When I was a baby, my mom and my grand mom used to sing the Vietnamese lullabies for me. It was just not to lull me to sleep but also was the way they connected to my heart. At that time, I could not understand the meaning of the lullabies but I could feel the warmth and sweetness of my mom and my grand mom. And I grew up with these lullabies…
Let me tell you about the lullabies that most Vietnamese did listen when they were little children. Hat ru (or Lullaby singing) is a sort of folk music often heard in Vietnam, especially in the countryside. Ru as a noun is certainly a song to lull babies, and as a verb is to lull, but Vietnamese women use them to consign their fates and also express feelings, such as homesickness or the mood of a wife missing her husband, etc. In order to make the child slowly fall asleep, the song’s rhythm is mostly quiet, the tone is stretched as melodiously as a little dialogue between the mother and the child.
The melodies of ru vary from regions to regions. Ru is originated from six-and-eight line popular poems. The rhythm follows the tradition but the lines are elongated with interjectional syllables à ơi, ù ơ, à á ơ, à ơi ơi.
In North Vietnam, ru are sung in five notes, do-re-fa-sol-la. For example,
“My child, sleep well,
So mom can carry water to wash the elephant’s back,
If anyone wants to see, go up to the mountain
To see Lady Trung, Trieu riding the elephant’s golden backs”
Still originated from six-and-eight line poems with inserted syllables, the song from Nghe Tinh (Central Vietnam) lies only in three notes, la-re-fa:
“Baby, sleep well,
So mother can go to the market to buy an earthen saucepan,
If she goes to the southern market,
She will buy you a long and bent sugar cane”
In Southern Vietnam, most of the lullabies begin with the word ví dầu (imagine):
“Imagine you’re walking on a board-bridge fastened with nails,
It is hard as walking on an unstable bamboo bridge”
Although the habit of lulling children in Vietnam nowadays is gradually less popular than in the old days, these lullabies never disappear but become a holy part in every Vietnamese soul who was brought up by maternal love and sweet songs.