Breathing life into Xinyao with songwriting contest

Roy Loi.
Roy Loi.

Xinyao, the music movement of Mandarin Singapore songs, bloomed in the 1980s, and the acclaimed documentary The Songs We Sang (2015), now showing at cinemas, also roots it strongly in the past.

But is there more to xinyao than nostalgia?

The National Schools Xinyao Singing and Song Writing Competition 2016 is an attempt to breathe new life into the genre. In its second edition this year, it has expanded to include a songwriting category.

The event is organised by Singapore Press Holdings' (SPH) Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao, music event company TCR Music Station and Jurong Junior College, one of the places that birthed xinyao.

At a press conference yesterday, TCR's boss Cai Yiren says: "Xinyao should not remain at a stage of nostalgia. We should let a younger generation of Singaporeans learn about and sing xinyao."

Zaobao editor Goh Sin Teck adds: "We can either let xinyao be a memory of our growing-up years or we can be more active and let xinyao develop once more and let a new generation give it new life."

The competition is open to students in secondary schools, junior colleges, Institutes of Technical Education and polytechnics.

Guidelines for the songwriting segment of the contest include "no plagiarism and no undesirable subject matter", says Mr Cai. "The jury will not let such works through. But the most important thing is to give participants a space to express themselves."

Xinyao pioneers including singer- songwriter Roy Loi and songwriter-producer Chen Jiaming are among the contest judges.

To reach a wider audience, the competition will be promoted across SPH's various media platforms, including giving air time on SPH Radio's UFM100.3 to showcase the original compositions. The top five shortlisted song- writing entries will be performed at the finals.

For the singing segment of the contest, participants have 114 xinyao songs to choose from, including works from the likes of Liang Wern Fook, Dawn Gan and Eric Moo, a Jurong Junior College alumnus. Auditions will be held on May 14 at the college. The preliminaries (May 21), semi-finals (June 11) and finals (July 2) will be held at Singapore Polytechnic and will be aired on E City (StarHub TV Channel 111/825).

The top performers and entries stand to win between $200 and $1,500 in cash. The top three winners of the songwriting competition will get to record their winning works for an album to be distributed free to schools.

Some of the winning acts from last year's singing competition were given a chance to perform on stage at last August's xinyao- themed Tomorrow 33 concert organised by TCR.

In the run-up to the contest this year, a songwriting workshop will be held at Jurong Junior College on Saturday. It will be conducted by Loi, who wrote Waited For You Till My Heart Ached, and Chen, who is behind the classic Moonlight In The City. About 200 students have registered and there are still places available.

The competition was mooted by Jurong Junior College last year. More than 100 students from almost 30 institutions took part.

The college's principal, Dr Hang Kim Hoo, says: "Given that the college was one of the places where xinyao originated, we thought it was a good opportunity to bring it back."

He hopes that students can learn Mandarin in a fun and relaxing way through music and adds: "Xinyao is an important cultural heritage. When students sing xinyao, they can better understand our society, culture and language and this would imbue them with a greater sense of belonging."

•Go to jjcxinyao.weebly. com for details, including on how to register and the list of xinyao songs for the singing contest.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'Breathing life into Xinyao with songwriting contest'. Print Edition | Subscribe