We basked in the fame and glory of the regional musical achievements that Stephanie Sun and JJ Lin have brought to our little red dot, unaware of the success that was achieved at the expense of the anguish and despair of a generation of Chinese-educated.
Xinyao’s roots was unravelled by Eva Tang’s documentary “The Songs We Sang” and admittedly, I will never look at xinyao--a term used to define songs produced by Singapore youths, the same way ever again.
Paradoxically, xinyao was founded upon the closure of Nantah--the first and last Chinese university in Singapore that was initiated, established and funded entirely by our local Chinese community. People from all walks of lives from the Chinese community contributed to cause of Nantah.
The closure of Nantah symbolized an extermination of the Chinese medium education and the beginning of the inevitable decline of the Chinese language, the Chinese culture and its identity. Yet, it was precisely the shrinking of space for the Chinese-ed that created an unforeseeable growth of Mandarin singing groups that would later grow to make a name for our little red dot in the regional music business.
Led by Nantah graduates, the frustration and anguish of being discriminated and the erosion of cultural identity in your own country were channelled into poetry singing and subsequently into a more colloquial form of campus singing groups among the Chinese-ed junior college students. It was the same collective and spontaneous effort from the ground to build Nantah that ignited the xinyao movement among the Chinese-ed community.
Campus xinyao flourished and grew out of campus when the first record company was set up, breathing new life into xinyao, bringing it to another level and setting the stage to take flight offshore with our locally-nurtured talents. The perseverance, the passion and the patriotism of the xinyao members and predecessors were rewarded with the inroads that our home-grown singers made in the music biz in the Greater Chinese community.
Amateurish but xinyao’s passion and sincerity touched those who heard them. A whole generation of Chinese-ed that was written off by history, scarred by the brutal language policy and yet transformed the negative events in their lives into positive notes and voices through the medium of xinyao. And those who heard them came forward with their helping hands. People from the media industry, government officials and audience out of their own accord played a part in their own capacity to promote xinyao along the way. Xinyao would never have made it without the support of the community.
Singapore’s official history has been well-documented from a top-down perspective. But xinyao refracted a part of our history of that generation, both the xinyao members and its supporters through grounds-up effort created the existence of xinyao. Xinyao came from the people and came from the hearts. It is the voices, the spirit of that generation that I believe are what Eva Tang is trying to capture in this documentary.
Paradoxically again, the generation of Chinese-ed deemed inferior to their English-educated compatriots, were also the ones who gained recognition overseas and became “talents” beyond our shores. The Chinese language which was denounced by the then government was the medium which our newer generation of English-ed xinyao singers such as Kit
Chan, Stephanie Sun and Tanya Chua have to borrow to break into the regional music scene. Liang Wern Fook’s “Sparrow with a twig” was banned from broadcasting for 23 years because part of the dialects in the song and yet, songs with other foreign languages are allowed to be aired freely. Such belittling of our own culture and people is indeed a paradox itself and uniquely Singapore.
After spending stacks of cash, F1 may have put our little red dot on the world map and we have added another Olympic medal in table tennis into our collection of vanity. But nothing beats a group of civilians who are entirely self-driven by pride, genuineness to have successfully placed our little red dot on the regional map. Because this is genuinely and uniquely Made In Singapore. It has to come from the heart.
And neither do I need to wait till National Day for the designated official patriotic song to flaunt my patriotism. I have already heard it in xinyao. From our own people, from our own voices and from our own hearts. And it is this that moves me. Even without the overseas recognition of xinyao, this is where our pride should be.
I was in time for the last screening of the documentary. And fortunately, I was in time for xinyao too.