Vietnam, Guinea, and Sesame Street

The Thap Poshaknu Cham Towers in Viet Nam.

By Elizabeth Doyle

Nguyen Thanh Thuy – The Dan Tranh is a very old and very traditional instrument of Vietnam. In ancient courts, women would play it for royalty. It’s plucked like a harp, and physically, it’s similar to the Chinese Guzheng. Most people think it probably came from that. But it’s the style of playing that makes the Dan Tranh so specifically Vietnamese. There’s always a specific emotion to each piece, there’s sometimes some improvisation, and the instrument itself is smaller, more versatile and more easily portable than the Guzheng. Sometimes, people recite poems while playing, but often, the instrument speaks for itself.  There is definitely a liquid emotional elegance to its sound. Here is a performance by Nguyen Thanh Thuy, an instructor at the Hanoi National Institute of Music that I particularly liked:

Djembe drum

Bolokada Conde – He’s from Guinea in West Africa, and he’s considered a master of the djembe. The djembe is one of many traditional west African drums, and while some drums in the world have served a strong purpose in warfare, the djembe has just the opposite reputation. Its very name means something like, “gather round in peace.”  There’s a traditional belief among many Mandinka people that these drums have a strong spiritual quality, and that a lot of life force runs through them.  They can make an unusually wide range of sounds depending on exactly how you hit them and how you’re holding your hand when you do it. In this video, Bolokada Conde is the drummer in front:

Muppets at Museum of American History

Sesame Street

This one is for my daughter! She’s two years old, and she also has favorite music.  So I decided I was being unfair — why shouldn’t her favorite songs also be included in music from around the world? Two year-olds are in the world!

Of course, children’s music is a little bit different. The melody needs to be circular, because toddlers will lose interest if the tune doesn’t repeat itself.  If there are words, they need to be annunciated very clearly, because toddlers are still learning their own languages.  And positive messages are important because toddlers directly and immediately imitate absolutely everything they see.

So these songs (not to mention the puppets) might be a little young for some of us, but I promise, if you hold a two year-old up to your computer screen while clicking on the links below, you’ll see with your own eyes how very, very important this music is to them!

Here’s my little girl’s favorite music video:

Top photo: L-Bit / Wikimedia Commons / public doman 

Second photo: Arnoldmm at en.wikipedia / GNU Free Documentation License

Third photo: Shiny Things / Wikimedia Commons /Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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