Diva of Taiwan remembered after 20 years with concert, TV show

Diva of Taiwan remembered after 20 years with concert, TV show
Teresa Teng performs at a concert.

Twenty years have passed since the death of Taiwan singer Teresa Teng, a superstar in Japan and other Asian countries and territories.

A charity tribute concert for Teng will take place in Tokyo on Saturday, during which the audience will be able to see a 3-D hologram of the singer. The image will be borrowed from Taiwan, where it was shown at a tribute concert on May 9.

The Tokyo concert is called the Teresa Teng Memorial Concert - Botsu Nijunen Tsuito Charity Ongakukai. It will feature such illustrious singers as Hiroshi Itsuki, Akari Uchida, en-Ray, Natsuko Godai, Toshimi Tagawa, Yoko Nagayama and Rimi Natsukawa, who will sing Teng's hit songs.

Lyricist Toyohisa Araki will speak about his memories of Teng at the concert, which will be emceed by Kazuo Tokumitsu.

The organising committee of the concert is headed by Minoru Funaki, a former manager of the record company Teng belonged to when she made her debut in Japan in 1974. Teng used to call him her "Japanese Daddy."

"I'm old now. This is the last opportunity I have to do something for Teresa," said Funaki, 82, who is still involved in the activities of Taiwan's Teresa Teng Foundation.

Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

"She felt strongly about extending a helping hand to people in need, such as inviting orphans to her concerts and building a school in an impoverished village. If she were alive today, she would definitely have visited the Tohoku region," Funaki said.

"She grew up in a cramped apartment in Taiwan. She always cared for her family," he said.

Many female Asian singers, such as Agnes Chan and Ouyang Fei Fei, were successful in the Japanese pop music scene in the 1970s. Dubbed the "Hibari Misora of Taiwan," Teng was very popular in Hong Kong as well before coming to Japan.

Funaki received a report on her from his staff, and negotiated with her there.

"Her voice and singing skills were outstanding, so I had high expectations for her. But I didn't think she would become such a big star," Funaki said.

Her debut single in Japan was a typical idol star song and not very successful. But her second single, "Kuko" (Airport), was in the enka and kayokyoku pop song style and became a huge hit. She won the newcomer's award at the Japan Record Awards that year.

"Her singing had sentimentality as well as a pleasantly dry quality. The freshness and international character in her singing were not seen in pop songs until then," said music critic Yasushi Abe, one of the judges at the awards who highly rated her.

At that time, a new brand of Japanese pop songs called "new music" was making headway. Teng's new feel matched the time well because her songs had freshness while retaining the best qualities of older pop songs.

With her hit songs "Tsugunai" (Amends), "Aijin" (Lover) and "Toki no nagare ni mi o makase" (Giving oneself up to the flow of time), she won the grand prizes of two major radio music awards in Japan for three consecutive years beginning in 1984, the Zennihon Yusen Hoso Taisho awards and the Japan Request Awards.

"A major reason her songs became hits was the boom in adulterous love songs, which were released en masse at that time," said music market analyst Takashi Usui.

Amid the boom, Teng's "Aijin" "exerted its presence as a classic of urban songs about adultery," Usui said. The song's popularity was helped by her pure singing voice, which contrasted with the dark image of adultery.

Teng's turbulent life intrigued fans as well. Her father was a military man in Taiwan's Kuomintang party, and Teresa was caught amid the conflicts between China and Taiwan. Her songs were once banned as "spiritual pollution" on the Chinese continent, but they still enchanted people in China.

In 1979, she was deported from Japan after entering the country with a forged passport. In 1995, she died at the age of 42 while traveling in Thailand, which provoked a mystery.

"In her lifetime, she was called a 'patriotic artist' for entertaining the [Taiwan] military forces. Even after her death, her grave is maintained as a park to honour her career," Funaki said.

Her tumultuous life mirrors the world in her song "Toki no nagare ni mi o makase," in which a woman dedicates herself to love that denies her a normal life.

"Twenty years ago feels like just a while ago," Funaki said. "I hope other singers will continue singing her songs."

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death, BS Japan will air the upcoming Tokyo concert together with coverage from Taiwan from 9 p.m. on June 13. Universal Music Japan has released two memorial CDs, a best-of album and a reissue of "Teresa Teng First Concert," a 1977 recording to which five more songs have been added.

The Teresa Teng Memorial Concert will be held from 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Shibuya Public Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo. Please visit www.shibuko.com/event/11256.html for more information.

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