Thao Giang was singing part of Xam Tau Dien, which is traditionally performed on trams. At the age of 70, Thao Giang still has a clear, strong voice. He says when he was little he used to go to school by tram and Xam singing became imprinted in his mind and soul. In 1958, Thao Giang entered the Vietnam National Academy of Music and stayed there to teach after graduation. He told us he was particularly drawn to folk music: “You may think I’m obsessed because I like all kinds of folk music – ritual, ceremonial and Quan Ho singing. It is my passion. With Xam singing, I feel I have a responsibility to preserve it.”
When Thao Giang saw that Xam singing was beginning to disappear in the 1980s, he immediately began to research and compile it in the hope of preserving and restoring a traditional cultural feature of Hanoians. This was not an easy task, as many of those familiar with the old Xam melodies had already passed away. Because of his great love for Xam singing, Thao Giang spent most of his salary to cover his travel fees: “I had to meet the artists and learn the songs from them personally because I did not have a tape recorder. The more I’ve studied and analyzed the lyrics the deeper I’ve become engaged in this art.”
Thao Giang worked with Professor Pham Minh Khang to establish the Vietnam Music Development Center in 2005 with the aim of restoring and introducing Xam singing to the public through research, training, and performing. Thao Giang is currently the Center’s Deputy Director.
Thao Giang has helped train a generation of young dedicated artists. Vu Duc Huy has been studying at the Vietnam Music Development Center for 5 years. He said: “I admire my teacher Thao Giang for his dedication to folk music. He should be relaxing now but instead he is doing his best to preserve Vietnamese culture. He teaches us with dedication and passion.”Whatever we do we should do with enthusiasm and devotion. When I first learned about Xam, I was quickly fascinated by the art.”
Musician Nguyen Quang Vinh has been working with Thao Giang for years: “Thao Giang is a talented artist and musician. He has created many pieces of music for concerts and solo performances. Thao Giang can play not only the Dan Nhi or two-string violin but other traditional musical instruments. He is dedicated to the preservation and teaching of Vietnam’s intangible cultural and musical heritage.”
Thao Giang’s love for Xam singing is boundless and he is determined to kindle a love for traditional music in the younger generation.