The Co People
name it, and the Co are likely to have a song for it. The musical
repertoire of this ethnic group is extensive, with folk songs
singing of nature, bumper crops, daily activities and, of course,
love. The Co live mainly in Tra Bong district, Quang Ngai province,
and partly in Tra My district, Quang Nam province.
Having long since adopted a sedentary lifestyle, they are concentrated
in villages on hillsides, close to streams or small rivers. There
grow manioc, Indian corn and cinnamon. The cinnamon grown in Tra
District has achieved world-wide renown since the early years
Previously, the Co lived in single long houses on stilts called
but now they build houses on the ground as lowlanders do, and
patriarchal society. What is heartening is that throughout their
history of integration into a multiracial society, the Co have
to preserve numerous distinctive cultural features - their customs,
faith, festivals, folk art in general and folk music in particular.
It can be said that every few clans have succeeded in preserving
many types of folk songs as the Co - the xa ru, xa ru xa lia,
ca lu and the a lat, to name a few.
Each of them expresses a wide range of feelings. Xa ru praises
magnificent landscape and bumper crops; xa ru xa lia eulogises
love between young people and conjugal life; a gioi is an
"alternative" way of singing about daily activities,
attitudes and sentiments of inhabitants regarding the societal
communal ties. Ca lu, a lat and a cheo are melodies to be sung
festivals and rites as the celebration of bumper crops and the
sacrifice of the water-buffalo.
These songs are accompanied by many traditional musical instruments
including the b'ro, ca t'rot, ra ngoai and a-map that have also
Even the instruments have a time and place to be played.
The ca t'rot is played by the fire in the morning to start a
day, the ra ngoay is played by youth of both sexes to express
love for each other; and the a map is played by women to lull
to sleep or to instruct the little ones, and to express that a
girl in the family is in love. The ta lia, meanwhile, is performed
holidays and during hunting for game.
The percussion in Co music is supplied by a set of two gongs,
and the other small, and a drum. The gongs are usually played
of worship, the Lunar New Year's Day, at house-warming parties,
wedding days, and on days that guests or welcomed or bidden farewell.
The gongs are especially important in the water-buffalo sacrifice,
major festival or the Co. It is on this day that the young men
off their skills in playing the gongs with strong and fast rhythms,
while the young women keep pace with the graceful ca d'hao dance
around a long multi-coloured pole that is located near the
water-buffalo and the fire.
So far, the Co have succeeded in maintaining their gongs sets.
Bong District alone, all the 19 communes and 90 villages have
own team of gong player. But the problem is that they are not
alone, they accompany either the ca d'hao dance or the numerous
songs. Very few people know the ca d'hao dance and fewer still
play the ca t'rot and the ta lia instruments. In the Tra Bong
for example, only two septuagenarian women can play the a map.
Co music has played an important role in the nation's freedom
A local official, Truong Ngoc Khang, told me: "In order
to organise an
uprising in Tra Bong District and Western Quang Ngai Province
many tunes from different ethnic groups like the Co, H're and
doong to stir up patriotism. Unfortunately, only elderly people
those songs nowadays, and only in karaoke bars."
Now, even the traditional attire of the Co is worn only on festival
days or other important occasions. The housing has changed, as
clothing. But what of their music? Yes, these can be preserved
recording them on CDs and VCDs, and printing the lyrics of folk
- but only the Co themselves can keep their traditions alive by
incorporating them into their daily lives, and letting the songs
blossom in their hearts.