Stephen interviewed Lau Fook Kiu

Stephen Cheung was recording Miss Lau Fook-kiu’s singing
張國雄正在收錄劉福嬌女士的歌聲

Salvation Army Taipo Multi-Service Centre

Stephen Cheung (a local Hakka who is enthusiastic about Hakka culture and music): From the 1990s onwards, at Salvation Army Taipo Multi-Service Centre, once a week there would be a two-hour-long Hakka shange 山歌 (mountain song) gathering—and this still goes on regularly. The interesting thing was that thirty years ago nobody did this kind of thing. But in the 90s, not only in Hong Kong but Guangzhou, Meixian, and elsewhere—it seemed suddenly, in quite a few places, groups of retired folks gathered to sing these Hakka shange, and there was no connection between any of them.

I think the reason is that elderly folks, now in their 70s or 80s, had left their village lives during their youth, and all along the process of urbanization in the 1950s through the 1970s, they had very little chance to sing the shange in the city. Now that they have all retired, they would sing in their leisure time. And it so happens that the Salvation Army saw the needs of these seniors—their main interests are to gamble, play Hakka card games, and sing shange —so they organized a shange gathering. Who knew it would be such a success! Nobody went to the park to gamble anymore; they would come and sing shange, though there are some people who take advantage of this, playing the recordings of their shange gatherings in empty stores to attract Hakka folks to gamble.

A Busker and Collector

I only started researching this singing group in earnest from 2000, so everything happening in the 1990s I learnt indirectly from others’ recordings or videos. The situation in the 90s was interesting: you would never think that there were still people singing for money in the park, and that this attracted a lot of people who would listen or even ask for a specific song. One particularly interesting behavior was the singer/busker (his real name is Wong Chi-ching) who sang on-site while recording at the same time; the cassette would cost eighty Hong Kong dollars and everyone would rush to get them. Everyday, he would put up a sign and the singer would rely on singing and selling tapes for a living. You might think that selling cassettes to make a living would be enough, and there was no need to sing for money. But that atmosphere of singing live was something that was missing in a recording. What’s more, the lyrics would vary slightly each time, often with an improvised element; in fact, Wong didn’t even know how to make copies of the cassette tape. All these I found out from Uncle Lam (real name: Lam Chun). Uncle Lam is actually a retired tailor, a big fan of Wong Chi-ching, a pure aficionado of the genre, and a Tai Po resident. As he was really taken by Wong Chi-ching, he followed Wong and made really detailed audio recordings and videos. He wasn’t doing this at all for money but purely out of personal interest.

King of Shange

Later on, the Salvation Army also invited Wong Chi-ching to join the elderly singing group, and the whole Hakka group called him the King of Shange. At every gathering, there would be at most thirty people participating, but with limited time, only ten or twenty people got to sing. So they had to draw lots — and this process was pretty intense, with people rushing and snatching. Every now and then the gathering will have new people joining, but these “new folks” would all be in their sixties; there were practically no forty- or fifty-somethings.

*Editor’s note: after the interview, news had come of Wong Chi-ching’s passing away, while Uncle Lam Chun had a stroke, making even talking difficult. The story as told by Stephen seems close but is in fact distant. Listening to the tape “Wong Chi-ching singing a Lapsad tune” donated by Stephen, I find not a single lyric comprehensible. One can only imagine, from the sonorous voice and Lam Chun’s handwritten journal, a 1990s that no longer exists.

救世軍大埔老人社區服務中心

張國雄 (致力研究香港本土的客家文化及音樂的客家人): 自九十年代起,救世軍大埔老人社區服務中心,每星期都有一次,每次兩小時的客家山歌聚會,到現在還定時地舉行。有趣的是三十年以前是沒有人做過類似的東西。但在九十年代,不只是香港,廣州及梅縣等好幾個地方突然間都有一班退休的人聚集唱客家山歌,而他們之間是從未有聯繫的。

我想原因是五十至七十年代的城市化,現在七、八十歲的老人家,他們在年青時代已經離開農村生活,在城市的文化環境裡很少機會晿山歌,現在他們都退休了,生活閒時便唱唱歌。恰巧,救世軍見到這班老人家的需要,他們最大的興趣就是賭錢、玩客家紙牌和唱山歌,那就在中心辦山歌聚會。誰知一搞便十分成功,大家都不去公園賭錢而走來唱山歌。但亦有人利用這個概念,在一些空置的士多播放他們平日山歌聚會的錄音,吸引客家人賭錢。

賣唱者與採聲人

而我是2000年才開始深入研究這個山歌聚會的,所以九十年代發生的事都是從其他人的錄音或錄影去側面了解。九十年的狀況是好有趣的,你想不到九十年代還有人在大埔公園賣唱,並且吸引很多人來聽歌,甚至點唱。其中一項極為有趣的行為是,賣唱者(本名黃志青),在現場賣唱同時錄音,那片錄音帶是買八十元的,大家都搶著要買。每天就是這樣豎起個牌,靠賣唱、賣錄音帶為生。你可能會覺得不用賣唱賣錄音帶賺錢便可,但現場唱歌那個氣氛是錄音未必有的,而每一次唱的歌詞都稍有不同,好多時都會有即興的成份,還有原來他是不懂得複製錄音帶的。這些我都是從藍叔(本名藍俊)那裡知道。藍叔其實是一個退休裁縫,是黃志青的擁躉,是一個純粹的山歌愛好者,也是大埔區的居民。由於被黃志青的歌聲吸引而追隨他,並且做了非常詳細的錄音與錄影記錄,但他完全不是為了賣錢,純粹出於個人愛好。

山歌王

後來救世軍亦邀請黃志青加入老人山歌會,黃志青更被整個客家群體喻為山歌王(King of Shange)每次在山歌會參與唱歌的最多是三十人,但時間有限能唱到歌的只有十至二十人,所以要抽籤,而抽籤的過程是相當激烈的,是衝出去搶的!這個聚會間中都會有些新人加入,但所謂的「新人」都有六十多歲,四五十歲的幾乎不會出現。

*編者後記:採訪後得知黃志青已經過身,而藍叔因為中風連說話也成困難。從Stephen口中聽到的故事似近實遠,聽Stephen捐贈的「黃志青自述」聲帶沒一句歌詞聽懂,只有從其嘹亮的歌聲與藍叔的手寫筆記去想象那不再有的九十年代。

Wong Chi-ching singing a Lapsad tune/ 黃志青自述

  

Wong Chi-ching singing a Huiyang shange/ 黃志青唱惠陽山歌