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“Life Feelings in Pop Songs”, the seventh lecture of the “Self-Planting of Spiritual Roots: Singapore Chinese Culture Lecture Series” organised by the Chinese Department of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), was successfully held on NTU campus on March 10. Mr Cai Yiren, founder of “TCR Music Station,” was invited to share on the changes of local music since the 1960s and stories between songs and people, doing so together with live performances of local music. Mr. Cai has been producing music events since 2000 with over 1000 events to date, including the Chong Feng Xinyao Concert, Tomorrow Xinyao Concert Series, The Great Singapore Sing-Along, and “Xing Kong Xia” National Schools Xinyao Festival. The lecture was hosted by Associate Professor Qu Jingyi, Head of Chinese, NTU. The talk was warmly received, attracting more than 100 students and scholars from the Chinese Department, as well as members of the public.
Before the talk began, Associate Professor Qu Jingyi, on behalf of the Chinese Department, welcomed Mr Cai Yiren’s arrival and presented him with a copy of the “Nanyang Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture,” edited by the Centre for Chinese Language and Culture (NTU CCLC) as a gift of appreciation. In return, Mr Cai presented his new book, “Yi Fan Qing Yi”.
Firstly, Mr Cai Yiren shared about the music environment he grew up in. Growing up in a multicultural society, the first song he listened to was the national anthem. He was also exposed to the early Western music, 1930s and 1940s Shanghai songs, and Fujian folk songs. Having deep impression of such music, he shared about folk song “Wang Chun Feng” released in 1933 and performed the song with guitarist Wu Jin Fa.
In the 1970s, Mr Cai Yiren lived in a kampong and keenly felt the simple and pure feelings of living at a kampong. He shared that he was 11 years old when he moved into a HDB flat and began watching TV, but he still reminisced about the good old days living in a kampong whenever he heard the song ” My Home Is There “. At the same time, Hong Kong and Taiwan dramas became popular in Singapore, and their theme songs gradually became familiar to Singaporeans. He recalled the feelings of watching the 1974 Taiwan drama “Justice Pao” when colour televisions became common in Singapore, and performed “Drifter’s Song” by singer Sam Hui, which was also very popular locally at that time.
In the 1970s, Singapore began to produce dramas, which entered the Chinese market in the 1990s. Mr Cai performed the theme song of local drama ” The Awakening”. He shared about his hardships of running a folk restaurant in the 1990s, and only found a way to survive when he started organizing concerts for a living. Mr Wu Jin Fa also shared that he listened to many Chinese folk songs through the radio and played the song ” The Night On Meadow”.
Afterwards, Mr Cai Yiren shared about the music during his teenage years, and mentioned how the people in Taiwan started to create their own music after listening to Western music, leading to the rise of Taiwan campus folk songs. He introduced famous groups and individuals of the Taiwan campus folk songs such as the “Wood Guitar” band and Hou De Jian. He led the audience in singing classic campus folk song “Grandma’s Penghu Bay” and “Sun and Sprinke”. Mr Cai expressed that these two songs were very warm and touching, bringing a sense of familiarity and naturalness.
Mr Cai also shared that Taiwan campus folk songs had a great influence on the Xinyao. Around the 1980s, Taiwan campus folk songs made locals realize that they could use stories that were familiar to them to create their own songs. Mr Cai recalled that local music group “Subway Band” held a song release party, which successfully lit the flame of the Xinyao, inspiring more locals to write their songs, spreading the popularity of Xinyao. Mr Cai explained that the essence of Xinyao songs is to express our own stories, with no restrictions on the themes or subjects. He remembered forming the musical group “Tiao Dong Lü Group” to participate in a Xinyao competition, successfully winning the first place. He then performed the Xinyao song “History Exam Eve”.
Mr Cai then shared about the gradual decline of the Xinyao music from the 1990s to 2000. He shared that he started his own folk restaurant “TCR Folk Restaurant” in 1998, but the society was rapidly developing at that time and people did not have time to enjoy old folk songs, leading to difficulties in operating the restaurant. However, he also said that if it weren’t for the persistence of those who loved folk songs at that time, the gradual resurgence of the Xinyao would not be possible today. He used the example of the “Xing Kong Xia” National Schools Xinyao Festival and played a song called “Si Nian Hen Chang”.
Lastly, Mr. Cai introduced his favourite singers and songwriters and shared a photo of himself with male singer Liu Wen Zheng, whose songs he grew up listening to. He performed Liu’s song “Shining Days”. He also expressed male singer and songwriter Lo Ta-yu as his idol, and producing a concert for him was his dream. He then shared a photo of himself with Lo Ta-yu. Afterwards, Mr Wu Jin Fa performed male singer Liu Li De’s song “Ren Shang Ren” and shared a photo of himself with his favourite singer, Wakin Chau. They ended the talk by performing the song “Suffering of Loneliness” by male singer Jonathan Lee.
The seventh lecture of the “Self-Planting of Spiritual Roots: Singapore Chinese Culture Lecture Series” organised by the Chinese Department of NTU allowed everyone to revisit the beautiful music and feelings of Xinyao.