to play with the gongs in the course of rites for the spirits or for tutelary genies in the house of the head of the clan. It is often struck by the village chief during various rites. The presence of drums of medium size -- po nuong yun (Bahnar) and ho gor cing arap (Jarai) -- is indispensable for gong ensembles. Because of this, the drum is held in high regard among the Muong, Bahnar, Jarai and Ede. The northern minorities (Hmong, Tay, Nung, Thai, Muong, Dao) use a large number of differently sized drums, each with its own name.





The gong tube-zither of the Jarai is made from a single internode of bamboo, the node walls left intact at each end, of 70 to 90 cms in length and from 5 to 8 cms in diameter, furnished with a calabash resonator. Thirteen metal strings, usually recycled bicycle brake-cables, are stretched in a semi-circle across the bamboo tube, lifted by ring-like bridges and tightened by pegs.


"One holds the instrument in front, the pegs upwards. The left hand has six strings; the right has seven-three are for the melody and three for accompaniment, plus the high-pitched thirteenth. The strings are named by their notes: three bot, one ding and two keu on the left; on the right, three krah, one ci, two ania and a small high-pitched ania. The notes have the same names as on the copper gongs and one can play the same melodies on

them. The gong is in favor with young men who have a good ear; they play it for pleasure in the evenings, by themselves or at a friend's place; it attracts girls just as the dding-dek [bundle-panpipes] attracts boys" (Dournes 1965, p. 227).


The tube-zither also exists with idioglottal strings, of skin prised up from the body of the bamboo tube. It is found among the Bahnar, Jarai, Sedang, Rongao, Gie Trieng, Lac and the Ma in the two provinces of Kontum and Gia Lai.


The one-string fiddle kšni and the zither ddong Among the Jarai, "one finds that one is here in the presence of an original and complex ensemble, that I have never found elsewhere among the Proto-Indochinese, while other instruments here and there have their



"The ddong is very simple: it is a two-string zither with a calabash resonator, like a bro' with neither frets nor sound-holes, being lighter and shorter (50 rather than 80 or 90 cms). It is plucked, like other zithers. Its particularity is that it is not an instrument in itself, but is only part of an ensemble; it is only played with the kšni, in the same hand, holding a stick serving as a bow.



Its essential element is a vibrating string, whose vibrations are produced by two sources: a bow moving back and forth on the string; a piece of thread fastened to the bowed string, of which the far end is held in the mouth of the instrumentalist; vocal modulations, on the one hand, and stopping the string above the frets; on the other, modify the effect of the vibrations of the single [bowed] string.


"The body of the instrument is a section of bamboo about 50 cm long, terminated at one end with a piece of wood shaped as a 'coiled fern-tip' and decorated with a pompom. The metal string is fixed at its foot, tightened by a peg and tunable with a bridge; it passes over four frets of wax. The bow is a single stick of bamboo, rubbed with the wax of bees living in tree-hollows. At the position of the peg, a string of china-grass, its length precisely that of the bamboo tube, is fastened to the metal string and fixed at its free end to a rounded plastic tongue which is placed in the instrumentalist's mouth, behind the incisors.


"The instrumentalist is seated; he rubs the bow with wax, turns the peg to obtain the tuning desired; he places the koni almost vertically and holds it with the left hand, between the thumb (towards him) and the four fingers, placed on the frets (away from him), the foot of the instrument held between two toes. He puts the [plastic] tongue behind his teeth, tilting his head back enough to stretch the thread. His right hand holds the bow, a simple stick, like a spoon, making it pass back and forth on the [metal] string, while his left-hand fingers touch its frets, and he hums between clenched teeth, only his lips moving. All song melodies may thus be played, especially (success assured) in imitation of funeral laments. The koni is easy enough to make, but its interpreters are rare; it is played in the house or in the fields, by a man, for musical pleasure. Its sound is strange, distant, plaintive, nuanced, elusive and disquieting.


"The koni is an instrument complete in itself, usually played solo. However, as often happens, musicians know how to play the koni simultaneously with the ddong, invented to accompany it. The bow is therefore held in the right hand, placed against the ddong, between its foot and calabash; thumb and index-finger keep the bow and the ddong together, middle and ring fingers plucking its two strings, and the combination sets off, the bow continuing to cross the [metal] string. One artist thus plays a zither and a fiddle at once, while also transmitting his song by means of a piece of thread connected to the bowed string and its resonating tube" (Dournes 1965, p. 227-230).


Two-string fiddles

The two-string fiddle -- co ke for the Muong and io for the Black Thai -- is made of a slender tube of bamboo inserted in a resonator made of a larger tube of bamboo, the latter open on one side and covered on the other by a piece of frog-skin or snake-skin. The two strings, tuned at the fourth or the fifth, are made of banana fiber or of horse-hair. The bowstring is of horsehair, and is not resined.





The ding klia is a vertical bamboo flute, 50 to 60 cm long, with four holes in the case of the Lac. It is played for diversion, in front of the house or in the fields. This kind of flute is found more or less everywhere in Vietnam, under different names: rleet (Mnong), klia (Bahnar), pi thiu (Thai), ong oi (Muong), tieu (Kinh or Viet). It is an instrument for men only.


Pribislav Pitoeff observes that the kalien duct flute of the Black Hmong is made of a reed-tube of 60 cm pierced with four playing-holes. One end is chamfered about 3 cm, and the opening for expiration for the air is cut 1 cm farther. Inside the beak, the tube's orifice is stuffed with a piece of twisted-up cloth: when more or less inserted, this plug alters the volume of air in oscillation, thus permitting the tuning of the instrument.



The dding dek of the Jarai "are panpipes of thirteen unequal bamboo tubes, from 35 to 125 cm in length, beveled at one end and bound together. Each tube bears the name of its pitch: bot or but-bung, ci, ding, ania, keu, krah and six tubes of the upper octave, plus a high-pitched thirteenth tube. The breath is directed from some distance towards the tubes, which the left hand holds from underneath, while the right thumb acts as a valve for the longest (deepest) tube, pe' bot. The dding dek is tuned by trimming the bevels. Though tiring to play, it is the preferred instrument of Jarai girls, making use of it to attract boys. All tunes sung by these young girls can also be played on the panpipes; it is generally for courtship, where feminine imagination is inexhaustible. The dding dek is played once evening falls, on the steps of the house, in a seated position, in view of the effort of breathing required" (Dournes 1965, p.231).


Among the Bahnar, the same kind of instrument is called the dding jong. Besides being present among these two groups of Vietnam Montagnard peoples, bundle-panpipes are known particularly in Melanesia, where they extend from New Guinea in the west to Vanuatu in the east, passing by the Solomon Islands. The Jarai piece presented here is the first to be published from South-East Asia.



Ensemble of whistles

The dding tojuh ("tube-seven" in Jarai) is an ensemble of seven to nine bamboo whistles, unequal in size (10 to 20 cm long, 1.6 to 2.3 cm in diameter), in use among the Jarai and the Ede (or Rhade). Among the Lac, the ensemble consists of only five whistles. Each tube is closed at the bottom end by a node, the players each blowing a whistle as if blowing into a keyhole. The playing of the whistles is reminiscent of the music of the gongs.


The leaf

The use of leaves as musical instruments is widespread among the Hmong and the Dao of Northern Vietnam, and among several populations of the province of Gia Lai in the central highlands. The Hmong employ banana leaves, or any other kind of leaf provided it is flexible, smooth, and has an oval shape. The player, by blowing on the leaf, pressed to his upper lip or between his lips, makes it vibrate. This instrument is intended to attract young girls during courtship.



The dding bbot of the Jarai is a five-holed bamboo clarinet. The mouthpiece has a beating reed, and the far end is beveled. Known among the Jarai and the Ede, this instrument is played by both men and women for diversion. The instrument called pilang bhang of the Khmu is probably a clarinet of this type.


Free-reed instruments

Pribislav Piroeff has observed an instrument with a free reed called pi among the Lu, consisting of a tube of 40 to 50 cm, with seven playing-holes (six on the front and one at the back). Near the mouthpiece, closed and rounded, a rectangular opening is made on which a thin brass plate is fixed, into which a free reed is cut. The instrumentalist places all of this in his mouth, obliquely. Players use circular breathing, drawing air through their nostrils and not interrupting the air-flow after expiration through the mouth. Among the Lu, the pi accompanies different kinds of songs. The pipap of the Black Thai is a free-reed aerophone similar to the pi of the Lu. Instruments of the same type are called buot tak ta among the Ede, ponung boc among the Lac, and tolio among the Bahnar.


The dding klut of the Jarai is a free-reed instrument made from a tube pierced with three holes for fingering, and an aperture having an added reed. A whole calabash, whose neck serves as embouchure, is fixed over the window with wax.


The toki of the Jarai "is a transverse horn, also known as todiap or dding-rowang, 'tube gone-to-war'. This is a buffalo or a wild-cattle horn, or an elephant's tusk (a more ancient version and, of course, more appreciated). The horn is opened at each extremity and in the middle of the concave curvature; at this latter point it has a reed, covered by a parallelepiped embouchure of wood, fixed in place with wax. The mouth blows, the right thumb operates as a valve, and the flat left hand claps and closes or opens the larger opening. It is a very ancient instrument, made for war, exclusively. Formerly the todiap was carved into an elephant's tusk; in default of ivory it was made from horn, and thus was it named toki, or horn. On leaving for war, it was worn as a necklace; on returning from war, if victorious and if prisoners were being brought, it was played before re-entering the village; on hearing the sound of the elephant tusk, the men remaining in the village played the warrior-rhythm juar on the drums. Today, as with saber and shield, it is just an object for parade, but still used (held only by the hands) during rites of confirmation of manhood of the youths." (Dournes 1965, p. 232). The instrument has the same name, todiap, among the Bahnar, while it is called koyol among the Lac.



The mouth-organ is widespread among the Montagnards of Vietnam, except among the Jarai of Choreo, where it is rare. It is generally made of six tubes of different length, fixed in two series into a calabash serving as an air reservoir, hence the name given to it by the Jarai: the dding nam, or "six tubes" . Each tube has a free bamboo reed at its base, and has a hole on the side which must be blocked by a finger to obtain a sound.


Small-sized instruments are called by the name rokel among the Sre and the Lac; larger instruments are called kombuot among the Lac and komboat among the Ma. The mouth-organ is used to play the melodies of songs, old or modern.



The "evolution" of music since the 1960's lets us see transformations in the usage of musical instruments. The young generation prefers the guitar to the 13-string zither, the gong, plastic pipes to the dding clarinet, the western harmonica to the traditional mouth-organ, the dding nam or the komboat.


The Vietnamese, of the Viet or Kinh majority, have modernized some of the Montagnards' instruments, such as the flute of the Hmong (sao meo), used especially by the musician Luong Kim Vinh. The cooangtac, a running-water carillon, has had several bamboo tubes of different sizes added to it. The mouth-organ of the Thai, the khen be, is today adapted to play major and minor chords. The play upon bamboo tubes-klong put (Sedang), dding but (Jarai) or pah pung (Bahnar), which one makes resonate by clapping the two hands in front of the opening, went from a dozen tubes in 1965 to twenty-one in 1968. The Vietnamese have adopted and transformed the one-string fiddle, the koni. The trung xylophone (called dan trung in Vietnamese) has been modified by the musician Nay Pha of the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Highlands, of the Ministry of Culture (which has become known as the Troupe Artistique Dam Sam). Since 1960, Nay Pha has considerably enlarged the number of tubes (up to forty-five tubes, in three tiered ranks), following the chromatic scale, and has played it at numerous international festivals.





Colors and timbres, range and register, inflexions of the voice, intonations between the spoken and the sung, procedures of ornamentation of the melodies and/or of sound-emissions One could ask to what degree such vocal expressions are not the characteristics of certain Montagnard peoples or sub-groups, or whether of genres (such as the epic songs) beyond ethnic and linguistic boundaries, or yet again of individual singers, male or

female. In our present state of knowledge, we can't answer these questions.


The following paragraphs are simply meant to attract attention to the variety of vocal expressions.



The work-song of the Yao Lan Tien and the epic song of the Bahnar contain passages of long-held notes characterized by tremulation (oscillation between two notes) of a melodic range from about a minor second for the first, and from a major second to a minor third for the second; this tremulation is perceived, by its speed-seven oscillations per second-as a tremolo (rapid repetition on the one and same note). In the case of the first song, such passages are followed by ornaments made by a slower and wider oscillation, from a minor to a major third. Some similar ornaments, oscillating up to a fifth, are also found in a song of the Nung Loi, characterized as well by an ornament of sound-production, which is strongly "hatched".


Repeated impulses (around 3 per second) on the commencements (attacks) of vowels periodically appear in the epic songs of the Ma, where the voice may be said to be "guttural".


Some songs make frequent use of melisma (melodic ornaments on one syllable): for example, the courtship song of the Khmu people, the monodic, alternating song of the Lac, and the polyphonic, alternating song of the Nung Loi in which the melismas are primarily by the principal voice.


Vocal inflexions and changes of register

The singers make free use of glissando, ascending and descending. These vocal inflexions appear at different places in the melodic lines of a song of the Red Yao, but systematically, at the ends of musical phrases, they are descending. Some descending glissandos are to be heard in the middle of melodic phrases, from the secondary voice in a courtship song of the Nung An, and at the end of the musical phrases, alternating with a long-held note, in a work-song of the Yao Lan Tien. By contrast, an ascending glissando, again in alternance with a long-held note, marks the end of some musical phrases in another work-song of these same Yao Lan Tien.


A song of the Nung Loi consists of two musical phrases in which the first ends with a long-held unison note for the men, and a descending glissando for the women; contrary to this, at the end of the second phrase, there is an ascending glissando in head-voice, which also signals the alternance of men/women respectively with women/men. Some phrase-endings in head-voice are also to be heard in a song of the Nung Giang, in alternance with descending glissandos, but what is specific here is a change of register on the same pitch, among both men and women; we will return to this song in the section on vocal polyphony. Some changes of register -- chest voice/head-voice -- are not only made at the endings but also in the middle of musical segments, e.g. in the voice of a Hani woman, or in Nung Giang and Pa-y songs.


Between the spoken and the sung

Some songs of different peoples of the central highlands -- but not those of Northern Vietnam -- have passages in recto tono, in which several words are pronounced one after the other on the same pitch. In the epic song of the Jarai each of the four principal degrees, succeeding one another in a descending melodic contour, is sounded in turn as recto tono. Some passages in recto tono are also to be heard in a song of the Ma, in an alternating song of the Bahnar, and in an epic song of the same Bahnar which is also singular for sections in spoken-sung, i.e. by a recitation without fixed pitches.


Finally, let us mention the song of the Jarai koni fiddle-player: this voice is characterized by large ascending and descending glissandos (together with the sounds of the fiddle), and above all by a very particular articulation, due to the fact that the singer-musician pronounces the words while holding behind the incisors a small plastic disc tied by a thread to the string of the fiddle. The unique color of this voice is different from what one knows of voices sung or spoken, from all intermediary forms found either in Vietnam or elsewhere in the world.






The Montagnards of Vietnam use different kinds of polyphony: the drone (long-held notes, on one pitch, underneath one or several melodic lines); polphony by ostinato (short repeated melodico-rhythmic formul¾ upon which are superimposed one or several other voices); diaphony (two or more voices separated by certain intervals, progressing in a homorhythmic manner, i.e. in the same rhythm); counterpoint (superimposition of voices which are melodically and rhythmically differentiated). At the edge of polyphony and monody, one should add heterophony (enlargment of a single melodic line by a second performer) and the use of echo (brief temporal delays). While the forms of vocal heterophony and instrumental ostinato-polyphony (above all on the mouth-organ and in gong-playing) of the highlands of the center were relatively well-known, the vocal polyphonies of the Montagnards of the extreme north of Vietnam have remained for a long time unknown in the West.


Instrumental polyphonies

The instrumental polyphonies of the Montagnards may be the result of simultaneous playing on two instruments with melodic possibilities (such as fiddle and zither), or may be from several instruments playing together, each with its own single note (as with ensembles of gongs or whistles), or may also be the simultaneous sounding of two or three notes on a soloist's instrument when its construction permits (zither, mouth-organ, bundle-panpipes).


At the edge of polyphony, the playing of the io fiddle and the pipap free-reed instrument among the Black Thai, is heterophonic. The melody, built on an anhemitonic pentatonic scale (five notes without a semitone), ranges over an octave, with two principal long-held notes: the tonic C (at the beginning at the upper octave), and the fifth G. The piece is also characterized by downward glissandos from E to the lower tonic. At certain points of the piece, the Jarai flautist directs the breath simultaneously into two neighboring tubes of the bundle-panpipes, thus obtaining intervals of the fifth and the sixth played in a homorhythmic manner. By applying the regular tapping of a finger to the lower opening of the tube for E, she sounds once in each of the two musical phrases a superimposition of three notes, B-E-G. But the unison is more frequent and, as is the general rule in the polyphony of the Montagnards, it characterizes the ends of musical phrases and of the piece. The hemitonic pentatonic scale (of five notes with two semitones) is characteristic of Jarai music. It is well-known among Vietnam musicians today, who use it in some of their new compositions to lend local color evoking the central highlands in general (without specific reference to the Jarai). The rule of the final unison for a polyphonic piece is broken by the ensemble of five whistles of the Lac where the piece ends on the chord C#-E-G# with the G# a little sharp). The whole of the piece is built on an alternation of this chord with an interval of a minor sixth, A#-F#. The uniformity of this alternation is broken by rhythmical playing. Most of the other instrumental musical pieces presented on these two discs are characterized by ostinato-polyphony, which is above all widespread among the Montagnards of central Vietnam. This consists of the repeated playing of a short formula, in the bass, while the melodic formula, longer, is simultaneously played higher.


Thus, in a piece for an ensemble of gongs of the Ma the ostinato in the bass, made of three notes, is played four times under the duration of the melodic formula, which itself is made of three notes. The beginning of the melodic formula varies slightly, the first note being interchangeable between A or F. In a piece for mouth-organ, again of the Ma, constructed on the same principle, the variations of the melodic formula are more numerous: one can count 15 variants out of a total of 39 passages of the melodic formula. A piece for ensemble of gongs among the Lac comprises two melodic formulae of a duration equal to four passages of the ostinato formula; the second melodic formula can be shortened by half.


To indicate the next piece to play to the members of the gong ensemble, one of the players (generally the leader) sings sometimes the melodic formula or formulae by itself or in alternance with the bass ostinato formula. In the playing of a gong ensemble among the Ede and in a Jarai xylophone piece, the bass ostinato is made from two notes, while the melody is on three notes. In the piece for mouth-organ of the Lac, the two notes of the

ostinato are combined with four melodic notes.


The bass ostinato may be replaced by a single sound, an intermittent drone or bourdon. This is the case for the mouth-organ of the Lac where the melody is built on five notes. In the second Jarai xylophone piece, the melody, with a wider range (an octave plus a fourth), descends lower than the intermittent drone. In the Jarai zither piece, the intermittent drone consists of two notes played simultaneously at the interval of a fifth.


The principle of polyphony by ostinato is also present in the piece for the sac bua orchestra of the Muong, composed of two oong khao transverse flutes, a co ke two-string fiddle, four bua gongs with a boss, and a ploong drum. The three high gongs vary an ostinato formula; a stroke on the lowest gong intervenes regularly on each fourth beat of the cycle (ie, every eighth pulsation). The two flutes and the fiddle play melodic phrases at the unison, with slight variations, exceeding in length the cycle of the gongs. The drum often intervenes with three unequally spaced strokes, of which the first sometimes coincides with the stroke of the bass gong. The Jarai musician who plays the one-string fiddle accompanies himself on the gong zither of which he plucks either the two strings (G-C) simultaneously or only the string for the C, making thus a drone on the tonic and the lower fourth. The fiddle rarely plays the same C, but rather on the notes E, F and G. As for the voice transmitted the fiddle's string by a piece of thread, it rises and covers a ninth. In certain passages there is a superimposition of three components-fiddle, zither, voice -- in others, the musician does not sing. As we have already pointed out, the hemitonic pentatonic scale (of five notes with two semitones) is characteristic of Jarai music.


Songs with instrumental accompaniment

The accompaniment on the gong zither of a Jarai man is characterized by ostinato formulae.


The flute which accompanies the alternating song of the Black Hmong plays essentially two notes a fourth apart, linked by passing notes; the singers commence and finish the musical phrases at the unison, respectively at the lower octave of the flute, distancing from it by weaving above and below. The flute is playing here the role of the second voice of the songs for two voices, which often is notable for long-held notes.


In the songs accompanied by free-reed instruments of the Lu, some purely instrumental passages alternate with sung passages. The two instruments of different sizes play at the octave, with the exception of a note added by the smaller instrument. In accompanied passages, instrumental and vocal melodies partially diverge, while keeping the same rhythm, which seems to be determined by the syllabic division of the text. The performers come together at the unison or at the octave at the ends of phrases.


Vocal polyphony

The Montagnards of central Vietnam rarely sing together, but at the same time, if it happens as in the case of the song of three Sre women, it is at the unison and not in polyphony. In their alternating songs, a solo singer (male or female) alternates with a second performer. In the north, to the contrary, in particular among the sub-groups of the Nung (Nung Loi, Nung An, Nung Phan Sinh, Nung Giang), the alternating songs, known as sli, are performed by two women in alternation with two men. Each Nung group possesses a characteristic sli air; si oi (Nung Loi), ha leu (Nung An) soong lan, nhi hao (Nung Phan Sing), ta sli (Nung Giang). Their two-voice polyphony emphasizes the harmonic interval of the second, at the same time as using minor and major thirds, the fourth and the fifth. Generally, at the ends of musical phrases, the two voice come back to the unison. The alternating song of the Nung An is intoned by two men. The first voice sings four notes in the range of a fifth (G#, B, C#, D#) while the second voice is limited to two notes (G#, B) enters on the tonic G#-and makes the lower fourth in relation to the C#-sung at that moment by the first voice, then the fifth in relation to the D#. The two voices periodically return to the unison. The interval of a major second is often produced when the first voice sings on the third degree (do) and the second voice on the second degree (ti). The women sing a minor third higher than the men according to the same procedure. Besides the interval of the second, the Nung An, in their songs in two voices, favor the interval of the fifth. The behavior of the second voice, limiting itself to two degrees evokes an intermittent drone on two pitches; the impression of a drone is reinforced by the fact that the tonic (G# for the men and B for the women) is sounded on the longest-held notes.


The women's/men's alternating song of the Nung Giang is organized in the following manner: a first musical phrase ends on the unison, with -- as we have already emphasized -- an abrupt change of register, from chest-voice to head-voice, while staying on the same pitch. The second musical phrase does not end at the unison, but at the interval of the second, with a simultaneous fall of the voices. The third and last musical phrase of a strophe ends anew at the unison and in head-voice. The end of the alternating parts of the women (but not of the men) is marked by a passage of one of the voices at a lower fourth, then by a crossing-over of the voices, at the major second, before ending at the unison and in head-voice.


In the courtship song of the Nung Inh, the women sing at the unison, with some heterophonic variants. Two men respond periodically, but simultaneously and not successively as in the majority of alternating songs. They also sing at the unison, following a similar melodic contour, but rhythmically shifted and transposed to a fourth lower in relation to the women. The voices of the women and of the men thus develop in an independent manner.


The Yao sub-groups seem to prefer heterophony with slight temporal delays; when these delays become more marked and more systematic, one could speak of the practice of echo.


The alternating song of the Hani combines several of these procedures. Certain passages are sung alternatively by one of the girls and by the young man, the girl sometimes completing the unfinished musical phrase of the boy; in other passages they sing simultaneously, the young man at the lower octave, with variants. When the second girl intervenes, she sings at the same time as the first, but with a different melody, making a veritable counterpoint. Further on, the first feminine voice joins the second, with variations and temporal delays, like a sort of varied canon. During some brief moments, the three voices sing together.


The music of the Tribal peoples in Vietnam represents some characteristics which cannot be found in Vietnamese music of the Kinh people. It should be developed in the future. And it is the duty of Vietnamese musicologists living in Vietnam to pursue their research in the years to come.



BWW Society Member Dr. Tran Quang Hai was born on May 13, 1944 in the country of Vietnam. He is a talented and renowned musician who comes from a family of five generations of musicians. He studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Saigon before moving in 1961 to France, where he studied the theory and practice of Oriental music with his father, Professor Dr. Tran Van Khe, at the Center of Studies for Oriental Music in Paris. For several years, Dr. Hai also attended seminars on ethnomusicology at the School of High Studies for Social Sciences, and received Master of Arts and Ph.D. degrees. Since 1966, Dr. Hai has given over 2,500 concerts in 50 countries, and has taken part in approximately one hundred international traditional music festivals, as well as in radio and television broadcasts in Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia. He has been working for the National Center for Scientific Research in France since 1968, and is now attached to the Department of Ethnomusicology of the Musee de I'Homme. Also, from 1988 to 1995 he was a Lecturer on Southeast Asian music at the University of Paris X -Nanterre.


Apart from his artistic activities, Dr. Hai is also interested in musical research. He has improved the technique of spoon playing and of the Jew's harp. In 1970 he found the key to the technique of overtone singing. During 1990 and 1991 he won four awards at the International Scientific Film Festivals in Estonia, France, and Canada for the film Le Chant des Harmoniques directed by Hugo Zemp, which he co-produced with Hugo Zemp. He has written numerous articles on Vietnamese and Asian music, and has also recorded 15 LPs and 8 CDs and composed four hundred popular songs.


As a distinguished figure in his field, Dr. Hai has garnered more than 20 prizes and international awards. He has received a Gold Medal for music from the Asian Cultural Academy, and honorary doctorates from the International University Foundation and the Albert Einstein International Academy. Dr. Hai works with his wife, Bach Yen, who is a great Vietnamese pop and folk music singer. Additionally, Dr. Hai was named President of the Jury of the Khoomei Throat Singing Festival in 1995; he obtained the Cristal Medal of the National Center for Scientific Research in France in 1996, the Medal of Honor of the Limeil Brevannes City in France in 1998, and the Special Prize of the Jew's Harp Festival in Austria in 1998. In addition, he was the Honorary President of the Festival d' Auch in France in 1999, and of the Voice Festival of Perouges in France the following year. In 2002 he received the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor nominated by French President Jacques Chirac. His biography has been published in 30 Who's Who reference books since 1980.


To date, Dr. Hai is the only Vietnamese to have taken part as a performer or composer in such great historical events as Australia's Bicentenary celebration in 1988, the Bicentenary of the French Revolution in Paris in 1989, the 700th Anniversary of the Birth of Switzerland in 1991, the 350th Anniversary of the Founding of Montreal in 1992, the 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America in 1992, 600 Years of Seoul-Korea in 1994, the Jubilee of the King of Thailand in 1996, the Jubilee of 1,000 Years of Trondheim in Norway in 1997, and the 100th Year Anniversary of the Creation of the Phonogramm Archiv of Berlin in 2000.  Additional information regarding Dr. Hai's work may be obtained via and

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