One of the saddest songs ever: 夜夜夜夜

The pitfalls of my Voice of China addiction: a mini-education in Mandarin pop. Here’s one of the saddest modern Chinese pop ballads ever, by Taiwanese Chyi Chin.

Basically it’s a deeply tragic ballad of unrequited love and a feeling of hopelessness, of just giving up on the past and the future.

It’s so tragic it’s beautiful.

Translation from this link.

夜夜夜夜 (Night after night after night after night)


I’d like to ask God where you are or ask myself instead


I was smart at the start, smart at the end


So smart that I almost destroyed myself


Would like to ask Mother Nature, or ask a fortune teller

放棄所有 拋下所有

Giving up everything in the future and what passed before


Let me drift in the silent night after night after night…


Don’t push yourself into saying you love me


My soul anyway has withered to pieces


Tried putting myself back together slowly, slowly


Me, but not the whole me, finally pieced together


I don’t want to indulge myself anymore


I don’t want to drift one night, day, second anymore


Not one word, prayer, quest for my dream anymore

The original version by Chyi Chin:

A version by Fish Leong:

The Voice of China: Best version ever

I wasn’t initially impressed by The Voice franchise. The US version seemed to be too much about the judges’ egos and the UK version tried to be fresh but often fell flat.

But then I stumbled on The Voice of China and I have become gloriously obsessed with it. That’s a big deal for someone who ordinarily gives television a miss in general.

Never mind that I know like 10-20 words of Mandarin; the show draws me in with its combination of funny, down-to-earth judges and really good talent.

The judging panel has some real heavyhitters and together, they’re a winningly enthusiastic team. There’s Taiwan ‘God of Music’ Harlem Yu (庾澄庆) who first officially injected rap into mainstream Chinese music way back in the 80’s. China’s singing darling and music veteran Na Ying (那英). Mr “I sang at the Olympics” and “THAT Water Margin theme” Liu Huan (刘欢) and my personal favourite the adorable Yang Kun (杨坤).

Yang Kun’s my favourite because he’s just hilarious, pulling some funny stunts like in the video I posted at the bottom at this post. Him and Harlem provide plenty of comic relief throughout the show though I must say the judges as a whole are truly a welcome contrast to the US and UK panels.

The Chinese judges seem a whole lot more sincere and less self-involved. You get the feeling the judges are really rooting for their charges and want them to succeed.

Sure, there’s the inevitable soap opera back story drama interspersed here and there but overall the show stays close to its heart: voices. And some of the voices on display are excellent.

My current favourite contestant is this guy, Guan Zhe. His emotional cover of Sandy Lam’s 领悟 (Ling Wu) made the judges teary, me even despite my not understanding more than 1-5 words in the whole song.

The song itself is one of those desperately sad Mandarin ballads. Not that I’m not a sucker for Mandopop. I love sappy Mandarin ear candy. This particular tune is one of those ‘We Broke Up And I Want to Hate You But I Can’t Because I Love You And Am Trying To Be A Bigger Person’ songs.

Have a listen to Guan Zhe breaking your heart in a million ways.

领悟 (Ling Wu)

爱的束缚 任意追逐

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Monday Music: Maroon 5’s Hands All Over

I’ve been a Maroon 5 fan since their first album Songs about Jane. The Motown-reminiscent feel was what got me though Adam Levine’s slightly nasal vocal stylings could be annoying.

But am a sucker for blue-eyed soul and Levine’s voice started to grow on me. Their next album It Won’t Be Soon Before Long was in some ways more interesting though not easy to listen to at a go.

Hands All Over, the third album, is rather, well, lifeless in comparison. It’s all safe, crafted pop without bite though am hooked to the pretty, breezy breakup song that is Just A Feeling.

The first two singles, Misery and Give A Little More are just too familiar, carbon copies of past songs. Dull, dull, dull. A lot of the songs could easily have been performed by anyone really with little originality stamped onto the songs. It doesn’t feel so much like a Maroon 5 album as much as an A&R put-together piece.

And the collaboration Out of Goodbyes with Lady Antebellum? Listenable but trying too hard to go crossover. Never Gonna Leave This Bed is interesting, the title track banal and everything else mostly filler.

At this rate, the next album will just be a Greatest Hits and they’ll fade into pop oblivion. An album that is just too easy to skip and forget.

A song for you, sayang

Of all the lyrics I’ve ever written, these have to be the most personal. I wrote them for the theme song of A Light in KL City.

The talented and genuinely nice Mia Palencia contributed songs to the play and it was my task to modify what songs could be used by writing new lyrics. I ended up repurposing her song Sayang from her first album.

While the original was a sweet reassuring and somewhat upbeat song, I had it rearranged into a sadder, melancholic lullaby of sorts. The lyrics came to me in a rush while I was having lunch at Old Town White Coffee. I wrote them on an iPod Touch, my indispensable companion during the whole music directing process.

Tina - ALIKCAt the time, I was suffering the pain of a mad, unrequited love. 2009 was a year of disappointments – three back-to-back romantic entanglements that didn’t work out. Three job changes that weren’t panning out as well.

My heart and my pride were both crushed. From the debris, I wrote this song. About goodbyes. About regrets. About finding it hard to cope with that one constant in life – change.

The object of my affections right then is now one of my dearest friends; at least one thing worked out for the best.

This song was for him but it is also for you. For anyone who’s known heartache, loss, unlooked-for goodbyes, loneliness.

Have also attached the instrumental version along with the lyrics for anyone who feels like covering it. Put your covers on YouTube even!

Rosa’s Theme.mp3
Rosa’s Theme (Instrumental).mp3

Rosa’s Theme (Sayang)

Don’t say goodbye, sayang
Don’t turn away
Why must things change, sayang?
Why can’t we stay?

Trying so hard
In this darkness, we’re looking for light
Now all we have is this moment
Only tonight

Only tonight
Only tonight
When all is made clear
All is made right

Life gets so hard, sayang
You just try to hold on
And we lose our way, sayang
All we love soon is gone

For it all slips away
All gone too fast
All our hopes
All our dreams
Gone now at last

Now our goodbyes
Now it’s goodbye
No time for tears
No room for lies
When all is made clear
All things made right

Monday Music: ‘Love the way you lie’ by Eminem (featuring Rihanna)

Eminem is back on form with his latest album, Recovery. Currently his song “Love the way you lie” featuring popular chanteuse Rihanna is getting lots of play on YouTube.
It would be easy to dismiss it as another of those paint-by-numbers hip hop faux duets. Remember those neverending songs featuring Ashanti? This isn’t one of them.

When it comes to rap, I’m a Bone, Thugs-n-Harmony kinda girl. It’s all about the flow which is why angry black man gangster rap from Tupac or Biggie never appealed.
But Eminem is to rap what a poet is to verse. There is a lot of anger and barely controlled madness in his lyric but there’s a polish and restraint and an understanding of the power of melody to complement good rhyming.
Rihanna’s laidback vocal is a good contrast to Eminem’s rapping. The song’s theme, about a volatile, tempestuous relationship, would probably grate on the overanalytical or rabid feminists.
“He’s being misogynistic! He’s being mean to women again!”
The song’s easy to misinterpet as being about a deadbeat who is justifying treating his woman badly. It’s more about the push-and-pull and conflict that can easily erupt in a relationship, methinks.
Anyone who’s been in that kind of situation knows that sometimes you end up falling in love with someone who pushes all the wrong and all the right buttons. Passion is a scary thing and people, like chemicals, don’t often react the same way to different people.
But you promised her
Next time you’ll show restraint
You don’t get another chance

Eminem is quite clear about the effect of violence in a relationship – you hit your woman, she has every reason to walk away.
I rate this an 8/10 and I’m betting it’ll be a hit on radio.

Songs from the Jiwang Kingdom: a review

If you haven’t heard of Mia Palencia, it’s a damn shame.

This Sabahan singer-songwriter has a voice that sounds like honey would if it could sing, sweet yet as strong and full-bodied as a good brew of Arabica coffee.

She’s a jazz crooner as well as an acoustic folk songstress and though I love hearing her do jazz standards, her original songs are still my favourites.

Mia launched her second album a couple weeks back, a mix of tunes called Songs from the Jiwang Kingdom. Though I liked her first album Finding My Way, her sophomore album is so much stronger lyric-wise and its stripped down simplicity is something I find really appealing. In these times where there’s too much overproduction, her simple, soothing arrangements are balm for tired ears.

Her first single, Adam’s Anthem, is currently playing on the airwaves and it’s a fun, folksy tune. But it’s not a schmaltzy ‘tribute’ to her partner, but an honest examination of the insecurities that often plague us especially when it comes to love.

"But you will never know how hard I try, to be the dream you think I am."

The next song, Call Waiting, is a rather humourous song about relationship troubles. Ever known what it’s like to desperately wait for your irate other half to pick up the phone, just so you could apologise and smoothen troubled waters? "Pick up the phone, baby, please don’t miss my call again." It’s the kind of song you could have fun sing along to or, if you’re so inclined, sing outside your lover’s door in the hopes they open it.

(Here’s Mia performing the song with Reza Salleh. I had to stop swooning at listening to Reza. It’s so hard not to want to have his babies)

Mia, if you’ve watched her perform live, has quite the sense of humour and it comes across in her songs. Another hilarious piece is the song Biru about a clueless would-be lover.

If you’re in the mood for something more soothing, The Tender Hour is a dreamy piece about that quiet stillness of midnight. The lovelorn would find some measure of solace in her song about unrequited love, Strong Enough.

There really aren’t any ‘filler’ songs on this album and it’s interesting to see Mia infuse some veiled social commentary in the song Smokescreen. The subtlety of the lyrics are far more effective than a full-on protest song, asking more questions of the listener than pretending to answer them. I suppose it’s a sign of Mia’s growing maturity as a lyricists.

If you want easy listening with a bit more lyrical bite, Mia Palencia’s second album is obviously a carefully crafted set of songs with a lot of heart and accessibility.

Must listens: Smokescreen, Call Waiting, Tender Hour, Adam’s Anthem

To have a listen, go to

Order the album by emailing [email protected] It’s only RM30 and well-worth the money.

Shameless plug here: Mia’s music will grace Electric Minds Project’s next play, Light in KL City. I’ve been incredibly blessed to get the privilege of providing the lyrics for her songs in the play. Do come watch the play and listen to new interpretations of Mia’s music. Running Christmas week at KLPAC, Pentas 2.

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Songwriting for dummies

So my ‘padawan’ as I call him asks me how you go about writing a song.

Do you write the lyrics first then the music or vice versa?

Simple answer is: anyway you want to.

A song can be as short as three lines or as long as you want it to be.

Writing ‘classical’ music is tricky – you need to adhere to rules of composition and musical notation. Think years of counterpoint lessons but at least, in the end you’ll have a strong foundation in formal music training. It’s good to have, but not absolutely essential to write songs.

Other genre of musics are slightly easier. Pop, folk, country, good old rock and roll – you don’t need formal training to write a good ‘current’ song.

If you’re a writer, I’d suggest writing a poem to start with. Poems are easier to set to music because of the way they’re structured. They have a rhythm to the words; ‘beats’ that you can easily structure to music.

You can’t sing a novel. Nor can you set a novella to music either.

Poems are meant to be read.

Plays are meant to be performed.

Songs are meant to be sung.

You don’t have to have a melody on your head to start with. But if you do, then get that melody recorded. Whether on your phone or your computer, just hum or sing the tune to nonsense words or just ‘lalala’ even. Words may come but melodies, they are fleeting.

The easiest way to get started on songwriting is by learning to play an instrument. A guitar is, hands down, the best starting instrument for wannabe songwriters. You can write plenty of songs knowing just four chords – I kid you not. Many a song has been written with the simple G-E-C-D chord progression.

Other ways to practise songwriting:

1. Grab an anthology of poems and attempt to set a random poem to music

2. Do parodies. Choose a song you particularly like and make a funny ‘alternative’ version of it. It’s great practise at making words ‘fit’ a melody structure.

3. Take simple children’s songs or lullabies and attempt to change a note or two. A jazz version of Rockabye baby? A blues version of He’s Got The Whole World? The sky’s the limit.

Other tips – dissect songs. Figure out how they work – tempo, melody, lyrical breakdown. Compare two of your favourite songs from different genres.

Your first few songs are going to sound like other people’s. Deal with it. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery. Just don’t attempt to sell those songs; you’re likely to get sued.

Songwriting, like any other type of writing, is something you get better at by practising. Try writing one song a month. Take baby steps. For inspiration, watch Wayne Brady and how he randomly improvs songs on demand. Sure, the songs he ‘writes’ for Whose Line Is It Anyway won’t win Grammys but it’s enjoyable demonstrate songwriting stripped down to the barest minimum.

Try collaborative songwriting. Maybe you know a friend who’s great at creating melodies – you could come up with the lyrics instead. Most importantly, have fun and aim to write songs that you know you would want to listen to.

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Backpack scourges of commutersville

Backpacks are convenient carryalls. But often they drive me to secret dreams of murder.
You see, at rush hour you will see backpack-wielding antisocial morons eating up standing room.
Why,oh numbskull, must you make us suffer your huge shell of a backpack? Sling it to your front. Place it at your feet. Anything but shoving all that bulk in our faces.
Or learn to carry less, damn you.

Is Les Miserables the cure to my misery?

I love musicals but I have a confession:

I’d never listened to the Les Miserables soundtrack before Susan Boyle.

Quite an oversight, really, when I grew up listening to West Side Story and Phantom of the Opera. Why not Les Miserables? Because I found the backstory plain miserable. A convict on the run? A heartbroken prostitute? A maltreated orphan? I preferred my musicals of a much lighter vein, thanks.

But maybe I’ve changed. Or maybe I’m just dogged by this persistent sorrow that won’t go away. I’m just escaping into the music all day, every day. Much like when I was growing up in a home where singing was my only solace, music the only escape from the madness of my parents’ marriage.

Is it loneliness? Is it recurring depression? Is it just me feeling too much of everything the way I usually do? I don’t know. But I find myself listening to my favourite showtunes – As Long As He Needs Me (Oliver) and I Dreamed A Dream (Les Miserables) on repeat. Now my new obsession is Les Miserables’ Bring Him Home. It resonates with that dull ache I thought I’d put to rest last year. The terrible hollowness and painful longing to just go home. A permanent home where there is no more pain, no more loneliness, no more having to feel or care. Where there is peace. Where there is quiet.

I feel parched while in the middle of an oasis; why is the blackness returning even as I have good people around me and life, though not perfect, isn’t at all awful?

And I cling to Pratchett’s reminder that you do not die for a god: you live for one. Every day of my life.


God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there
He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.
He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son.
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.
Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy
You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die
Let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

The dreams you must let go of

You’ve probably heard of Susan Boyle’s amazing rendition of the song I Dream A Dream. It’s not very polished but there’s a strength and sweetness to her voice that makes her rendition compelling.

Listening from a singer’s perspective, I find the song’s a challenging one to sing. It requires stellar breath support and a wide range. The song’s not for a light soprano – you’d need someone with a big, gutsy voice to do it well and yet be able to match the top notes. An alto might find the range a challenge but it fits quite well within the standard mezzo-soprano tessitura.

(Ruthie Henshall singing a beautiful version of it)

The song itself is one with a beautiful melody but lyrics that twist your gut. And well they should, for the character they were written for is as tragic a heroine as you could imagine. Les Miserables’s Fantine has a child out of wedlock, and finds herself abandoned by the child’s father who seduced her and then left.

She sacrifices so much to keep her child alive, enduring shame, hardship and work as a prostitute. Poor Fantine is a romantic victim of circumstance and in I Dream A Dream encapsulates all the hopeless heartache of having loved and finding that love was in vain and unrequited.

I’ve been where Fantine was. Loved to the point of oblivion, only to have it all sadly reduced to anguish and painful memories. Romantic love, I find, is a happy dream. But the dream doesn’t always end well or translate to real life. I’m not looking. I’ve stopped looking for the longest time. Sometimes I do get lonely and miss the comfort of a hand to hold, sweet nothings on the phone, cuddles and languishing together, speaking of everything and nothing at the same time. Maybe I’ll find that again. Maybe I won’t. For now, those moments are distant, bittersweet memories of times I cannot return to. But loss is but a cycle of life, one that’s inescapable and a truth as bitter as unrequited affection.

I’ll live.

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.