Tsai Chin, storyteller extraordinaire

Taiwanese singer Tsai Chin's career spans more than three decades.
Taiwanese singer Tsai Chin's career spans more than three decades.PHOTO: MEDIACORP VIZPRO INTERNATIONAL


The Star Theatre, The Star Performing Arts Centre/ Last Saturday

Taiwanese evergreen singer Cai Qin, or Tsai Chin, to her English-speaking fans, is a stunner. She is not known for her looks, but for her sultry powerhouse vocals in a career spanning more than 30 years.

She wowed the audience at her sold-out concert when she appeared slimmer, sharper and striking in a shimmery purple gown. The 57-year-old told the 5,000-strong audience: "I'm the real deal. My looks improve as I age."

She kicked off her performance with the concert's upbeat theme song Auspicious Signs.

And it was a sign of good things to come. For the next 21/2 hours, she teased and pleased the baby-boomer crowd. An old hand at entertaining, she did not just sing. She told stories of her life. She made you laugh. She got you to sing along.

And she got you wanting more. Tsai dedicated her first segment to oldies such as Shen Mi Nu Lang (Mysterious Lady), Luo Hua Liu Shui (Falling Flower, Running Water) and Foolishly Waiting (Chi Chi De Deng). Her take on the melancholic Foolishly Waiting was hauntingly beautiful.

She said the song, from the 1966 movie The Black And The Blue (Hei Yu Lan), was all the rage when she was a child and her parents used to take her and her three siblings to watch live music performances.

In the second part, she belted out classics from the biggest names in Chinese pop in the 1970s and 1980s. She took on Teresa Teng's A Thousand Words (Qian Yan Wan Yu) and The Moon Represents My Heart (Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin), Fong Fei-fei's Applause (Zhang Sheng Xiang Qi) and I'm A Cloud (Wo Shi Yi Pian Yun) and Anita Mui's Intimate Lover (Qin Mi Ai Ren).

She made the audience sing along and ribbed: "It's very hard to sing along with me. My voice is neither high nor low, neither male nor female."

It is hard to outdo the legendary late Teng and Fong, who died of lung cancer in 2012, but Tsai injected her soul and sass into her rendition of their hits. Her low evocative voice is unmistakable and unforgettable.

Before singing Deep In The Courtyard (Ting Yuan Shen Shen), she revealed: "Liu Chia-chang once said my voice is one that comes along once in a century." Liu, the acclaimed Taiwanese songwriter and hit-maker, wrote the song Deep In The Courtyard from novelist Chiung Yao's book of the same name that was adapted into a television drama in 1987.

Tsai, who changed into three eye-catching gowns during her show, saved the best for last, belting out her own hits in the last part.

The audience lapped up The Forgotten Time (Bei Yi Wang De Shi Guang), Choice (Jue Ze) and Reading You (Du Ni). She held the audience spellbound with the song that shot her to fame, Just Like Your Tenderness (Qia Si Ni De Wen You) before the curtains came down.

She pledged to her fans to continue performing for as long as she is able to. And from their hearty applause, they obviously want her to.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Tsai Chin, storyteller extraordinaire'. Print Edition | Subscribe