Review: Hawaiian slide guitar meets erhu as veteran players evoke old Hong Kong through saloon tunes

Encore follows encore, with audience lapping up teahouse hits of the 1930s

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 1:00pm

The Voice of Guangdong Saloon Music Concert

Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre

Reviewed: April 6 2017

Old Hong Kong was brought back through authentic Cantonese saloon music played by seasoned masters to a full house of elderly fans enjoying a moment from those bygone days.

The band of 10 virtuosi on Chinese and Western instruments demonstrated why these short works, mostly composed in Hong Kong, became national sensations in the 1930s, starting with Shanghai and other major cities in mainland China.

An authentic sound was guaranteed by the band’s veteran members, Szeto Siu on xylophone and To Wing on violin and erhu, to name two, who were disciples of composers of these masterpieces. The four songs on which they accompanied Fung Chui-yu, a daughter of Fung Wah, a guru in the genre, captured the now-extinct atmosphere of teahouse entertainment.

The works’ short duration (mostly two to three minutes) and melodic features reflected the aesthetic taste – and short attention span – of the older generation.

The strong rhythm produced by drum sets and electric bass guitar in some of the songs brought to mind the afternoon tea dance of the old days. The only thing that was missing was the tea set to go with the music.

The concert opened with the famous In Celebration of Good Times, which set the scene through a bouncing tune and rhythm that was all too familiar and most effective in settling the audience, including the latecomers.

After Fung’s exquisite singing of Nostalgia, dizi player Ricky Yeung Wai-kit, the concert’s MC, announced the next song, which took everyone by surprise.

RTHK classical music host Jonathan Douglas appeared on stage in rags and sang A Gambler’s Song in great authentic Cantonese style. Accent free and pitch perfect, it was the Londoner’s swansong, as he will retire on April 11 after three decades on air. It was no small compliment when an older audience member was heard asking amid the rapturous applause: “Is that a Westerner?”

Hong Kong and Guangzhou performers deliver musical message in blending of styles

The programme listed 14 works, but the band ended up playing 24, living up to the old tradition of being generous with encores to please the “customers”, who had not left their seats.

Musicians took turns to show off their virtuosity in their own solo parts. It was surreal to revisit the blended sound of Hawaiian slide guitar and saxophone with yangqin and guzheng.

It was the sound of old Hong Kong, an inclusive sound that welcomed all instruments as long as they made good music that kept everyone’s feet tapping.