Known as a genre of Vietnamese folk music, Quan Ho has a long-lasting, multilayer history together with its rich and unique culture. It was originated in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang provinces in the North of Vietnam and recognized as the Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO in 2009.
It is controversial to define the origin of the world Quan Ho. Some believe that it is rooted from the Royal Court Music shown in the literal meaning of each individual word: “quan” – “mandarin” and “họ” – “stop”, following an old tale of that a royal mandarin gets immersed in great melodies of region’s folk songs so that he must stop to enjoy them. The other scholars research the semantic content of songs, performing space and formality to conclude that “quan họ” is an alternative spoonerism of “quan hệ” –“relationship” of the local folk singers in Kinh Bac region. It is developed, preserved and becomes an indispensable spice of traditional festivals, especially Tet Festival in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang provinces.
Quan họ is an improvisational music among a group of male and female singers so called “liền anh” (men) and “liền chị” (women). Like a form of a conversation and communication through singing and songs, the “liền chị” sings “challenge phrase” (câu ra) and the “liền anh” and has to response with “matching phrase” (câu đối), continuously lasting all day and night. The modern Quan Ho now has a combination of traditional instruments to enhance the romance and sweetness of emotional songs, often used electric keyboards.
Each traditional Quan Họ song has its own melody. Up to now, at least 300 songs are notated.
Some old Quan Họ songs can be listed as “La rằng”, “La hời”, “Cây gạo”, “Giã bạn”, “Gió mát trăng thanh” and “Tứ quý”. The records of thousands of Quan họ folk songs are preserved in the Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism at Bac Ninh and Bac Giang province.
The Hoi Lim (Lim Festival) is considered to be the biggest Quan họ folk song festival, which annually takes place in Lim’s pagoda at lunar January, 13th.