A bit late to the game, but still glad that I caught 《我们唱着的歌》 or The Songs We Sang, a film about the origins of xinyao (新谣), Chinese songs written in Singapore (in the 1980s).
The documentary traces the roots to the angst felt by the Chinese educated undergraduates from the dissolution of the Nanyang University (南大) in 1981, which spawned the campus folk song movement that emerged in the various junior colleges in the next couple of years. Many at the forefront then, have since become prominent music makers in the decades that followed. Eric Moo, a Malaysian singer who had studied in JJC, and has done moderately well in the Chinese music business, was very matter of fact in explaining his rise to stardom over his peers – they were doing NS, and thus he appeared on the music shows by default.
Just as pop music has various sub genres, there is no single descriptor for xinyao. As the songs were written mostly by students on the cusp of adulthood, the themes tended to revolve around love, friendship and school. Its very artlessness its charm, xinyao could be melancholic or bubbly, depending on the emo quotient of the composers. One of the more successful singer-songwriters, Liang Wern Fook, who later went on to get a doctorate in Chinese Literature, wrote seemingly simple songs that hit you with nostalgia, and his clever turn of phrases alluded to a culture that you were aware of, but didn’t quite have access to being the potato plebeian you are. Their popularity in the 80s and early 90s made xinyao ubiquitous, and even those from primarily English-speaking backgrounds might know to hum a few of these tunes.
However, it was the footage of the reunion concert at Bras Basah Complex that evoked the biggest sense of pathos. Packed to the gills with middle-aged aunties and uncles braving the rain, their singing along to the familiar songs of yesteryear evoked a deep melancholy. They were once young, fervent and idealistic too. Where has the time gone?
Although it’s a little long at 128 minutes, there still seems to be a rich history that’s yet unrevealed. The middle years of xinyao, and its eventual decline would make a no less fantastic B-side .
Catch it if you can!
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