For some, Vietnam evokes a divisive war, and for others delicious cuisine. The popular music of the Vietnamese diaspora is a modern combination of Oriental tonality and Western orchestration.
But there are deeper traditions, reaching into the myriad cultural groups between the mountains of the interior, the Mekong Delta and the coast of the South China Sea. Khac Chi explores those folk traditions with the color and revelatory flair of a magic act.
The players, Ho, Chi Khac and Hoang, Ngoc Bic wield a variety of musical apparatus. Their arsenal includes a one-stringed zither, the dan bau, a string-suspended bamboo xylophone, the dan t'rung, a bowed instrument that uses the player's mouth as the resonating chamber, a two-player flute, and a menagerie of other bamboo flutes and percussion pieces, some of them with leaves still apparently sprouting.
These are employed in traditional explorations at once lighthearted and serious. Tonality is central to Vietnamese culture — the music is based on a five-tone scale, as opposed to the Western seven tones, but the language has six distinct tones. (A single syllable "ma" can, with alternate pitches, mean "mother," "but," "rice seedling," "horse," "gravestone" or "ghost.")
The duo's brilliant costumes and humorous performing style create a universally appealing introduction to a musical language both charmingly alien and familiar. The appeal probably is strong enough to reach the back rows, but there's enough brilliant detail in the act to justify arriving early enough to get a seat near the front.
Saturday: 1-1:45 p.m., Union First Market Bank/University of Richmond Stage.
Sunday: 1:15-2 p.m., Instrumental Traditions: Asia, Africa and the Americas, MWV Stage; 3-3:45, Genworth Financial Family Stage; 4:30-5:15, Union First Market Bank/University of Richmond Stage.