Back to Shanghai’s Golden Age of the 1930s

On Saturday, May 6, Flushing Town Hall will present Shanghai Memories: Golden Songs from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Narrated and hosted by Zhou Yi, this performance by Ba Ban Chinese Music Society of New York is a demonstration of the cultural melting pot that existed in Shanghai during World War II, presenting traditional Shanghai music infused with western influences from jazz and popular music of the day. It paints a vintage scene depicting Shanghai as the Paris of the East.

Tickets to the event – which begins at 7:30 PM – can be accessed here.

The following post was authored by Zhou Yi.

The song “Misty Rain,” composed in Shanghai in 1927 by Li Jinhui, considered the father of Chinese pop, marked the beginning of the era of Chinese popular music. In 1843, Shanghai was one of the first five cities to open its ports to the West and became known as the “Paradise of Adventurers” and the “Paris of the Orient.”  Because of its unique geographic location and the structure of foreign concessions, Shanghai gradually became the most prosperous economic trade and cultural center of the Far East in the early 20th century.

1930s Shanghai Ladies

In the 1930s and 40s, Shanghai was a cultural gathering place that fostered a unique environment for creating hybrid music. The boom of the foreign trading markets, the shantytowns on the riverbank of the Suzhou River, and the cultural mixture of east and west were reflected in the complex timbres of emerging Chinese pop music.  This new genre of Chinese pop was both foreign and domestic as well as modern and traditional.

Influenced by Cai Yuanpei’s (president of Peking University) idea of “east meets west, elegant yet common,” Li Jinhui, Li Jinguang, Chen Gexin, and Chen Dieyi composed a large amount of pop songs based on Chinese folk melodies. These songs later became the representative songs of the golden age of Shanghai, known as the “golden songs.” The outstanding singing talent of Zhou Xuan, Gong Qiuxia, Yao Lee, Bai Hong, Bai Guang, Li Xianglan, Wu Yingyin, and Zhang Loo made the golden songs last for generations.

There were three major styles of pop songs in Shanghai in the 1930s and 40s:

1) The combination of Chinese and Western style in Jiangnan folk melodies can be heard in “Rosebush in Bloom,” “The Wandering Songstress,” “Four Seasons,” and “May Wind.” The uneven lyric patterns from Chinese kunqu opera were used in “Full Moon and Blooming Flowers.”

2) The western operatic style is noticeable in the songs: “Beauty by the Autumn Water,” “Fishing Song,” “If We Met at Another Time,” and “Sending Love Through the Moonlight.”

3) The swing style is reflected in: “Can’t Get Your Love,” “Rose, Rose, I Love You,” “Night-blooming Jasmine,” and “Shanghai Night.”

1930s Singer Li Xianglan

These songs are the originators of the cross-border melange.

Ba Ban Chinese Music Society encourages the audience to consider the fascinating relationship between Chinese pop and Western jazz.  Whether or not these songs originated in African jazz or Asian Chinese music, both genres draw influences from local traditional folk music developed from language and daily life. What is the comparison between the pentatonic scale of Chinese five modes and jazz’s seven modes? What is the difference between the Chinese Yu scale and the blues scale? Does the use of the perfect 4th in a jazz chord voicing contrast with the commonly used perfect 4th in Chinese music?

Founded in 1999, the Ba Ban Chinese Music Society of New York is dedicated to the preservation, creation and presentation of Chinese traditional and contemporary performing arts. Named after an ancient piece of folk music, “Ba Ban” literally means “Eight Beats,” which is the structural basis for the grouping of notes in traditional Chinese music. Narrated and hosted by pipa virtuoso Zhou Yi, how will the performers from Ba Ban Chinese Music, Yimin Miao, Nan Zhang, Lu Liu and Ling Tang present these songs in the Asian Heritage Month this year after a successful traditional southern Chinese music concert in 2016?  How will the guest Chinese jazz singer Vivi Hu and her quartet members, Guang Yang, Changmin Jun and Daniel Silva Baterista reinterpret these golden songs? Come find out!

On May 6th at 7:30 pm, please stop by Flushing Town Hall, the historic building located at the Northern Blvd in Queens to experience nostalgic Shanghai nightlife of the 1930s and 40s. Please wear your vintage clothes in 1930s Shanghai style. Qipao, cheongsam, zhongshan suit, tunic, suit… Dress as a classic Shanghai actress, a high class lady, a foreign banker, a tycoon, a wealthy heir, an underworld kingpin, a gangster, a dock worker, or a rickshaw driver! Use your imagination and show your spirit in vintage Shanghai style. Don’t miss this night filled with singing, dancing, and cosplay!

May wind, blowing the flowers

It’s the season of gardenias again

Flowers remain, but the originals were swept away

Wandering heart, do you remember the voice of your hometown?

May flowers, fragrance in the wind, is it gardenia, white orchids, or night-blooming jasmine?

May wind, blowing through the trees, gently clear the years of dust

Memories of the alley, everywhere roses, planted by whom?

May trees, green in the wind, walk along the cobblestone path

Turn around, the color gradually fades, the rose is red, or white?

May wind, blowing in the sky, floating mist, holding an oil-paper umbrella, rain as before, where is she?

May day, warm wind, leisurely crank the handle of an old gramophone

by the Suzhou River, is it grandma’s home bridge?

May wind, blowing in the night, the sleepless city, when will you return?

A May night, waiting for you in Flushing Town Hall!



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