Xinyao



Xinyao (新谣) is a genre of music that typically refers to Mandarin ballads composed, written and performed by youths in Singapore. Started in the late 1970s, xinyao was at its peak in the 1980s and propelled many local singers and singer-songwriters to stardom, several of whom successfully transitioned to the commercial sector. Big names often associated with the xinyao movement include Eric Moo (巫启贤), Billy Koh (许环良), Liang Wern Fook (梁文福) and Roy Loi (黎沸挥).1

Beginnings
In the late 1970s, many students in secondary schools, junior colleges and polytechnics began writing songs in Mandarin to express their thoughts and feelings. These were simple, folksy tunes about their lives in Singapore and often sung to the sole accompaniment of guitars.2 The musical style of xinyao is believed to have been influenced by minyao (民谣), the Taiwanese folk song movement of the 1970s, as well as by shiyue (诗乐), which began in the late 1970s when Nanyang University students started transposing the poems they wrote into musical compositions.3


In September 1982, Nanyang Xuesheng (南洋学生; “Nanyang Students”), a supplement to the Chinese-language newspaper Nanyang Shangbao (南洋商报; “Nanyang Business Daily”), organised a seminar titled “Wo men chang de ge” (我们唱着的歌; The Songs We Sing) to discuss this emerging trend of locally composed schoolyard songs. It was at this forum that the term xinyao was coined, short for Xinjiapo nianqingren zichuang geyao (新加坡年轻人自创歌谣), meaning “ballads created by young Singaporeans”.4

Heyday: 1980s
The xinyao movement gained momentum in the 1980s as more students took to composing songs that reflected their identity. Many students also got together to form xinyao groups and organised their own performances. Some of the earliest xinyao groups were Shuicao san chong chang (水草三重唱; The Straws), Yuweishi xiaozhu (鱼尾狮小组; The Merlion) and Dixiatie xiaozhu (地下铁小组; Underpass Group). Soon, the xinyao movement spread beyond the schools to community centres. The Merlion, who were formed at Clementi community centre in 1983, became the first xinyao group to be registered with a community centre. By mid-1987, there were more than 20 xinyao groups registered under the various community centres.5

The People’s Association (PA), which manages the community centres, held many concerts, camps and courses to promote xinyao during the 1980s, as well as offered facilities and musical instruments for free to xinyao enthusiasts. While this fanned the popularity of xinyao, a crucial factor that propelled the movement into the public consciousness was the increased exposure through radio and television. In 1983, the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC; now known as MediaCorp) started a weekly half-hour radio programme titled Geyun xinsheng (歌韵新声; “Our Singers and Songwriters”) that was dedicated to xinyao and the musicians. The SBC also began using xinyao compositions as theme songs for some of its Chinese television dramas.6

The xinyao movement was given a further boost when the SBC expanded its annual Chinese Talentime, Dou ge jing yi (斗歌竞艺), to include a vocal group section in 1983 and then a local-composition category in 1985. These changes turned the singing competition into a launch pad for emerging xinyao talents who later became prominent singers or singer-songwriters in Singapore’s pop scene.7

The credibility of the movement was further strengthened when the first xinyao album, titled Mingtian 21 (明天21; “Tomorrow We’ll Be 21”), was released in 1984 with overwhelming success. The album included many of the songs presented at the first major xinyao concert, Shamo zuji (沙漠足迹; Sounds of Teens), which was organised by the PA in June 1983.8 Numerous concerts and albums followed.9 It was during this buoyant time that many xinyao singers broke away from their musical groups, began their solo careers and released their own albums.10

Some of the most successful xinyao singers and singer-songwriters who emerged during the 1980s include Eric Moo, who started out as a member of Underpass Group, Thomas Teo (姜鄠), Dawn Gan (颜黎明), Liang Wern Fook, Pan Ying (潘盈) and Roy Loi.11 Popular trio The Straws, comprising Billy Koh, Winston Koh (许南盛) and Ng Guan Seng (黄元成), stayed as a group until 1987, when they disbanded to focus on their newly formed record production company called Ocean Butterflies Production. The company was formed in 1986 to promote local compositions and subsequently went on to release many xinyao albums.12

The year 1986 also saw a milestone event in the history of xinyao: the formation of the Young Songwriters’ Society (青年词曲创作人协会) by several xinyao groups with the aim of promoting the genre of music. The society took over the running of the annual Xinyao Festival (新谣节), which was first started in 1985 and previously organised by a community centre.13

The Xinyao Festival provided a platform for xinyao singers or groups to perform, and helped to establish the singing careers of several popular xinyao artistes of the time such as Eric Moo, Thomas Teo and Dawn Gan.14

The Young Songwriters’ Society also introduced the Sing Music Awards (新乐奖) in 1987 to recognise recording artistes in the xinyao genre. The awards event was part of the Xinyao Festival programme.15

The latter half of the 1980s saw xinyao become increasingly popular among young Singaporeans, and record companies began to pay more attention to local compositions and released many albums in this genre during this period. These albums had a more polished and professional touch compared to the amateur feel of the early albums. By this time, several xinyao singers such as Eric Moo and Thomas Teo had achieved commercial success, and it was common to see xinyao tunes in the pop-music charts.16

Decline and revival
Although xinyao concerts and songwriting competitions continued to be held at the school level in the early 1990s, it was clear that xinyao was on the decline by then. A lack of funding for the Xinyao Festival resulted in the 1990 season becoming its last. The Sing Music Awards was also scrapped in 1990 due to insufficient album releases in the genre.17 Xinyao supporters blamed record companies and radio stations for preferring commercial releases from Taiwan and Hong Kong over local compositions, and thus resulting in poor sales and a dearth of local albums produced. On the other hand, record companies argued that the public’s taste in music had changed and that there were no outstanding new xinyao talents. The lacklustre sales performance was attributed to Singapore’s small market.18


However, xinyao made a modest comeback in the early 2000s, as a series of concerts once again turned the spotlight on the genre. The first of these was a reunion concert in March 2002 featuring xinyao pioneers such as Eric Moo, Liang Wern Fook, Pan Ying and The Straws.19 Another reunion concert was organised later that year. Such concerts featuring xinyao veterans were staged almost annually since then, and sometimes also involved Taiwanese stars.20 In 2003, the Xinyao Festival was revived.21

Subsequently, xinyao was showcased in other popular media. The Chinese-language musical Tian leng jiu huilai (天冷就回来; “If There’re Seasons”), staged in 2007, featured 30 of Liang Wern Fook’s compositions, including many of his signature xinyao melodies.22 The 2013 local film, That Girl in Pinafore, was billed as a tribute to xinyao. Set in the early 1990s, the film featured many xinyao tunes, some of which were reworked to include electronic elements.23

As at the time of writing, a xinyao documentary, titled The Songs We Sang, is in the works. In conjunction with the film, a xinyao concert featuring some of the heavyweights, such as Eric Moo, Roy Loi and Dawn Gan, was held at the Bras Basah Complex in July 2014. For the concert, more than 1,000 fans thronged the multistorey building, which was a popular venue for xinyao events during its heyday in the 1980s.24

The revival of interest in xinyao has been attributed to nostalgia for the era among those who came of age listening to the music. However, with the spotlight cast on the genre in recent times, xinyao is also said to have gained a new following with the younger generation.25

Today, xinyao is regarded as a key highlight of 1980s Singapore. Although some argue that local compositions by young musicians are considered part of xinyao, the term generally represents the folk genre of songs by Singaporeans that emerged in the 1980s.26



Author
Jaime Koh



References
1. The changing face of xinyao over the years. (1994, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; History of xinyao. (1999, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, B. (2013, August 1). Xinyao uniquely Singapore. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
2. The changing face of xinyao over the years. (1994, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; History of xinyao. (1999, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, S. T. (1987, August 21). Has xinyao gone pop?The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 4–5. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY); 南洋学生主催: 弹弹新谣·谈谈新谣. (1982, September 13). 南洋商报, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 25–26. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY); 南洋学生主催: 弹弹新谣·谈谈新谣. (1982, September 11). 南洋商报, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 南洋学生主催: 弹弹新谣·谈谈新谣. (1982, September 13). 南洋商报, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Foo, J. (1989, August 6). In search of the Singapore song. TheStraits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The changing face of xinyao over the years. (1994, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; History of xinyao. (1999, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 26–31. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY); Leong, W. K. (1985, December 16). Xinyao catches on among the young. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Koh, S. T. (1987, August 21). Has xinyao gone pop?The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Leong, W. K. (1985, December 16). Xinyao catches on among the young. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Music movement’s milestones. (1986, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 29, 34, 44. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY)
7. Chinese talentime open to composers. (1985, September 27). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Music movement’s milestones. (1986, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, S. T. (1987, August 21). Has xinyao gone pop?The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 29, 44. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY)
8. 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 30, 37. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY); Music movement’s milestones. (1986, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 一个不容错过的演唱会 —《沙漠·足迹》节目简介. (1983, May 26). 联合早报, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 41–43, 45–54. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY)
10. 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, pp. 41–43. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY); Music movement's milestones. (1986, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. The changing face of xinyao over the years. (1994, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, B. (2013, August 1). Xinyao uniquely Singapore. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
12. Guan, L. (1987, April 4). It’s Straw’s last performance tonight. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. 梁文福. (主编). (Liang, W. F.) (Ed.). (2004). 新谣:我们的歌在这里. 新加坡: 新加坡词曲版权协会, p. 56. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.1095957 XY); Leong, W. K. (1985, August 30). Singapore balladeers form a central body. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Guan, L. (1989, November 3). New artistes get a break at xinyao fest. TheStraits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Lam, J. (1987, July 19). Giving xinyao stars due recognition. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Koh, S. T. (1987, August 21). Has xinyao gone pop?The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Leong, W. K. (1985, December 16). Xinyao catches on among the young. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Guan, L. (1988, October 21). Xinyao’s still going strong. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Guan, L. (1992, May 24). The last strains of xinyao?The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Guan, L. (1990, November 25). Is xinyao fading out?The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. The changing face of xinyao over the years. (1994, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Guan, L. (1992, May 24). The last strains of xinyao?The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Guan, L. (1990, November 25). Is xinyao fading out?The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Sng, S. (2002, April 1). A show to xinyao ’bout. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. 新谣民歌 风采依然. (2002, June 10). 联合早报, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 重逢2 – 新谣、校园民歌弹唱会 多名台湾民歌手献唱. (2003, July 22). 联合早报, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 重逢6演唱会. (2008, February 24). 联合早报, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, B. (2013, August 1). Xinyao uniquely Singapore. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
21. 新谣的文化诉求. (2003, June 30). 联合早报, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. 王英敏. (Wang, Y. M.). (2007, July 26). 梁文福推出音乐剧. 新民日报. Retrieved from Factiva; 海丽. (Zhou, H. L.). (2007, July 26). 梁文福30首经典创作串出《天冷就回来》. 联合早报. Retrieved from Factiva.
23. Chan, B. (2013, August 1). Xinyao uniquely Singapore. (2013, August 1). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Yip, W. Y. (2013, July 31). A love letter to xinyao. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
24. Chan, B. (2014, June 6). Xinyao reunion. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ho, A. L. (2014, July 6). 1,000 fans brave rain at Bras Basah for xinyao singers. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
25. Chan, B. (2008, April 25). Xinyao lives on. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. 吴庆康. (Wu, Q. K.). (2000, December 8). 如果没有新谣. 联合早报. Retrieved from Factiva; Chan, B. (2013, August 1). Xinyao uniquely Singapore. (2013, August 1). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.




The information in this article is valid as at 16 February 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Arts

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