Xinyao

Category: Oral Traditions and Expressions; Performing Arts

The term xinyao (新谣) refers to a repertoire of Mandarin songs composed, written and performed by young Singaporeans. Its roots can be traced back to the late 1970s, where many students in secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and the Nanyang University began writing songs in Mandarin to express their thoughts and feelings. It was also influenced by the campus folk song movement in Taiwan in the 1970s.

Young Songwriters Society poster 1989Young Songwriters Society poster 1989. Source: Roots.sg

The term xinyao was coined at a 1982 seminar organised to discuss locally composed schoolyard songs. The term xinyao is short for 新加坡年轻人自创歌谣, which means "ballads created by young Singaporeans". Xinyao is characterised as songs expressing coming-of-age musings and aspirations, friendships and social opinions, with the guitar as the main instrument of accompaniment.

Xinyao was popular with students from junior colleges, polytechnics and universities. Many of the xinyao songs reflected a local uniqueness and contained specific references to places and events crucial to Singapore as a young nation, as well as collective memories that the public could identify with.

The heyday of xinyao was in the 1980s, where various competitions and performances were held, and TV programmes featuring xinyao musicians and songs were screened. The xinyao movement also produced many notable singers and song writers, including Eric Moo (巫启贤), Billy Koh (许环良), Liang Wern Fook (梁文福) and Roy Loi (黎沸挥).

The xinyao movement started to decline in the 1990s but has experienced a revival in more recent years, with several local movies, musicals and documentaries based on xinyao being made. One of the more notable moments in recent years, is the xinyao concert held in July 2014 at the Bras Basah complex, where more than 1,000 fans braved the rain to listen to familiar xinyao tunes.


If you would like to contribute additional information on this element, please visit this page.