"Principal" Tam's Mandarin now spot-on

Veteran cantopop star Alan Tam talks his big appetite and the strangest thing he has ever eaten.
Hong Kong singer and actor Alan Tam will be performing in town as part of his 40th anniversary tour.
Hong Kong singer and actor Alan Tam will be performing in town as part of his 40th anniversary tour.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Veteran Hong Kong singer and actor Alan Tam, who is performing here on Saturday as part of his 40th anniversary tour, says aspiring singers today have to work thrice as hard as he did when he was younger.

"In the past, working hard was a basic requirement. But now, aspiring singers have to work three times as hard because there is so much competition," he tells The Straits Times in a recent interview.

If anyone has doubts about how diligent he was, his recollection of his venture into Mandarin show business would quash them.

He admits his initial efforts to sing in the language, a big move from the Cantonese tunes he was used to performing, left much to be desired.

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"When I started, it wasn't good. I had teachers urging me to listen to their pronunciation, but then, I would forget about expressing the emotions," he says.

Tam, 66, had ventured to Taiwan in 1980 to pursue his acting career and released his first Mandarin album that year, Let's Play! Let's Sing! Looking.

His pronunciation may not have been up to scratch, but there was no denying that he had a lot on his plate. In addition to his acting projects, he was releasing two Cantonese albums and one Mandarin album each year, as well as records in English, Japanese and even Korean.

That work ethic is one reason he is still in show business after four decades. His 40th anniversary world tour kicked off in Hong Kong last year and sold out 13 nights.

The jovial entertainer is not one to dwell on the low points in his career - he claims with a laugh that he has forgotten them - but he readily ticks off the high points: playing with the band The Wynners, which were formed in the 1970s and are still going strong; winning the Golden Horse Award for Best Actor for If I Were For Real (1981); and the period from 1983 to 1988 when he received music accolades every year, at the end of which he announced he would no longer accept awards.

It is fitting that he is known respectfully as Principal Tam, given his stature in the industry.

Tam, who has recorded more than 100 solo albums, is working on a record of duets.

One of his collaborators for the project is Singapore's Kit Chan, whom he praises for having "a very beautiful voice".

He offers this reporter a sneak listen of the collaboration in the Mandarin electronica track Waiting For A Possibility, putting his phone into a container in a corner of the room for better sound projection.

Then he happily recounts: "My guitarist commented: 'Principal, your Mandarin is so spot on that I can't tell that it's you singing.'"

Alan Tam once ate turtle sashimi http://str.sg/4MZD

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline '"Principal" Tam's Mandarin now spot-on'. Print Edition | Subscribe