Johor getai singers flocking to Singapore

Johor getai singers flocking to Singapore
Malaysian acts, such as Sun Cola, are known to jazz up their shows with dazzling costumes and slick dance moves.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The Seventh Lunar Month is in full swing, during which it is traditionally believed that the gates of Hell open to let spirits roam the streets. But during this Hungry Ghost season, there is a different kind of hungry visitor from across another border: the Malaysian getai performer.

Malaysian acts have long been familiar sights in local getai, which are concerts believed to appease ghosts so that they do not disturb the living.

However, with the ringgit at a record low against the Singapore dollar (about RM2.97 to S$1), more Malaysians are crossing the Causeway to take advantage of the stronger Singapore currency.

The result is a Malaysian invasion, with some Singaporean acts feeling the heat, say getai organisers.

Veteran local getai organiser Peter Loh, 64, estimates there is a 30 per cent increase in the number of Malaysians coming here. He is organising 30 concerts across Singapore during the Hungry Ghost season, which runs from Aug 14 to Sept 12 this year.

For him, it makes financial sense to hire Malaysians because they are cheaper and better.

"Malaysian performers do whatever they can to make their shows more exciting - from spending more money on costumes to changing their act," says the man who has been organising getai concerts for more than 40 years. "Singaporean performers are very sui bian (lackadaisical in Mandarin) in comparison."

In his line-up of performers this year, four out of 10 singers are Malaysians, double last year's number.

In the weeks leading up to the getai season, he received many phone calls and social media messages from aspiring Malaysian singers hoping to be booked for jobs here.

"I don't even ask them to send me video samples of their work when they call me because Malaysian getai singers are, in general, of a high standard," he says.

To him, it all boils down to what is value for money.

"If Malaysian getai singers cost me less money but can deliver equally or even more entertaining shows, then why wouldn't I choose to hire them?" Mr Loh says. "I am a businessman after all."

That said, the A-listers, regardless of nationality, such as Singapore's Wang Lei, Taiwan's Hao Hao and Malaysia's Li Baoen, are still in demand.

This is how the business works: A client, say a wet market association or a clan association, pays a lump sum to a getai organiser to put on a show.

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.

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