SHANGHAI LOUNGE DIVAS: The old world into the new

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Chow Hsuan: The Wandering Songstress (2003 remix)
SHANGHAI LOUNGE DIVAS: The old world into the new

Shanghai has always been China's hotspot, the most cosmopolitan of cities in that vast and diverse country. In the Twenties and Thirties the place was awash with jazz, blues and international pop thanks to the international community, and that rubbed alongside the local folk, Mandarin pop and opera.

At one time there were 30 radio stations in Shanghai and nightclubs were everywhere.

The Pathe label recorded dozens of local singers, many of whom had grown up on imported music and by the late 40s were covering Hollywood standards and the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland.

Of course the communist revolution put paid to a lot of careers (not to mention decadent nightclubs and jazz bands) but last year a remarkable thing happened.

EMI was clearing out a warehouse in Mumbai (Bombay) and discovered two large boxes which contained the original imprinters of the old Pathe 78s from Shanghai. There were almost 800 of them and they had been shipped to Mumbai where the discs were manufactured.

Or maybe none of that happened and it's just a good story.

No matter, because EMI in Hong Kong, where it is now based, called in local producer Morton Wilson (yes, of the 80s Kiwi band Schtung) and dance producer Ian Widgery (who has remixed for Bowie and Human League) to duff up the originals with contemporary beats.

The result is Shanghai Lounge Divas, one disc of the original songs and the other of the remixes.

Let it be said immediately: women lounge singers from China don't have the most appealing of voices for Western ears (they can be a bit shrill for our tastes) and that the beats added can be somewhat mundane in places.

However, there is much to enjoy in the well-annotated collection, especially if you have fond memories of Malcolm McLaren's Madame Butterfly thing.

And there are some quite outstanding tracks among the remixes: Waiting 4 U by Bai Kwong has a beguiling melody and memorable hook and is remixed like the tasteful atmospheric parts from Riders on the Storm; If Only by Li Xiang-lan soars in a pop-operatic manner; and both All the Stars in the Sky (by Chang Loo) and This Love is Not For Me (Yao Lee) are aimed neatly at smart clubs and dance floors.

The second disc of 24 originals might be more for the scholarly, but the remixes soften you up for it. The arrangements are pure jazz-cabaret from the 30s with clarinets and piano, and again there are standouts: Shanghai Miss (among many others) could have stepped out of any kitschy Hollywood musical.

Fascinating stuff.


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Gavin Hancock - Dec 8, 2011

I haven't had the privilege of listening to either disc but why am I imagining Wing singing in Chinese?

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