Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Yellow Music: Shanghai Pop 1930s-40s

Freshly reupped, by reader request, here.

In the 1920-30s, American jazz musicians began to visit and, in some cases, make extended stays in Shanghai, where a songwriter and composer originally from Hunan, Li Jinhui, was taking in everything he heard and integrating it into the popular Chinese music of the time. He composed hundreds of songs from the 20s to 40s, helping to launch the careers of China's most famous singers of the time, and single-handedly inventing shidaiqu, the precursor of contemporary Mandopop. Denounced for his "yellow" (meaning "pornographic") music, Li would eventually fall victim to Mao's Cultural Revolution in 1967.

Li's contribution is covered in depth by Andrew F. Jones in Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age, a well-written academic history of this period that, despite how the subtitle sounds, steers clear of academic language to tell an engaging and fascinating story of one of the most culturally rich periods of modern Asian history.

What Jones' book does not do is to breathe life into the specific histories of any of the singers of the time (though there is a passage near the end of the book detailing a bit of Zhou Xuan's performance in Street Angel). For that, we must piece together what little we can from Wikipedia entries on shidaiqu and the so-called Seven Great Singing Stars, and then hunt and peck our way through mostly other blogs for whatever scraps are out there. 

Despite the richness of Chinese pop music of the 20s-40s, it's effectively unavailable anywhere in the United States outside of media stores run by Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese immigrants. Which is where your friendly bodega proprietor comes in.

As you've probably guessed, I'm on a constant lookout for recordings of shidaiqu, the Mandarin-language pop music that migrated from Shanghai to Hong Kong in the 40s, where it slowly morphed into the Twin Towers of Mandopop and Cantopop. Most of the nearly 50 CDs I have of this music is later stuff, recorded in Hong Kong, but I do have a dozen or so very coveted collections recorded in Shanghai that I've managed to pluck from mostly two stores (one no longer extant) on Bowery, just above Canal, in Manhattan's Chinatown.

For this mix, I included six of the Seven Greats: Zhou Xuan (Golden Voice), Yao Lee (Silver Voice), Bai Guong (White Light), Bai Hong (White Rainbow), Wu Yingyin (Queen of the Nasal Voice) and Lee Hsiang Lan, who was born Yoshiko Yamaguchi to a family of Japanese settlers in Manchuria, and thus apparently does not deserve a nickname. I have only a few songs by Gong Qiu Xia (Big Sister), but nothing that thrilled me as much as the songs that made the cut here.

Two other singers of the period are also repped: Chang Loo and Yun Yun. I limited myself to my two favorite songs by each of the eight, bringing the mix to a tight but hopefully fulfilling 16 songs. 

A final note: Just as easily as an enterprising scholar of popular and/or Chinese culture could make a career telling the life stories of these singers and placing their significance into the cultural context of their time, she or he could write a really interesting paper on the preservation of this music. A number of people, including a handful of non-Chinese, have been exploring a variety of methods for noise reduction and arguing about whether or not one should digitize the music directly from the original 78s or later LPs. And, as you'll hear on the first track: Someone is doing something ever-so-slightly obtrusive, but nonetheless kind of cool, using some form of digital overlay and delay.


Anonymous said...

Stunning! Thank you so much for all you post here.


Holly said...

Superb post. Tnank you, Gary.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this interesting post ! Something on my blog about Zhou Xuan : http://ceintsdebakelite.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/zhou-xuan/

Anonymous said...

Hi thank you for this your mix compil of songs from Shanghai. I am curious whether you intend there to be one sequence? What I see is this:
01 天涯歌女.mp3
01 莎莎再會吧[孤島春秋].mp3
01 迎春花.mp3
02 夜来香.mp3
02 无名氏.mp3
02 送情哥.mp3
02 雨儿那里来.mp3
3-02 明月千里寄相思_吳鶯音.mp3
3-12 相見不恨晚_白光.mp3
04 郎是春日風.mp3
05 海燕.mp3
6-01 恨不鍾情在當年.mp3
08 永相亲.mp3
12 你的他.mp3
16 想郎.mp3
19 得不到的爱情.mp3

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this :)

Anonymous said...

We love your compilations but we all would love a track list, unless you really intend them to be random?

Gary said...

I've redone this comp from scratch, including a slightly revised cover which I've embedded into the songs. I've also correctly ordered the songs.

I"m not sure if the songs are exactly the same songs as the last time, but the set up is the same: 2 songs per singer (and it's the same 8 singers as before).

Unknown said...

I'm a new fan for shidaiqu kind of music and thank you so much for all the hard work and posts especially this one!

Iky said...

Beautifull !! thanks a lot; may I also recommend you Flowers of Spring by Yao Lee; the song is fabulous too

Casey said...

Just downloaded and for some reason the zip file only includes 11 songs and track 11 won't open, which seems to mean the download won't complete all the way... I've had this issue with attempting to download all of your amazing-looking comps except the Bollywood one: the downloads won't complete ("failed") or the finished file is incomplete, without many tracks missing. Not sure if it's the current server of the zip files or what...?

Gary said...

Hi Casey, I just downloaded it myself to see what might happen, and it opened fine with all files intact. It's possible you caught ADrive on a bad day, or also possible that you might need a fast/stronger connection to the internet?

kristinchik said...

Hi Gary, is it possible that you removed the file? I just tried to download and they said, the file is no longer available :-(
It's so great music!!!

John M. said...

You have some interesting comments on the 1930 - 1940s Shanghai music scene.
If you know how to search using Chinese names and characters, you can find all the songs of the top seven divas on YouTube and other world sites.

For your information, Yoshiko Yamaguchi was also Li Xianglan and also Ri Koran (as her Chinese name was pronounced in Japan). Her nickname was Rainbow Leung and "Goldfish Beauty" because of her large eyes. You can read all about her amazing life, listen to all her songs, watch some of her movies, and view the best collection of photos of this beautiful person, all at:

markyn251255 said...

Please do us all a big favour - re up the music file.

Unknown said...

i cannot seem to download this album, i have downloaded 3 years ago, is it still up?

Unknown said...

how do i go about downloading this? i try but it's no longer available, thank you.

John M. said...

further to my above post
for the best history of Yamaguchi Yoshiko, see: