by Vuong Bach Lien
HA NOI (VNS)— The sweet melodious sounds of Hawaiian guitar music were resounding from the Heritage House on Nui Truc Street on Saturday evening, touching the hearts of audience of all ages that packed the venue. Many of them arrived half an hour before the show started, hoping to get good seats.
Most of the audience were of an older generation, looking to be reminded of the melodies that had inspired them so long ago.
Over the last 30 years, there were few opportunities for them to listen to the Hawaiian guitar, as it got left behind with the development of so-called modern music.
The two-hour concert on Saturday evening was special for those who are passionate about the Hawaiian guitar, when amateur but talented artist Bui Bach Lien, head of the Ha Noi Hawaii Guitar Club, played some of her favourite repertoires and told stories about the genre.
The well-known sweet melodies that have charmed generations of Vietnamese audiences included Suoi Mo (Dream Stream), Con Kenh Xanh Xanh (Green Canal), and Diem Xua (Old Flame), became ever more profound when they were played with the Hawaiian guitar through Lien’s skilful hands, despite her old age.
“I’ve always wanted to share the magic sound of the Hawaiian guitar with everyone. For me, it’s like a speciality of Ha Noi and I want to share this with everyone,” said Lien.
The Hawaiian guitar was originally invented and popularised in the US state of Hawaii in the late 19th century. Legend has it that Joseph Kekuku, a Hawaiian schoolboy, discovered the sound while walking along a railroad track strumming his guitar. He picked up a bolt lying by the track and slid the metal along the strings of his guitar. Intrigued by the sound, he taught himself to play using the back of a knife blade.
Hawaiian guitar was introduced to Viet Nam in the 1930s by Hong Kong British musician William Chan.
Known by Vietnamese name “Ha Uy Cam”, it had a great vogue in Viet Nam from the 50s to the 70s thanks to the compositions of well-known composers/musicians including Doan Chuan, Nguyen Thien To and Pham Manh Dat.
The sound of the Hawaiian guitar was at that time “phenomenal” in the country’s music industry. It inspired passion among music-lovers for its nobleness and romanticism. Classes to teach the Hawaii guitar were opened everywhere in the country, attracting many students.
However, the guitar has been forgotten over the last 30 years.
Today, only a minority of old people and a few young people who love music know about its name. And those who once loved the Hawaiian guitar long for its profound sounds.
Lien is among the rare Vietnamese women who are attached to the guitar and pursue the dream of preserving it and popularising the sound.
The 70-year-old retired teacher first learned to play the guitar 50 years ago, despite opposition from her parents. Her first teacher was musician Doan Chuan, who soon recognised her talent and helped her perform at national festivals.
Lien didn’t become a guitarist, but worked as a math teacher as her parents had wished, but she has always lived with a great passion for the guitar and founded the Hawaii Guitar Club in 1997 that still gathers her friends and other guitar lovers.
Despite many difficulties, the club, located in her house on Phan Van Truong Street, holds performances every Sunday and attracts the participation of amateur and professional musicians.
“I wish to preserve this guitar sound, and I want to teach young people how to play so it will not be lost,” Lien confided.
“I hope that one day, this style will be taught at the Ha Noi Conservatory of Music, so young people will be able to preserve and develop it.”
The show on Saturday featured performances accompanied by talks from cultural researchers, students and musicians. They discussed the Hawaiian guitar style and demonstrated some practical guitar playing tips to the audience.
Some of the audience expressed a desire for Vietnamese historians to help restore this art in Viet Nam.
“The sound of this guitar has penetrated my blood and my soul. I have a CD compilation of this guitar and listen to it every week”, said Dinh Cong Giang, an audience member.
“I hope that the sound of the guitar can spread, and not only among old people.”
According to historian Le Van Lan, who also played the Hawaiian guitar during his youth, to help restore the art, everyone should know its origins and precious value.
“What is special about this guitar is that it can create the melodious sounds of the sea waves and the wind,” he said.
“It’s interesting that we succeeded in making this guitar a Vietnamese speciality with our (playing) style and rich culture.” — VNS