The Rice Drum

“Cái trống cơm” (the rice drum) is a quan họ song based on a folk poem:

Trống cơm ai vỗ nên vông
Một bầy con xít lội sông đi tìm
Nhớ thương đôi mắt lim dim
Một bầy con nhện đi tìm giăng tơ

Pa-tum someone is playing the rice drum
A flock of swamphens wade the river in search
A swarm of spiders spin their webs yearning
For them half-closed eyes

Artwork by Noodle, animation by Bà Nội, vocals by Ông Nội and Cô Hạc, arr. by Chú Nam

[1] The repeated use of ố mấy as filler syllables is illustrative of the quan họ style. A popular form of folk singing dating back to the 13th century, quan họ is often performed during spring festivals. In contrast to lullabies, quan họ songs tend to be lively, with themes of young love. Source: Phạm Duy, Musics of Vietnam, Ed. Dale R. Whiteside, Southern Illinois University Press, 1975.

[2] Trống cơm is a hollow cylinder made of wood, about 20 inches long, slightly tapered at the two ends. The drum heads measure 5-6 inches in diameter and are covered by a membrane traditionally made of buffalo or cow hide. Rattan or hide strings crisscross the body from one end to the other, helping to control the tautness of the drum heads. To tune the drum (deepen the tone), soft cooked rice is applied to the drum head’s surface, hence the name trống cơm.

[3] Some versions of the song refer to con nít (children) instead of con xít (swamphens). The grey-headed swamphen, native to Southeast Asia, can swim as well as fly (source:, making it perhaps a likelier candidate to cross a river than a bunch of children.