THE LIFE! INTERVIEW WITH Aaron Tan
Getai organiser Aaron Tan has brought so many innovations to the scene that there are now copycats
British singer Adele's hit tune Rolling In The Deep is one of the most covered pop songs in the global music scene. But to hear someone sing it at a getai show in the heartland? It seems a little out of place.
Not so, if the show is helmed by Mr Aaron Tan, 38, a getai organiser known for the many innovations he has brought to the scene to modernise the industry.
And, yes, that includes introducing English pop hits such as Rolling In The Deep to an industry more closely associated with songs and stage banter in Hokkien and other Chinese dialects.
Mr Tan admits that many getai performers have questioned his song suggestions.
"The artistes will be like, 'This one really can be sung at getai meh?' They have this fear because the idea is just so uncommon for a getai show," he tells Life! breezily over a two-hour interview in a mix of English and Mandarin.
Getais are free concerts traditionally held to entertain and appease spirits that are believed to be roaming Earth when the gates of hell open during the Hungry Ghost Festival, which runs from July 27 to Aug 24 this year.
Getai organisers are paid a lump sum by clients who believe putting on such shows will make the spirits happy enough that they do not disturb the living.
A show typically costs anything from $4,000 to $16,000 and the money is used to cover everything from the performers' fees to stage, lighting and music equipment set-ups. The organisers then take a cut of whatever funds are left.
For Mr Tan, spicing up the song set list is just one of many fresh ideas he has introduced to the scene.
Unlike the typical getai show of yore for which the stage is made of simply constructed, rickety plywood, his shows are often lavish affairs complete with proper domed stages, expensive sound systems and fancy LED lights. Fail to pay attention and you may even mistake his shows for modern pop concerts.
He is also believed to be the first to actively promote getai on social media, putting up show schedules on Facebook and his company website. And who can forget how, in 2011, he took getai - traditionally a heartland affair - to the heart of Orchard Road, where he organised a show outside Ngee Ann City and drew a crowd of more than 10,000?
He says: "I always think we can try new things in getai to keep it fresh. And you know, the audiences love it."
He must be doing something right.
After all, his business has increased multiple-fold over the years - from putting together only three getai shows in his debut year in 2001, he now organises almost 300 shows a year.
Over the month-long Hungry Ghost period this year, he will be putting on 60 shows. Throughout the rest of the year, he organises shows commissioned by temples, organisations and corporations.