Friday, October 19, 2012

Anita Mui | Days of Being Wild

Listen to the "Days of Being Wild"

Get the Bodegapop exclusive Anita Mui mix here.

If you're a fan of Wong Kar-wai, you probably remember the sample song above as the music accompanying the closing credits of his film of the same name. You may not have known (a) the singer, Anita Mui, or (b) that it is a version of Xavier Cugat's "Jungle Drums," but with lyrics.

Mui's rendition wasn't the first time Cugat's song made it into Hong Kong cinema. In 1957, it made an appearance in "Our Sister Hedy" (see the video here). I'm fascinated by the international popularity of Cugat's tune, which strikes me as a case of ersatz "exotica," the likes of which the great music critic David Toop wrote about in his 1999 book Exotica: fabricated soundscapes in a real world, the single most influential bit of music writing on your friendly Bodega proprietor. (See, for instance, this talk.)

Wong Kar-wai, whatever else he does, traffics in a kind of cool, knowing exotica, which is, I would argue, why he was so popular in the United States at the turn of the century. A reasonable person might ask: Why didn't Wong Kar-wai just get Faye Wong to record the song, considering her presence in more than one of his films? Because, I would argue, Anita Mui, among Cantopop singers, was by far the most self- and media-exoticized superstar the genre ever birthed. Often referred to as "The Madonna of the East," a more appropriate reference, had she been around in the 90s and aughts, is Lady Gaga. (A Google image search may give you a quick sense of why I say that.)

I've long wanted to post a mix of Anita Mui's cooler, more dance-y exotica, but I was waiting to find a copy of her last album, the ironically titled I'm So Happy, recorded before her untimely death at age 40 from cervical cancer. Alas, I haven't yet found it and, as I'm not sure when I ever will, I've gone ahead and put together what's here now, which draws heavily from her 1999 album Larger than Life, where she does (in that instance) look more than a bit Madonna-esque.

Anita Mui got her big break in 1982, beating out over 3,000 other contestants in that year's New Talent Awards; she began recording soon after, causing almost immediate controversy with her 1985 hit "Bad Girl," a song that you probably have to understand the lyrics to appreciate (I didn't include it in this mix). When she toured mainland China she held off singing the song until her final night and then reaped the negative-publicity benefits of the shit-storm that followed.

Although I'd appreciated her acting for many years (she was especially terrific in Stanley Kwan's Rouge), I had no idea she was a singer until I found the aforementioned Larger than Life CD in a Hong Kong media store on Bowery and Canal several years ago--from that moment on, I became obsessed with her as a singer, although admittedly, I couldn't stand most of the music I was picking up. What I do like, I've included here. She is, I will say this, unique in Cantopop, not simply because of her hyperexoticized stage presence, but also for her contralto voice--husky, deep, and serious, though (I assume) fairly knowing.

I'd love to know what you think.


Flash Strap said...

Phenomenal as Mr. Cugat is, "Jungle Drums" truly belongs to Ernesto Lecuona, the Cuban genius who composed it (entitled, at the time, "Canto Karabali") along with several other numbers that went on to become Exotica stalwarts (and often in the hands of Cugat, of course): Siboney, Malaguena, Andalucia (or, "the Breeze and I"), and Always in My Heart, among others.

I'll have to check out Toop's book, thanks for mentioning it in this post-- it's beyond up my alley. Seems it pulls a pretty penny these days, though.

Barron said...

Interesting and enjoyable.
Here's a page with a track list and lyrics for "Larger Than Life". The Google translations are interesting...

Unknown said...

Wow! I just found your blog. Thanks for introducing me to all of this varied and great music from around the world. I have been searching more for traditional music, but finding all of this great modern music is a goldmine for my soul. Thanks again. Could you re-up this one. There will probably be more re-up request since I am working my way back in time on your blog.