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American singer covers Vietnamese folk song to raise awareness about COVID-19

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12:31 | 05/04/2020

American singer Kyo York has unveiled his cover version of the Vietnamese folk song Trong Com (the Cylindrical Drum), in which he sings in both English and Vietnamese in an attempt to raise public awareness about preventive measures against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

‘Trong Com’ is simple and easy to memorize; much like its namesake — a small drum played during traditional ceremonies, the song evokes an idealized image of Vietnam, one that’s enveloped in bucolic pastures and lined by verdant fields.

The traditional folk song has become one of the country’s most recognized tunes. It’s usually one of the first songs tiny children learn during their time in kindergarten. It’s also been covered, remixed, jazz-ified, rock-ified, sampled and harmonized by generations of Vietnamese musicians.

In this cover version, Kyo York mixes familiar tune with humour and information with steps on how to stop the march of the disease that is spread through droplets in the air produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes and urges people maintain high levels of hygiene and social distancing measures.

Kyo York, 35, came to Vietnam in late 2009 to teach English to young people in the southern province of Hau Giang. Later, he moved to Ho Chi Minh City and has been living there since. He taught himself Vietnamese and is passionate about Vietnamese music.

It’s not the first song being covered to raise people's awareness of prevention measures. "Ghen Co Vy" is Vietnamese public announcement on the COVID-19 in the form of a song, created by the National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health.

The song also is a parody of another popular song, also by Khac Hung, Min and Erik called "Ghen" (Jealousy). Ghen Co Vy, with "Co Vy" (Ms. Vy) a local nickname for the new coronavirus, premiered on the institute’s official YouTube channel in February.

The song went viral worldwide after being broadcast on HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, who praised Vietnam for many useful propaganda measures on the disease.

Billboard has ranked Vietnamese song “Ghen Co Vy” among its 10 COVID-19 songs which will bring a degree of humour to listeners amid the global panic that surrounds the pandemic.

A “Trong Com” or “Cylindrical Drum”, is a kind of traditional bongo-shaped Vietnamese drum. Before using, the musicians have to put the hot rice mash to the surface of the drum to adjust the pitch of the sound. Trong Com is often made from a hollowed piece of wood approximately 56-60 cm long. Two surfaces at both ends of the drum are wrapped by buffalo skin. A system of leather or rattan strings like a lattice covers the drum in order to adjust the sounds of the two sides. As an orchestral music instrument, Trong Com is used in ceremonial customs and “ Cheo” orchestra with a resonant, deep and slightly opaque sound.

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