Quan ho is a romantic folk performing art, which is rooted in Kinh Bac area (present Bac Ninh province). There are 49 Quan ho villages in Bac Ninh province and each village has one or more Quan ho man or woman Quan ho groups.
There are 5 to 6 performers who sing well in a group of Quan ho. Leading in each group by chi ca (first sister)or anh ca (first brother). Then, chi hai (second sister)of (second brother)etc. It depends on man or woman groups.
From the beginning time when it has just been created, “ Quan ho” was only regarded as a cultural activity at which people in Bac Ninh and some other areas nearby gathered, shared their passions, with their fascinating voices. They “played” Quan ho, not “performed” it, with the main purpose to satisfy their demand to meet and make friends with other people who have same hobbies, and exchange their love on traditional art in a large community.
In addition, Quan ho singers now are not purely amateur singers who with only their passion and emotion, but actors and actress who perform certain songs that are professionally choreographed. They are trained carefully, from gestures, moving to emotion and eyes contact to be suitable for staging performances and they sing with anyone, not only their fated mates as in the past. That is the sign of the forever disappearance of fatedly artistic relationship between Quan ho singers.
The songs are performed as alternating verses between two women from one village who sing in harmony, and two men from another village who respond with similar melodies, but with different lyrics. The women traditionally wear distinctive large round hats and scarves; the men’s costumes include turbans, umbrellas and tunics. The more than 400 song lyrics, sung with 213 different melody variations, express people’s emotional states of longing and sadness upon separation, and the happiness of the meeting of lovers, but custom forbids marrying a singing partner. Quan họ singing is common at rituals, festivals, competitions and informal gatherings, where guests will perform a variety of verses for their hosts before singing farewell.
It is said that Quan Ho Bac Ninh Folk Songs were exchange songs between two mandarins' families. Gradually, it spread out and became popular among the northern people. Groups were formed just for singing, and many marriages were formed at these get-togethers. After centuries, hát quan họ became the most significant vietnamese folk-song type.
Quan Ho Bac Ninh Folk Songs, also called Quan Ho Bac Ninh singing, is an antiphonal singing tradition in which men and women take turns singing in a challenge-and-response fashion drawing on a known repertoire of melodies. Usually a pair of women starts, presenting in unison a complete song called “cau ra” (challenge phrase) lasting three to eight minutes. A pair of men of the opposing team responds with another song called “cau doi” (matching phrase), which must match the melody of the women's song in order to be considered correct. Next it will be the men's turn to challenge the women with a song that can be completely different from the previous pair of songs.