Supermarkets and stalls stocked with cartons of mandarin oranges. The interiors of houses and shopping malls adorned with bright red decorations. The oh-so fragrant scent of freshly-baked pineapple tarts permeating the air. These are all indicators that Chinese New Year is upon us, but the greatest herald of the festive season is arguably the music that we hear everywhere we go.
For years, iconic tunes such as '贺新年' ('He Xin Nian') and '恭喜恭喜' ('Gong Xi Gong Xi') have set the mood for our Chinese New Year celebrations, and it is almost impossible to imagine what the holiday season would be like without them.
This year, homegrown singer-songwriter Joanna Dong has curated a very special Spotify playlist to usher in the Year of the Ox. Titled "快乐乐乐! 董姐姐's Chinese New Year Vibes (Happy-py-py! Sister Dong's Chinese New Year Vibes)", it contains 53 feel-good songs, by both Singaporean and international artists, that you can groove to with your loved ones and friends come 12 February 2021.
In an interview with Hear65, Joanna shared how she put the playlist together.
Hey Joanna! What inspired you to create your Chinese New Year playlist on Spotify and how did you curate it?
I will be completely honest — I had a selfish agenda! I wanted to curate a playlist of festive tunes that will complement the vibe of my new Chinese New Year track '快乐乐乐' (which translates to Happy-py-py)!
What sorts of feelings and moods do you hope to convey through this playlist?
This year’s celebrations have been understandably subdued because of the pandemic, so it was really important to me that the general vibe was joyous, and even the pensive songs have a strong forward-looking hopefulness to them. That’s also why I have included a number of non-CNY but definitely feel-good songs! I’m willing to bet that people will be dancing and singing along to my playlist at home!
How do you think listeners will react to it?
It’s a pretty eclectic selection in terms of genres, but it definitely reflects my personal taste in music! I spent literal hours trawling Spotify and listening to the staggering amount of Chinese New Year music that has been recorded over the years. The playlist is a distillation of the ones that I think are iconic, charming, kitsch, refreshing, and soulful. So I hope listeners will take comfort in the familiarity of hearing the classics, but also be pleasantly surprised by the diversity!
In fact, because of me, my buddy discovered and fell in love with a beautiful alternative cover to '恭喜恭喜' ('Gong Xi Gong Xi') by Taiwanese group 深白色二人组 (Deep White Duo). I was also very charmed by an English song by the American band Sales, literally titled 'Chinese New Year'. Music is a beautiful way of understanding the evolving attitudes that diaspora around the world feel towards our Chinese heritage. Even music from China is beyond stereotypes - I’ve included a Hip Hop track by Higher Brothers called 'Gong Xi Fa Cai', but it does contain one expletive in the track, so parents be warned!
Can you tell me more about some of the Singaporean artists who are featured in your playlist? What made you include their songs in your playlist
I cannot emphasise enough how much great music is being made in Singapore, and given how devastating the pandemic has been on the music industry, it is important to show our support and love any chance we get. Out of the great treasure trove of Mandarin songs from Singapore, I selected a few that never fail to bring a smile to my face, such as '天天好心情' ('Good Mood Every Day') by MengFM (previously DreamzFM), and also some that may not be intended for Chinese New Year, but were very appropriate in theme, like Dawn Wong’s '果菜森吧' ('Guo Cai Sen Ba') which paints a vivid aural picture of a festive oriental market!
If people like my CNY playlist, please consider donating to SG Muso’s Musician Support Fund!
What makes Chinese New Year songs special to you?
My happy memories of Chinese New Year are inextricable from the music. Whether we were pushing through the throngs of people in Chinatown, shopping for new clothes in the malls, or riding in the taxis on our way to visiting, there would always be CNY tunes playing in the background!
When I became a professional singer, I also have fond memories of performing jazzy covers of CNY songs in various malls. It would be a lucrative time of the year for me back then, and I remember fellow musicians would sometimes bring their home-baked new year goodies to share backstage. One year, my friends from the live music company, High Notes, did a Lion Dance performance in my flat! It is bittersweet recalling these memories, but in some way, putting together this playlist of songs and releasing my own CNY song, is a way to keep my own spirits up. After all, in a time when we are making great sacrifices to control the spread of a terrible virus, the only thing in our lives that should be infectious is music!