Getai getting younger performers and younger viewers

Getai getting younger performers and younger viewers

She took to the stage confidently, dressed in a blue and yellow dress, to the delight of the audience gathered at Hougang Avenue 3.

Toh Xin Hui, nine, might have been making her debut getai performance this Hungry Ghost Month, but she hardly looked out of place. The month-long festival ends this Saturday.

Singing along with Xin Hui was her sister, Toh En Hui, 13, who has two years' experience.

If the performers seem to be getting younger, it is because getai no longer appeals only to the older generation, said organiser Aaron Tan.

In his 14 years in the industry, Mr Tan, 39, has seen a rise in younger audiences.

He said: "There are even groupies who chase after some of the singers, much like pop music fans."

The growing demand prompted getai veteran Wang Lei, 54, to take young singers under his wing.

Other than the Toh sisters, he has groomed three other girls who also made their debuts this year: Jayner Teh Qiao Er, 15, Jasrene Choo Jia Yi, 12, and Belle Tan Ge Wee, 14.

Mr Wang has 15 proteges, with the oldest at 49 years old and Xin Hui the youngest, at nine.

He said: "There are companies that organise getai performances for their dinners and other events. Resident Committees, too. "It's not just for temples and Seventh Month celebrations now."

Mr Wang is working to prepare the five girls as the next generation of getai singers.

"After another five, 10 years, the stamina of the older singers will decline, so we need to find a group of youngsters to take their place," he said.

Although he believes the young girls can go the distance, he said he "is not too pleased with their performances so far".

"They still suffer from stage fright and their performances are not stable enough," said Wang.

But Mr Tan noted that it is also easier to work with singers who train from a younger age.

He said: "Older singers already have their own views on singing when they start training, so it is hard to fine-tune a lot of things.

"At a younger age... they absorb better."

Mr Wang said girl performers are preferred to boys because female voices are less affected when puberty hits.



He said it takes at least a year to get new getai performers ready for the stage, including the most difficult part of training: teaching them to sing in dialect.

"Many Singaporean kids don't know anything about dialect songs. Some of them don't even speak the dialects," he said.

"This means they don't even understand the meaning of the lyrics."

Wang teaches them the pronunciations step by step and explains the meaning of the words.

"I do not choose songs that have to do with alcohol or smoking. They're still young, so I pick songs about gratitude and filial piety," he said.

Both men said that in the past month, they have received requests almost daily to audition someone as a getai performer.

Mr Wang said: "If they have talent, I'll train them. Otherwise, I tell them not to waste time and focus on studies instead."

Mr Tan looks for passion in the young performers.

He said: "I need to stress this: To be a getai singer, one needs to have the passion and the interest in getai, not just to become a singer or a star.

"Getai is a culture, we don't want getai to be just a stepping stone."

For hawker stall assistant Gan Chiew Hong, getai is a rare opportunity for her daughters, Xin Hui and En Hui, to showcase their talents.

The 42-year-old is not worried that it would affect their studies.

"Getai happens at night and it doesn't take up too much of their time. Each performance is just 20 minutes," she said.

Jasrene's mother, Madam Cheng Sok Pheng, 44, is also supportive of her two daughters' potential getai careers.

Jasrene's sister, Andrene, 17, also had Mr Wang as her mentor.

"The most important thing is that they have the interest," said Madam Cheng.

Although Jasrene will be sitting for her PSLE this year, her mother is unperturbed, explaining that her younger daughter does not perform regularly and takes a break from singing around exam periods.

"She can manage her time," said Madam Cheng.

Belle Tan Ge Wee, 14
Secondary 2 student at Punggol Secondary School
First stage experience: January
Why: Inspired after watching getai performances with her grandparents when she was younger.
She says... "You look at those performers on stage, they look very happy and very relaxed. But when it is your turn, you don't feel that, you feel very scared.

"Getai is more than just singing, getai is about knowing how to interact with your audience, using different dialects."

Jayner Teh Qiao Er, 15
Who: Secondary 3 student at North Vista Secondary School
First stage experience: January
Why: The chance to express her feelings as she does not really dare to "express myself in real life".
She says... "The first time I sang, people kept coming up to me to ask for photos because I was a newcomer. It was a bit scary because nobody ever asked to take photos with me before. The second time was much easier. My seniors also helped comfort me. They told me to just be bold on stage."

Jasrene Choo Jia Yi, 12
Who: Primary 6 pupil at Ahmad Ibrahim Primary School.
First stage experience: January
Why: Her sister, Andrene, 17, who is also a getai singer, inspires her.
She says... "The crowd during the Seventh Month was huge, but I didn't really feel nervous because I couldn't see anything. I didn't wear my spectacles on stage, so I couldn't really see the audience."

Toh Xin Hui, 9
Who: Primary 3 pupil at Kheng Cheng School. She is also set to appear in Jack Neo's new film Long Long Time Ago.
First stage experience: Had cameos before, but made her full debut last month.
Why: The need to perform.
She says... "I didn't feel nervous during my first time on stage because I practised for it. I was prepared, so I didn't feel that scared."

Toh En Hui, 13
Who: Secondary 1 student.
First stage experience: May 2013
Why: The live band. "Compared to normal singing, getai has a live band, so it is more lively and more energetic."
She says... "Although I now feel a bit more confident, I'm still a bit nervous because sometimes my mentor (Wang Lei) is also on stage. If I don't sing well, he would lecture me after the show."

This article was first published on September 10, 2015.
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