PM sings xinyao classic: What is xinyao and which are the memorable songs?

He spoke, role-played and even broke into song. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong caught the audience by surprise when he crooned the first line of xinyao classic Xi Shui Chang Liu (Friendship Forever) - which literally means "Small Stream That Flows Forever" - at the National Day Rally on Sunday.

The line of the song, which talked about youth and friendship, went: "Who does not dream, when they are young?"

Mr Lee used xinyao, the music movement popular in Singapore in the 1980s, to drive home the point that there are many opportunities for Singaporeans to fulfill their dreams.

Xinyao refers to young Singaporeans (xinjiaporen) creating their own songs (geyao). The local Chinese-language music movement grew organically out of campuses as passionate youth sought to make themselves heard. It blossomed in the 1980s as singer-songwriters such as Liang Wern Fook (who penned and sang Friendship Forever), Roy Loi and Eric Moo composed and sang songs about their generation.

There has been a resurgence of interest in xinyao with the release of local movie, That Girl In Pinafore, in 2013, as well as musicals, concerts and an upcoming documentary, The Songs We Sang, about the music genre.

We relive 10 memorable xinyao classics:

1. Xi Shui Chang Liu (Friendship forever)

Penned and sang by Cultural Medallion recipient and xinyao stalwart Liang Wern Fook, the quintessential xinyao anthem is about friendship and growing up. It talks about a group of friends, who shared their bold dreams and hopes when they were young, meeting again years later, mellowed with age.

The song began with: "Who does not dream, when they are young?", and went on to say "Many years later, we meet again/We all have tired smiles/I'll ask my friend, when will you play for me again/Will it still be the same, will it still be the same?"

It topped the list of the top 10 xinyao songs in a 2003 poll by the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore.

2. Yi Bu Yi Bu Lai (One step at a time)

Another classic by Liang about the realities and pursuits of life, and how one should take things one step at a time. He weaved into this catchy song a traditional children's ditty: "The sun goes down and comes up again the next day, can it climb up slower on Sunday/Flowers wilt and bloom again the next year, which company is going to drop the axe this year."

3. Li Shi Kao Shi Qian Xi (The eve of the history exam)

Ancient Chinese history neatly packaged into a song. The song penned and sang by Liang, which talks about a student mugging for his history exam, traces the milestones and key characters in ancient Chinese history, from unified China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang to Empress Dowager.

4. Xin Jia Po Pai (Singapore Pie)

The title track of Liang's 1990 album juxtaposed personal history with national history and made the point that the two were inextricably linked. He traverses three decades in the span of the song and then looks ahead to the future: "Others send us apple pies/We too can create our own Singapore pie/Nowadays people are immigrating here/Who doesn't love the Singapore brand."

5. Xiao Ren Wu De Xin Sheng (Voice from the heart)

The catchy theme song about the man in the street from the long-running 1980s TV series, Neighbours, was sung by Wu Jiaming. A must-sing song at National Day parades.

6. Kopi-O

Another song about the man in the street, written and performed by Eric Moo. It's the theme from the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation drama series The Coffee Shop (1986). Moo insisted on using the colloquial term "kopi-o" in the song despite the ban on dialects on television.

7. Xie Hou (Encounter)

This 1983 duet, composed by Moo with lyrics by Huang Huizhen and sung by them, was the first xinyao song to make it to the key Longhubang radio chart here and it stayed there for 26 weeks.

8. Lian Zhi Qi (Love's refuge)

The most memorable hit by local heart-throb Jiang Hu (Thomas Teo). Penned by Liang Wern Fook, the love ballad was on the local radio chart for 29 weeks.

9. Wo Men Zhe Yi Ban (Our class)

The song was sung by Dawn Gan, one of the best-known female xinyao singers. Gan's bubbly energy and sweet voice were perfect for this song which talks about school life.

10. Rang Ye Qing Qing Luo Xia (As the night falls gently)

A moving love ballad by Pan Ying, another well-known xinyao female singer.

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