As an immigrant to the United States who is Chinese and born in Australia, I appreciate the linguistic synthesization of people who also have the experience of transnationalism. When people talk to me they often question my accent/s because I am not white and my ethnicity does not fit the typical identity of an “Australian.” My accent/s ebb and flow between Australian and American, and both cultures are rooted in colonialism. The U.S encompasses a fondue of populations that gives open minded people access to sample or learn about another’s culture or ethnicity. International cultural traditions generate many national holidays in the U.S and gives the American public an excuse to drink excessively, and assault and/or accept each other by appropriating another’s cultural traditions. English is often a second language for immigrants, and many international singers choose to assimilate and sing in the established cultural language. International singers often cover popular English songs to appeal to the popular music audience who have the privilege to buy their music. Celebrating music as a second language and listening to the cultural inflections of singers can supply listeners with clues about the artists’ transnational route/s through enunciation. Here are 5 cover gems from Asian singers singing in English and their first language.
Fung Po-Po “Suicide is Painless” (1970). A great cover of the Mike Altman song. Fung was a child prodigy star from Hong Kong who played a role in more than 120 features before she was 14 years old. She was referred to as the “Shirley Temple of the East.” Listeners can hear Fung’s transnationalism within her English inflection and Cantonese/Mandarin first language synthesized with her British accent because Hong Kong was under British rule at that time.
Nam Hong “She’s a Lady” (1972). Mostly sung in Nam’s first language of Mandarin with a few words in English in the chorus, stating “she’s a lady” to stamp an audible signature onto this popular song. The tune was covered often in the Asian market, including a full-English version by Penny Lim.
Penny Lim “Dancing On a Saturday Night” made popular by Barry Blue in 1974. Lim sang in English and Chinese. She often sang with the Silverstones as her back up band, complimenting her vocals and mirroring a Joe Meek Telstar sound. This backing track is by another well-known southeast Asian recording act, The Stylers.
Rita Chao “Only Friends” made popular by Francoise Hardy and written by Sonny Miller in 1966. Chao sings the majority of the song in Mandarin except the signature line of the chorus. She sang many songs in English and Chinese to enable inclusiveness of appealing to both Eastern and Western audiences. The 4-song 7″ EP format was very popular in Asia, and these often included a mix of traditional local standards intermingled with western melodies, like “Wooly Bully”, “As Tears Go By”, and “My Bonnie”.
Dara Puspita “To Love Somebody” a song made popular by The Bee Gees. Dara Puspita (or Flower Girls) was an all female Indonesian girl group in the 1960s who wrote and performed all their own songs, paving the way for many Indonesian girl bands. They were harassed by the Indonesian government due to their Western pop sounds and were constantly interrogated by their government because of their feminist ethics (Bitch Media 2018).
By Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour)