Mon, Jan 12, 2015 - Page 3 News List

NEWSMAKER: Retirement of biggest star a blow to world of Hoklo pop

Staff writer, with CNA

Singer Jody Chiang performs at a concert incorporating traditional opera elements in Taipei on Sept. 27, 2010.

Photo: Chen I-chuan, Taipei Times

Few Taiwanese performers have the fanbase of Hoklo pop diva Jody Chiang (江蕙), as last week’s frenzy to secure tickets for her farewell gigs demonstrated.

Following the 53-year-old singer’s announcement of her plan to retire from a four-decade-long music career, many have been wondering what the Taiwanese-language music scene will look like without Chiang, who is its biggest star.

Born in 1961, she began her singing career at the age of 10, singing at bars to earn extra money for her parents, who worked as a budaixi (glove theater) puppet maker and a food vendor.

“I would think: ‘Why are other children so carefree and so happy?’ They could play, but I had to go sing after school without getting any rest,” she once said, but she later added: “I am thankful for that period of time,” in a 2010 TV interview. “It is the reason I am able to sing with so much emotion now.”

After years of singing in bars, restaurants and hotels, Chiang launched her first album, a Japanese-language record, in 1981, followed by her first Hoklo album the following year.

In 1983, her Hoklo album You Need To Be Patient (你得忍耐) became a household hit. The following year’s Farewell Coast (惜別的海岸) also became an instant classic.

With their down-to-earth lyrics and traditional melodies, Chiang’s songs are beloved for reflecting the lives and hardships of ordinary Taiwanese. You Need To Be Patient is about leaving home behind and putting up with hardships to build a future, and Farewell Coast is about lovers separated by circumstance.

Chiang has since released about 60 albums and more than 800 songs. She is often credited for championing Taiwanese-language songs at a time when Mandarin pop music was dominating the airwaves.

Amy Lu, a 61-year-old Taipei teacher, recounted her fond memories of growing up listening to Chiang’s music.

“Before Jody Chiang, I listened to Teresa Teng (鄧麗君) and Fong Fei-fei (鳳飛飛), but they sang mostly in Mandarin. Chiang was the first singer who made Hoklo songs so popular,” Lu said. “I love the deep emotions and feeling of impermanence in her songs.”

It was her 1992 album The Words After Drunk (酒後的心聲) that launched her to superstardom when it sold more than 1 million copies, a staggering number for the Taiwan market, and earned her Best Album and Best Composer awards at the 1993 Golden Melody Awards. It also became a No. 1 request at Taiwan’s ubiquitous karaoke parlors.

Chiang broke the 1 million mark again with her 1999 album Half Awake, Half Drunk (半醉半清醒).

The album won her a Golden Melody Award for best female singer in Hoklo, an award she went on to win for the next three years in a row. Her success at the awards led Chiang to announce she would no longer compete in the Golden Melodies so that other singers could win it.

One of her most enduring songs is 2001’s Wife (家後), which is about a woman’s devotion to her husband. In an online Golden Melody poll in 2009, the song was voted respondents’ favorite song of the 2000 to 2008 period.

In 2002, Chiang performed a duet of the popular Taiwanese folk song Flowers in the Rainy Night (雨夜花) with renowned Spanish tenor Placido Domingo during his concert in Taiwan. The performance was watched by tens of thousands of people.

Despite her popularity, she did not hold her first live concert until 2008, when she became the first Hoklo-language singer to perform at the Taipei Arena, the premier performance venue in the capital.

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