Friday, March 24, 2017

A Chinese-American's Musings of C-pop

Lately, the more I go to Chinese supermarkets and Chinese restaurants, the more I've been paying attention to the music being played. A mix of Mandarin pop and Cantonese pop songs. A lot of the Cantopop songs I recognize from my childhood, with my mother always playing them around the house or in the car. As a child, I found these songs unpleasant and I barely understood the lyrics with my limited Cantonese. 

About two decades later, to my own surprise, these songs that I really disliked are now beautiful pieces of art I feel so connected to. Keys to opening further my curiosity in exploring more of my native tongue, Cantonese. So I taught myself jyutping, a Cantonese Romanization system kind of like Mandarin and pinyin. With this, I could easily sing these songs without having the obstacle of reading the characters. 

While I was learning Cantonese, I was hesitant in learning Mandarin and listening to Mandopop. I guess I was stubborn in not wanting to learn the language that was considered by mainstream society to be more beautiful sounding than the ugly and tone heavy Cantonese. 

Well, there are no pure Cantopop singers. All the Cantopop stars also sing in Mandarin as that's the main market for the Chinese audience. So the first Mandopop songs I got into were those by Hong Kong artists. Listening to Mandopop music almost as much I do Cantopop and liking it was inevitable for me. 

Since Mandopop is more in demand, there is more variety, which is frustrating to me. Most of the current Cantopop hits are mellow sounding love songs, while the Mandopop industry is blasting with a wide range of different styles. Mandopop and cantopop are somewhat umbrella terms as they include pop, R&B, rock, rap, house, jazz, etc. in the respective language.

My iTunes library and YouTube watch history for the past 2 years have been growing with Cantopop and Mandopop songs which I listen to probably 90% of the time I listen to music daily. I do wish local radio stations played such songs occasionally. The only thing close to this is listening to them in public Chinese businesses. There are J-pop and K-pop artists who have made it into the American music industry. However, C-pop does not seem as appealing. Well, C-pop is quite successful in East and Southeast Asia, so why try to enter the industry of a country full of xenophobia? For me like many Chinese-Americans and Chinese people in the US, it would be touching and convenient to be able to listen to our native tongue in the music of this diverse country.

Here are two Cantopop classics I heard as a child and more recently a couple times in Chinese restaurants and markets. 

The first one is a song that won the singer, Anita Mui, best female artist in the 1989 Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards in Hong Kong. It talks about how we have gone through a lot in our life. There have been both good and bad. We might have missed a few chances or made the wrong decisions. It is a cover of the song, 夕焼けの歌, originally performed by Japanese Pop star Matchy (Masahiko) Kondo. This song is also featured in a 1989 Hong Kong movie directed by Tsui Hark A Better Tomorrow 3: Love and Death in Saigon which stars Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Anita Mui.

The second one is performed by a band, Beyond, of which all the members have origins in Toisan, where my family is also from. The theme of this song is dreams and freedom. Today, it is considered an anthem of Cantopop music. Also, it was adapted as a protest song in multiple protests of Cantonese speaking regions, one of them being the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong.

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