[Photo:To fight off the challenge from overseas performers such as Hong Kong singer Bai Mei Hui (above), local getai singer-host Wang Lei (left) spent over $5,000 on costumes, accessories and props and will focus on local jokes and issues to draw crowds.]
By Jocelyn Lee
Getai fever is here again but this year, local singers are feeling the heat in more ways than one - they are being upstaged by foreign performers.
More singers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia are flocking here for the month-long Hungry Ghost Festival season that kicked off last Thursday, keen to cash in on the vibrant getai scene in Singapore.
To fight back, local singers are spending money on costumes and props and widening their repertoire.
Take veteran getai singer and host Wang Lei, who has spent over $5,000 on costumes, accessories and props this year. He spent $3,000 on them last year.
Getais are held across Singapore's heartlands to appease the ghosts believed to be roaming the earth during the festival, but in countries such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, getai shows have fallen out of fashion.
Wang, 48, has been on the getai circuit for the past 10 years and also acted in the latest Jack Neo movie "Where Got Ghost?" He wants to make his show more exciting and is using magic tricks and props such as hats and masks bought from Taiwan, China and Thailand.
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The entertainer, who is married with three children, says: "This year, there are more overseas singers. Local performers need to work extra hard to attract more people to the shows."
Getai organisers say there are close to 30 overseas performers this year, up from 20 last year. There are about 100 local singers doing the getai rounds.
One organiser, Mr Peter Loh, 57, who has been in the business for 43 years, says: "There are no getais in other countries in the region, so foreign singers come here to earn income."
Mr Aaron Tan, 33, who has been organising getais for eight years, agrees: "Foreign singers bring something different to the stage with their unique stories and experience."
Besides that, they are viewed as more professional, with their powerful vocals, sexy dance moves and flamboyant costumes.
Mr Tan adds: "Overseas singers are very well prepared and they spend a lot of money on glamorous costumes.
"The singers from Taiwan are especially well-trained performers and they provide stiff competition for local performers."
During the getai season, the foreign performers can earn up to six or seven times what they get from their regular day jobs.
Many pay for their own flight and stay at a friend's home to save on accommodation. They get about $80 to $100 per show, which means they can earn up to $10,000 or more by the time the season wraps up after 30 days.
Hong Kong getai singer Bai Mei Hui, who is in her 30s, spent over $10,000 on her six colourful costumes.
Although it is her first time singing in getais here, Bai, who specialises in Cantonese and Hokkien songs, commands $180 a show as she is a professional live show entertainer who sings in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
She says: "I heard about the vibrant getai scene in Singapore and wanted to come here to gain more experience as well as let Singaporeans know more about me. It is also fun to learn more about the local getai culture here."
Malaysian getai singer Li Bao-en, 17, who specialises in old Hokkien songs by Tsai Chiu-feng, agrees. Her mother drives her here every day from their home in Johor Baru at 6pm and takes her home at about 10.30pm.
The secondary school student, whose costumes this year cost $2,000, says: "I hope to set a higher standard so people watching my performance will feel happier, too."
In the face of such stiff competition, local performers are going the extra mile.
Student Tan Kai Qing, 14, is learning more Mandarin and Hokkien songs to increase her repertoire. She also bought $1,000 worth of sequinned outfits, complete with boots, stockings and hats, to jazz up her stage look.
As for Wang, he will focus on quick-witted bantering this year.
He says: "Singaporeans can relate more to local jokes and issues, so I will engage in more lively talking to stand out from the rest."
This article was first published in The Straits Times.