In 2017, Taiwan’s Hakka pop musician and lead singer of DaBangNi Band (打幫你樂團), Liu A-chang (劉阿昌), went to several Hakka settlements in Malaysia as part of the Southbound Project of the Hakka Affairs Council, to meet with the famous Malaysian Hakka singer A Shuang (阿爽), whose real name is Yang Youcai (楊友財), for music exchange. Both Hakka musicians work hard to create in their respective countries. By creating music and holding concerts together, starting from each other’s countries and cities, they can understand each other, learn from each other, integrate different cultures into their own life experience, and transform them into nutrients for creating Hakka pop songs. Through these exchanges, the Taiwanese team gained some understanding of Malaysian Hakka music.
When you talk about traditional Hakka music, you think of Hakka folk songs. In ancient times, Hakka people often sang folk songs to express their emotions, communicate, or portray events in life. The Hakka people have experienced many migrations. Even if they migrate to different parts of the world, they will draw on the life, culture and language around them to create their unique local folk songs. For example, the early Malaysian Hakkas sang folk songs about tin mines in the face of their hard life when mining tin.
In the 1950s, folk songs were widely sung in the Hakka community in Malaysia, but with the changes in time, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese pop songs became more popular, while Hakka folk songs came to be regarded as old, unrefined, and out of step with the times. Even in the Hakka community, folk songs were not welcomed, which gradually led the Hakka people in Malaysia to stay away from Hakka folk songs.
In the 1970s, singer Chew Chin Yuin (邱清雲) wrote a new chapter in popular Malaysian Hakka songs. Born in 1947 in Titi, a Hakka town in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, Chew Chin Yuin is a descendant of immigrants from Fujian, China. His most famous song “Old Lady Selling Pickled Vegetables (阿婆賣鹹菜)” became the representative of Hakka songs in Malaysia. It not only influenced the Chinese in Malaysia, but Chew’s records were sold in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well. The lyrics of this song “Old Lady Selling Pickled Vegetables” combines Malay and other dialects, depicting a busy market where vendors fluently hawk all kinds of fruits and vegetables, making the audience feel as if they are standing in front of the market vendors.
However, the trend of listening to Hakka pop songs has not expanded in Malaysia. In the late 1980s, as Chew Chin Yuin’s Hakka works decreased, Hakka music in Malaysia gradually declined.
However, with the advent of the digital Internet era, the marginalized Hakka language has experienced unprecedented new opportunities for dissemination, and along with that Hakka pop songs have also found a new way out. In 2009, Malaysian singer Yu Tianlong (余畑龍) uploaded his first Hakka song on YouTube, and the click rate quickly exceeded 10,000. Yu Tianlong, who became popular because of his self-made Hakka pop music, evoked the Hakka langugae that many young Hakka people have forgotten for a long time.
The younger generation of Malaysian singer A Shuang also uses the Internet to publish Hakka creations and record videos to discuss various topics about life in Hakka. A Shuang was born in Malacca, Malaysia in 1976. He has loved music since he was a child. His family liked Chew Chin Yuin’s Hakka songs very much. He started composing Chinese songs when he was a teenager, and has now composed hundreds of songs. In addition to Chinese, he can easily master Malay, English, Hakka, Cantonese, and Hokkien. In recent years, A Shuang has invested in Hakka pop songs with his many years of music experience and abundant creative energy, showing the versatility of the new generation of creative musicians in Malaysia.
With the changes in time, the Hakka language is gradually being lost among young people. Perhaps this is a common issue for most Hakka settlements in the world. Coupled with the strong spread of Chinese and English pop songs in the media, it is difficult for young people to identify with traditional folk songs. However, whether in Malaysia or Taiwan, there have always been excellent Hakka pop musicians trying to break this dilemma and gain resonance in the Hakka community through their music.