Orchard Road Getai
The Hungry Ghost Festival has arrived again. This year, Singapore made history with a getai (歌台) in the famous shopping belt Orchard Road.
Geitai is a song and dance cum cross talk performance popular during the Hungry Ghost month. This first of its kind in orchard Road was held on the first day of the Hungry Ghost month at the popular shopping mall Ngee Ann City’s public square.
Although scheduled to start at 7pm, audiences began arriving as early as 5 and by sunset, the crowd swelled to more than 10 000 strong all ready for the three and a half hours performance.
Traditions of Hungry Ghost Festival
The traditions of Hungry Ghost Festival getai were observed. The front rows of chairs were kept vacant for the exclusive use of the spirits.
However, at times, they were occupied or seen to be occupied although we remain unsure if the occupants were spirits who manifested themselves, insensitive audience or simply someone ignorant of the tradition. There was also a prayer area behind the stage with offerings.
Dialects and Getai
As a first of its kind event, the getai generated much media attention. However, an issue also arose on the use of dialects.
Chinese dialects especially Hokkien is frequently used during getai performances. Also popular are Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese songs.
For the Orchard Road performance, only 1 out of 24 songs was in dialect. This change was done in the name of “reaching out to the young and tourists”.
While it is reasonable to adjust the program to suit the presence of a diverse audience, having only one dialect song seem to be a drastic reaction. Removing the dialects from getai amounts to sanitizing its core to make it palatable to the “young and foreigners”.
Very strange considering that French or Italian opera will probably never be performed in English or Hokkien to “reach out” to tourists.
Tourists for that matter relish in cultural authenticity not canned “cultural experience” that insults their intelligence.
Ghost of the past
A more plausible reason is the effect of Speak Mandarin campaign launched in 1979. The campaign helped Singapore Chinese to rise above dialect differences but also bleached their dialect heritages leading to some younger generation not being able to communicate with elderly grandparents who communicate only in dialects.
This has led to a perception that dialects are “not presentable”, have to be hidden thus the need to sanitize it for the Orchard Road debut.
Times have changed and this idea of “cultural management” is losing its grip on Singapore. Take for example; the Singapore government’s attempt to discourage Singlish with a "Speak Good English Movement" has led instead to a rise in Singlish speakers and even a facebook group called the “Speak Good Singlish Movement”
Getai is a unique culture that can become a valuable culture asset and thus should be promoted in its authentic form with lots of dialects. This of course does not exclude the use of English as well as songs English and even other languages.
We hope that the Orchard road getai continues next year and hopefully by then, Singapore is ready to embrace the ghost of her past to present an authentic getai with lots of dialect songs.
“Huat ah” as they will cheer in Hokkien.
Event date: 31 July 2011, Saturday
1st day of the 7th lunar month, year of the rabbit