Lullabies - Hát Ru

"Mother and child" - oil painting by Pham Hoang

Hát Ru (Lullabies) are a sort of folk music often heard in Vietnam, especially in the countryside. Ru, certainly, are songs to lull babies, but vietnamese women use them to consign their fates and also to express human feelings such as homesickness, wife missing her husband, etc. As the function of a lullaby song is to make the child slowly fall into sleep, the song is quiet, the tones stretched and melodious.

The melodies of Ru vary from one region to another. Ru are original or modified six-and-eight foot/line popular poems put to music. The rhythm is determined by the meter of the poem, but the lines are elongated with nonsense syllables à ơi, ù ơ, à á ơ, à ơi ơi.
In North Vietnam, Ru are sung in a straight pentatonic scale DO-RE-FA-SOL-LA. The following songs are lullaby songs sung by a mother to her child.

Con ơi, con ngủ cho lành, My child, sleep well,
Ðể mẹ gánh nước rửa bành cho voi So mom can carry water to wash the elephant’s back,
Muốn coi lên núi mà coi, If anyone wants to see, go up the mountain
Có bà Trưng, Triệu cưỡi voi bành vàng. To see Mesdames Trưng, Triệu riding the elephant’s golden backs.

Still the six-and-eight foot/line poems with nonsense syllables ơ ơ inserted, the following song is from Nghệ Tĩnh (Central Vietnam). It lies only in three notes LA-RE-FA:

Ơ..., ru em, em ngáy cho muồi, Lullaby sleep well,
Ðể mẹ đi chợ mua nồi nấu ăn, So mother can go to the market to buy an earthen saucepan,
Ơ..., mẹ em đi chợ đường trong If she goes to the southern market,
Mua em đốt mía vừa cong vừa dài, She will buy you a long and bent sugar cane,
Ơ..., mê em đi chợ đương ngoài, Or if she goes to the northern market,
Mua em đốt mía vừa dài vừa cong. She will buy you a bent and long sugar cane.

In Southern Vietnam almost all lullabies begin with the words ví dầu (imagine):

Vì dầu cầu ván đóng đinh, Imagine walking on a board-bridge fastened with nails,
Cầu tre lắc lẻo. gầp gềnh khó đi. It is hard as walking on an unstable bamboo bridge.

Listen to "Ru Con" (ca. 1 MB)
extracted from "From Saigon to Hanoi"

extracted from "Musics of Vietnam" by Pham Duy

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