Old Chinese songs I love
So my girlfriend and I have been taking Mandarin lessons for a little over a year now. We’re both still pretty terrible at it (read: still lower than a kindergarten level), but we’re happy to be progressing at our own turtle’s pace. We have a fantastic tutor who’s an older Singaporean man but who was trained in Beijing. One of the best parts of our lessons is that we get to learn a whole bunch of old Chinese songs from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. While these are only somewhat helpful in learning the language, they are awesome for impressing our older colleagues (impromptu sing-alongs in the office have happened on more than one occasion).
Here are some of our favorites:
“Yueliang Daibiao wo de Xin” (The Moon Represents my Heart) is one of my favorite Chinese songs. Technically it’s Taiwanese, but it’s pretty much a standard song that you have to learn if you speak Mandarin, regardless of where you live. Teresa Teng has a beautiful voice and I’ve never heard anybody sing it quite like her. Although, I do have to say that the lyrics always remind me of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet (you know, “Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon that monthly changes in a circle d’orb–lest your love prove likewise variable”) which makes the song a bit less romantic.
“Gei wo yi ge Wen” (Give me a Kiss) is an older big-band Chinese song by Chang Loo that is modeled after Patsy Cline’s “Seven Lonely Days”. It’s pretty ridiculously catchy and has a bit more of a swing style that I think is actually an improvement over Patsy Cline’s version (please don’t crucify me, folk purists). I like how it uses the phrase “ke yi bu ke yi” (can or cannot) repeatedly throughout the song because it’s a very common Mandarin phrase and having a good way to remember it is useful.
“Ni Zhen Mei Li” (You are Truly Beautiful) is another song by Chang Loo that has that great old-timey lounge feel that you don’t usually associate with mid 20th century China. I might like it more because it broadens my perspective of international pop music.
“Daban Cheng di Guniang” (The Girl of Daban Cheng) is a song I mostly love for this video, which my teacher uses during the lesson. It’s a song partly about watermelons, partly about beautiful girls, and all about ridiculousness. Also, I had never heard any Uyghur music before, and this was a nice window into some of their folk music as well as into a Chinese ethnic group that doesn’t get a lot of exposure in popular culture. I like that many of my Mandarin lessons are often supplemented by cultural–and usually humorous–anecdotes (like how “pao niu” is not a good translation for “hanging out”, despite what some teachers might claim). Unfortunately, the Uyghur Chinese songs tend to be quite fast, and I have trouble singing them even when I have the lyrics in front of me.
Those are the songs that stick out in my mind the most, but I’ll leave you with another Uyghur song called “Almihan” that we just started learning.