Nanyin (南音), or "music from the South", is a style of music that can be traced back to the southern province of Fujian in China. Performed in the Quanzhou dialect, it comprises three distinctive forms: instrumental, instrumental with vocals, and ballads accompanied by an ensemble.
There are four traditional instruments in nanyin: paiban (拍板, clappers used to control the rhythm), a flute called chiba (尺八) or dongxiao (洞箫), a Chinese lute called pipa (琵琶) and plucked string instruments called sanxian (三弦) or erxian (二弦). It is practiced in China, Taiwan and among overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, although nanyin in Singapore has developed in a distinctive way.
Nanyin has been practiced in Singapore since the late 19th century. The most prominent association credited with making innovative changes to the presentation of nanyin is the Siong Leng Musical Association, founded in 1941. Its president Teng Mah Seng is credited with restructuring the ensemble, collaborating with Chinese orchestras and adding theatrical elements to performances in the late 1970s in order to combat declining interest in nanyin. The association has also been actively involving and educating youths on nanyin through classes and workshops.
Nanyin as an art form continues to evolve today, as traditional songs are re-written and performed using instruments such as the keyboard as well as Malay and Indian music instruments like kompang (small drum) and sitar (plucked string instrument).