Blast from the past: Xinyao returns with a twist this weekend

Elizabeth Soh
Elizabeth Soh
Singapore Showbiz

From left - Joi Chua, Tanya Chua, Kelvin Tan, and Kelly Poon will be performing (Photos courtesy of Esplanade)

They are songs beloved to most Chinese-speaking Singaporeans growing up in the 80s and 90s.

Called 'Xinyao', the genre of music is a uniquely Singaporean take on life in the small island country.

With its clean acoustics and simple heart-warming lyrics performed by a group of people singing and harmonizing with just with a guitar, Singapore's xinyao movement was conceived in the 80s and reached huge success by the 90s.

Locally written and produced hits like 细水长流 Xi Shui Chang Liu (Trickling water Flows far) and 城里的月光 (Moonlight in the City) embedded themselves firmly into the national consciousness, and even today evoke nostalgia amongst Singaporeans for simpler days gone by before the era of electronic pop and boy bands.

Listen to "Xi Shui Chang Liu" by local songwriter Liang Wen Fu below:

Fans of xinyao will now get a chance to re-live those times this coming weekend, when the Esplanade presents "Our Songs from the Heart" featuring Tanya Chua, Joi Chua, Kelvin Tan and Kelly Poon.

The four homegrown stars will be taking to the stage to perform a series of classic xinyao songs as well as television drama theme songs and Mandopop hits from the 80s and 90s penned by local songwriters.

A tribute to local artistes for their contribution to the Singapore Chinese pop music scene as the Esplanade celebrates it's 10th Anniversary, the performance will include music by home-grown composers like Cultural Medallion recipient Liang Wen Fu as well as Lee Wei Song, Lee Si Song, Eric Ng, and Billy Koh, among others.

Providing the musical accompaniment this time will not be simple guitars or castanets but the swelling sounds of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra conducted by Maestro Tsung Yeh.

Yahoo! Singapore speaks to Maestro Liang, as well as Kelly, Kelvin, and Joi to find out what you can expect from "Our Songs from the Heart" this weekend.

What songs are we going to hear?

The waif-like Joi Chua is coy about revealing exactly what songs will be sung on the day itself, preferring to keep audience members in suspense.

"I'll be performing a solo on a medley of three songs - two xinyao "oldies" and one of my own songs," she said, describing her performance as "pop mixed with classical".

"I believe it will be a pleasant surprise for the concert-goers on the day itself."

She will say that while she has "too many" xinyao favourites to choose from, those from local composer Liang Wen Fu, who also composed the finale for Our Songs from the Heart, resound with her the most.

"I have to say, many of Liang Wen Fu's songs were iconic to me, especially during my childhood. The songs still bring a lot of smiles and good old memories," she said.

Project Superstar winner Kelvin Tan will be singing "爱是永恒" (Love is Forever), 太想爱你 (Really Want to Love You), and 爱如潮水 (Love is like Rushing Water), with the first song being the most meaningful for him.

"It was also a song that I often sang during my busking days," said the visually impaired singer, whose inspiring story from busker to pop star gripped audiences during the first season of the reality show.

Kelly Poon, a finalist from the same show, told Yahoo! Singapore that her favourite xinyao classic was Liang's 城里的月光 (Moonlight in the City), which she co-performed with the song's original singer, Mavis Hee, at a recent charity show.

"I believe I have a great affinity with this song. I've been singing this song since watching 豆腐街 (local drama Tofu Street) as a child. I also sang this song at a number of occasions, including times at my project superstar competition," said Kelly.

Coming home

For all three stars, performing these songs together on stage has made them feel closer to their country and their culture.

"It is wonderful to be a part of Singapore's culture in a musical way. I have always believed that music binds people together magically," said Joi.  "When the music starts, our identity is immediately clear. This bond is what makes all of us, Singaporean."

Like Joi, Kelvin felt that performing at the Esplanade, "one of the places that represents Singapore .. makes me feel truly Singaporean".

"It's definitely fun and heartwarming to perform with fellow local artistes! Always a pleasure! It felt very homely and familiar as we are all performing at home, Singapore," gushed Kelly on her experience with Our Songs from the Heart.

Top-secret finale song.

A collaboration between xinyao Maestro Liang Wen Fu and Iskandar Ismail, the finale song is set to be an emotional ending to the night - all four stars will be performing the number.

"I started thinking of our journey — we've overcome obstacles since our journey from the '80s until today, forging a culture of popular local Chinese music, it's been a fairly long ride," said Liang, explaining the inspiration behind the creation of the song.

"And now, it's a good time for us to reminisce and embark on a new beginning. It also meant for us to look honestly and deeply into our hearts — and start afresh from within."

He added that sincerity was the top most expression on his mind when he composes.

"When you are touched by your own feelings, the songs you write will also move the people who listen to them. When you have written and composed for a long time, you are technically more mature. But you may be losing that sincerity that you started out with," he said

"I hope that this occasion will allow our local musicians to think if it is time to start from the heart again."

The collaborators who I am working with, are people whom I admired and hoped to have the opportunity to work together," said Liang, adding that he was "greatly anticipating" this weekend's performance.

"One of them is Maestro Tsung Yeh. We have been talking about doing something together. Also, the music arranger for the concert, Iskandar is someone I have known for years and previously worked together. This will also be the first time that I am writing a new song for a concert while he is doing the arrangement," he said.

What do they hope the audience will take away ?

"I believe it's a night of reminiscing for myself and the audiences, I'll be singing them like how everyone would remember those numbers.   It's going to be sincere, simple and honest," said Kelly.

Tickets for Our Songs from the Heart are selling fast but still available via SISTIC or directly from the Esplanade's website and are priced between $28 and $68, with concessions for students and the elderly. It is a one night only event playing on 13 October at 7:30 pm.

For a look at the other shows the Esplanade has lined up for it's 10th Anniversary Weekend from 10-14th October, check out it's "Dedicated To You" programme here.