26 September 2008

Tango at lunch break

('Romance de Barrio' by Aníbal Troilo and his orchestra, singer: Floreal Ruiz)

I do not tango just as I do not dance at all. However, I listen to and sing tangos.

May and I attended Tango fever - Tango Argentina!!, a lunch concert organised by Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture (台新銀行文化藝術基金會), at Taishin Tower (台新金控大樓), the headquarters of Taishin Holdings (台新金控) in Taipei. The concert today was one of the regular Good Afternoon Music series.

The iTango Orchestra began with 'Por Una Cabeza' and finished up with 'La Cumparsita', probably the two essential pieces for any popular tango concert. The rest on the programme were:
  • four tangos: 'Derecho Viejo', 'Vida Mía', 'Danza Maligna', 'Libertango'
  • two milongas: 'La Luciérnaga', 'Corralera'
  • one vals: 'Romance de Barrio'
  • one tango canción, I guess, which I've never heard before: 'Claudinette'
Although it was a 'tango' concert, my favourite one today was 'Romance De Barrio', because it was the only vals they presented today. Somehow I believe I may have developed a liking for tango waltz although there are not many pieces of vlas in the whole tango repertoire.

The concert was a great success. All the seats were taken and if the floor hadn't been carpeted, some tango aficionados would have swayed around at the hall.

Perhaps one day I will ask Fanne to take tango lessons with me, because one day she would get bored with accompanying me on piano, and likewise I might be fed up with singing to her accompaniment all the time.

18 September 2008

Pornographic songs become national security intelligence

The state-run China Record Shanghai Co (中國唱片上海公司) has recently released Shanghai Oldies, 1931-1949 (上海老歌, 1931-1949), an extravagant set of 20 CDs.

(I don't like the official English title Pop Songs between 1930 and 1940s in Shanghai, because it looks clumsy and awkward. I wonder whose idea it is to have this awful title, as awful as the company's official English title China Record Shanghai Co.)

With May and her colleague's kindly help, I got a set and had it shipped from Beijing two weeks ago.

So what are Shanghai oldies?

Beginning in the early 1930s, Western musicians and Chinese songwriters and singers from different cultures and varied backgrounds came together to create the kind of music style that was later to be known as Shanghai popular song.

The first popular song 'Drizzle' (毛毛雨 Maomaoyu), written by Li Jinhui (黎錦暉) in 1927, was just a tune based on simple folk style melodies with four verses of words in vulgar expression of love and accompanied by a band using Western instruments.

However, in the ensuing two decades, diverse musical and lyrical elements were integrated into Shanghai popular songs and made them sophisticated in respects of elaborated lines and more materials in melodies, well-structured verses and exquisite words in lyrics, and enriched sounds and varied rhythms in instrumentation.

The close cooperation among those different groups of people and the vast and brilliant production they left behind suggest the beginnings of Chinese popular music in modern times. The elegant lyrics and charming melodies still today elicit gasps of admiration and praise.

Regrettably, after the advent of the Chinese Communist regime, those songs were gradually banned and inexorably denounced as decadent, pornographic music.

Then they suddenly became something to do with national security in 2008. The CDs I bought were returned to May's colleague because they didn't pass security check – they were deemed to be national security intelligence. Fortunately, another colleague is coming back to Taiwan by the end of September and will bring them back.

I suppose because the songs are so decadent and pornographic that they must not be revealed outside the country.

07 September 2008

Supporting another live performance

It's almost the end of summer and the harvest moon is about to greet us in one week's time, although the scorching summer sun is still charring Taipei Basin. Following the star-chasing and film-besotted experience in the summer, I went to a concert last Sunday to support one of my favourite Mandarin singer, this time with my mum.

Certainly it was not a rock show nor a pop gig, but rather a oldie concert. To celebrate her seventieth birthday, Meidai (美黛) presented an evening of no-frills performance and Mandarin pop nostalgia.

Septuagenarian as she was, auntie Meidai crooned and trilled almost uninterruptedly for two hours, taking only a two-song break to change when the only guest Jinpeng (金澎, find his short biography here, only in Chinese) reinterpretted two of Meidai's signature pieces.

Meidai launched her recording career in 1963 with the release of Unforgettable (意難忘 Yinanwang). It was the hit 'Unforgettable' in the album made her name among Taiwanese people. This album sold remarkably over one 1,000,000 copies in Taiwan when the island had a population of only 7,000,000.

Before Meidai's 'Unforgettable', apart from Chinese immigrants who moved to Taiwan after 1949, very few local Taiwanese showed interest in Mandarin songs. It was 'Unforgettable' that brought together the two audiences.

'Unforgettable' was originally a Japanese song, 'Tokyo Serenade' (東京セレナーデ), released in 1950 by Yamaguchi Yoshiko (山口淑子, better known as Li Xianglan 李香蘭 among Chinese people). Listen to the original Japanese version below and see which you prefer.

(historical recording from this blog)

03 September 2008

First-time fan

I don't think I've ever been a serious admirer of any celebrity or a zealous supporter of any film, fiction or so. However, for some unknown reason, this summer I became a fan.

On 12th August, thanks to Davide, I had the opportunity of attending the 10th-death-anniversary concert in memory of the late lyricist Yap Chun-Lin (葉俊麟), who reportedly wrote thousands of Taiwanese pop songs.

For the first time in my life, I dashed to the backstage to ask for autographs after the concert, just like a teen groupie. Most of the performers at the concert were not sexy young idols, but rather senior signers who had been active a couple of decades ago. Despite their elderliness and my maturity, I talked to them like a teenager standing in front of superstars, timidly, tremblingly and stutteringly.

Encouraged by Davide, together with Lucy, a research assistant who shares the office with me at NTU, I finally got photographs of Ki Lo-Ha (紀露霞), Chhoa Yit-Hong (蔡一紅) and Koeh Kim-Hoat (郭金發).

I thought this would be the first and only celebrity worship experience, because although I have a soft spot for Japanese nymphs such as Morning Musume (môningu musum モーニング娘) and AKB48, as well as Taiwanese babes from a TV show on Channel [V] Taiwan, Blackies (wo ai heisehui 我愛黑澀會), I'm not so obsessed as to snap up all their albums, follow all their concert tours or engage in all sorts of events.

Quite the contrary, in some way, it seems to be the beginning.

Next to chasing stars for autographs, I switched to supporting the domestic smash Cape No. 7, again, like a young groupie, by visiting its official website everyday, taking part in Internet forums and reading personal blogs of the leading actors and actress.

As there will be no commercial release of the original sound track and limited not-for-sale CDs are only given away with tickets booked online, those who want to listen again to screen songs, voice-over monologues and music have to scramble to place orders on the exclusive booking agent's website during a specific period of time before the advance tickets and complementary CDs sell out.

I wouldn't be bothered to pay so much attention to a film a week ago. Even though I have watched The Godfather Trilogy and Casablanca for countless times, I've never bought, except for DVDs, any posters and collectible items, study painstakingly the plots and fun stuff such as trivia, goofs and quotes, or set associated wallpaper images and screensavers on my laptop.

However, I bided my time over the whole of Monday afternoon until at 5.00 pm sharp, the moment the online sale for this particular date started on books.com.tw (博客來). I secured a set of two tickets and CDs—tickets for Fanne and myself to watch the film again, one CD for May in return for her kind invitation and the other for myself to be my first cinema collectible.

The complementary CD may be open to offers on popular auction sites, or perhaps it is so popular that a record company will be interested in a commercial release, but these possibilities simply cannot compete with the great pleasure I found in supporting a film like a real fan.