Xinyao reunion

Film-maker Eva Tang is staging a show to make a documentary about the 1980s music genre

In the heyday of the xinyao local music movement in the 1980s, Bras Basah Complex was the hotspot to which young people flocked.

Film-maker Eva Tang, 42, recalls: "It used to be a students' hangout as it was a centralised location with a lot of schools nearby. Without the Internet and mobile phones and so on, we went to bookstores there to buy books, magazines and stationery and to chit-chat."

As a secondary student from CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, she would head there for gigs as well to cheer on friends and to revel in the music. Pioneers of the xinyao genre such as Eric Moo and Dawn Gan would perform there as fans thronged the venue and even filled the upper floors overlooking the stage area.

Tang is currently making xinyao documentary The Songs We Sang, for which she is planning to turn back the clock at Bras Basah Complex on July 6 at 3pm.

She muses: "Can I bring back the original singers from 30 years ago and invite them to the same space to sing the songs they sang then? And I want to invite the audiences from back then to reunite with the singers and share this moment."

The movement bubbled up from campuses in the early 1980s and alongside Moo and Gan, key figures such as Liang Wern Fook, Roy Loi, Koh Nam Seng and Pan Ying are slated to perform as well on July 6. Admission is free.

Tang adds of the gig: "We don't have a band or a gimmicky stage but it's just a simple platform for the singers to come and perform with their guitars and voices. It's more like a sharing event."

The film is budgeted at $350,000 and the National Heritage Board is providing a grant of 30 per cent of that amount. Tang is still raising funds and hopes to complete the film by next year.

The project was sparked by a conversation with someone a decade younger who encountered xinyao as a student abroad. It made her think of home when she was overseas even though she was too young to have experienced the movement first-hand.

This set Tang thinking about the movement and the fact that it means different things to different people.

To her, it is about "the beauty of the merging of Chinese literature and music". The former Lianhe Zaobao journalist adds: "It is about creativity and creating your voice. It is about expressing your own voice in a very pure and straightforward way and it also represents youth."

She was not just a fan as she also took part in a songwriting competition when she was 15, when a friend set her poem about children in war-torn Cambodia to music. "I think we got a consolation prize."

But as her interest was in writing prose and short stories, she did not venture further down the music path even though one of the judges gave her his name card (she does not remember who now) and encouraged her to write more.

Instead, Tang, who is single, would later study film. She graduated with a master of arts from the prestigious National Film And Television School in Britain in 2006.

Together with Royston Tan and Victric Thng, she directed the popular feature documentaries Old Places (2010) and Old Romances (2012), about disappearing spaces in Singapore.

Asked why she is drawn to the past in her work and she says: "I'm not sure about the future of this island and myself. So the past is the thing I'm certain of, if I'm honest with myself and my filmmaking."