In the hope of raising awareness of the sounds of Chinese music amongst Berklee students, Xingyu Yao and Louisa Foong, both from China and Malaysia respectively, worked together to co-produce the Chinese Pop Tribute Concert at Berklee College of Music.
Xingyu and Louisa met during an event held in Fall 2015 by the Pandatonic Club – a club that introduces and highlights Asian music and cultures, striving to enhance collaborations between Asians and non-Asians to promote diversity and inclusion. Realizing the need to eradicate people’s unawareness of the sounds of Chinese music amid the vast diversity in Berklee, they both felt an equally strong urge to initiate the first step to spark an interest in Chinese music amongst the Berklee community, and hence the inauguration of Chinese Pop Tribute Concert.
The co-producers chose to debut with Chinese Pop music because it fuses elements of traditional Chinese music sounds together with modern Western music sounds. They strongly believed that it would serve as a good primary representation of the Chinese music sounds amongst the Berklee community. Collaborating with over 30 amazingly talented musicians, they handpicked a number of distinguished Chinese Pop tunes from the 1940s right up to what is being played today to immerse the audience in the sounds of Chinese Pop Music.
The co-producers opened the concert with a famous Chinese oldie entitled “Ye Shang Hai (夜上海)”, which translates as “Shanghai Night”. To adapt to the U.S. vibe, arranger Rachelle Tam Yong Wei (Malaysia) ingeniously transformed this originally slow-paced song into a cheerful, dance-like swing arrangement, featuring both Yao and Foong on vocals. Rachelle certainly did a commendable job of getting the audience hooked with a distinctively enjoyable opening act. In fact, I couldn’t resist myself from getting up on my feet and grooving to the music. The concert then launched into a medley of songs by a famous artist called Teresa Teng. It was a medley of three of her most well-known songs, “Tian Mi Mi (甜蜜蜜)”, “Wo Zhi Zai Hu Ni (我只在乎你)” and “Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (月亮代表我的心)”, which translate as “Extreme Sweetness”, “I Only Care About You” and “The Moon Represents My Heart” respectively. The co-producers had definitely chosen the right arranger for this as Sarah Chong (Singapore) successfully immersed the audience in the beautiful, sentimental sounds of Chinese music with her incredibly heartfelt arrangements. Because of the beautiful string tremolos and harp-like piano glide, I felt the intense sentiments of the last song especially, and I am sure the audience most certainly felt the same too. The next Cantonese song, “Yao Yuan De Ta (遥远的他)”, led by singers ShiYao Lin and YiFeng Wei, continued to maintain the similar sentimental vibe with a section of the song featuring strings and later a guitar solo before the modulation occurred, taking the audience to the climax of the song.
Wang Lee Hom’s “Luo Ye Gui Gen (落叶归根),” performed by Jamie Gao and Xingyu’s beautiful touch on the piano, took me on a walk down memory lane and gradually made me teary-eyed as it continued to remind me so much of home. The title translates as “Fallen Leaves Returning to the Roots”, which in my opinion, also means that we should never forget our roots or where we came from no matter where we go or will be in the near future.
The concert later featured two medleys of songs by Wang Fei and Jacky Cheung. Not only did these medleys consist of Mandarin Chinese Pop songs, but also Cantonese Pop songs. The Wang-Fei medley began with Andrew Cheng’s (Malaysia) warm, heartfelt tone on guitar, hitting the audience right on their souls instantaneously; whereas the Jacky-Cheung medley began with a beautiful violin and piano intro that was played by Corliss Lee (Malaysia) and Louisa simultaneously. Since Jacky Cheung is also from Hong Kong, vocalist Freddy Au Yeung (Hong Kong) decided to introduce the artist’s songs in Cantonese, concurrently stating that the artist had been one of his greatest musical influences of all time. He further accentuated that had it not been for the artist, he would not have thought of the pursuit of music as a career.
Expertly playing the harmonica while strumming the guitar, Ying-jwu Chen (Taiwan) did an incredibly memorable solo performance of her own arrangement of the tune entitled “Wo (我)” by Jolin Tsai, which translates as “Me.” The song was about life as musicians who ceaselessly seek their inner voices, struggling between wanting to be known on stage as a performer and being loved for who they truly are when they are off stage. Ying-jwu had always been known for her very soulful musicianship, which she had clearly presented in her performance during the concert. She transformed the entire song into her own voice and soul. I personally think that Elise Go’s astounding performance of Wang Lee Hom’s “Hua Tian Cuo (花田错)”, which translates as “A Mistake Made In the Flower Garden”, was possibly one of the highlights of the entire concert. Not only was the performance rock solid and extremely groovy, but it also featured Jason Lee (Taiwan) on an indescribably beautiful traditional Chinese instrument known as the ErHu (二胡). Added to that was Elise’s bubbly, confident vibe portrayed through her introduction of the band, which had most definitely contributed to the warm, welcoming atmosphere in the hall.
The concert ended with the performance of the 2008 Beijing Olympics theme song “Wo He Ni (我和你)”, which means “Me And You.” There was no doubt why all vocalists and musicians took part in the performance of the last song because the song itself implies unity. It was definitely a night to remember for us all. This concert sparked a new beginning—a sneak peeks of something great that is bound to happen sooner or later. It ignites the hope of expanding Chinese music and culture not just amongst the Berklee community, but across the globe.
The article was first published by Berklee Groove Magazine.