Vietnamese-Australian Nguyen Le Tuyen says he was lucky to discover a Tai tu (traditional improvisational chamber music) piece performed in Paris more than 100 years ago.

It was at the National Library in the French capital that he found the musical notation written for the Vietnamese song by a French researcher. Julien Tiersot had been researching Tai tu when a troupe from Vietnam performed the song in Paris.

Tuyen, who studies Vietnam's gong culture, plays rock music, and lectures at the Australian National University, said he recently became hooked on Vietnamese traditional music. He puts down his discovery of Indochina Dance, as the musical piece is called, to "fate".

He recently published a book in Vietnamese about traditional music in Vietnam between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, written in collaboration with another Vietnamese-Australian, Nguyen Duc Hiep, a researcher.

History of Tai tu, Hat boi (southern traditional theatre) and Cai luong (reformed theatre) was a labour of love for them, almost literally, as his analogy showed. "While writing the book about the history of three types of Vietnamese traditional music - Tai tu, Hat boi and Cai luong - Hiep and I were not aware we were working; it was love, rather," Tuyen said.

They did not focus on materials available in Vietnam, but western ones. Explaining this, he said while researching into gong culture too he was keen to know foreigners' view of Vietnamese music. "It is important to know what foreigners thinks about Vietnamese traditional music at a time of globalisation."

Tuyen said he wants to raise awareness among Vietnamese as well as outsiders, especially the musical community, about Tai tu, which is awaiting UNESCO recognition as an intangible cultural heritage.

He is set to talk about the music at an international conference in Hong Kong. "Staying in a foreign country, I can introduce Vietnamese music to foreigners in a more effective way."

Referring to Tuyen's discovery of Indochina Dance, Nguyen Thi Hai Phuong, a well-known performer of Vietnamese traditional music, said the discovery has turned the spotlight on Tai tu other traditional music forms. "Despite knowing that UNESCO recognition is being sought for Tai tu, people don't pay attention to the music. The discovery has [changed that]."

But he has had to battle criticism. Critics and traditional musicians have derided him, possibly unfairly, for researching traditional music while being a rock musician. "[They] made comments about my research, but they did not read my research thoroughly," Tuyen said.-VNA