Here’s a beautiful Cantonese recording. I love this old style which is sparse but with a great rhythmic groove. Many people think of Chinese Opera as being very arrhythmic, and it certainly can be, but this record and many others are played in the same way fiddle music is played all over the world, with a steady pulse.

According to the label, this is a Hua Dan role performed by Xiao Hong Xin. Dan is the name for female roles in China, Hua Dan being one of half a dozen common female roles. Hua Dan is a younger, coquettish female who usually accompanies a Gui Men Dan, a virtuous older Lady, exemplified by the superstar Mei Lan Fang. Often these roles were performed by men, but I believe that Xiao Hong Xin is a woman. (Thanks to David Du for translations).

Thanks to the erudite JW over at Excavated Shellac the mystery is cleared up…the label is actually called “Hindenburg” with a picture of General Paul von Hindenburg, President of Germany (1925-1934) as the trademark. My apologies to the General for mistaking him for Kaiser Wilhelm! Hindenburg, Pagoda and Polyphon were under the umbrella of Deutsche-Grammophon.
“Mech. Copt. 1927” is stamped in the shellac.

Info from Tan Sooi Beng’s article “The 78 RPM Record Industry in Malaya Prior to World War II” (Asian Music 28/1 (1996)).





In contrast to my first post, which was a prime example of Peiping Opera, here’s a beautiful Cantonese song by Suie Hing, Yea Gua Ba Fu Yung, meaning Night Rescue of Ba Fu Yung. (Thanks again to Seneca Chew for translation.)

Beka recorded many of these amazing Cantonese songs but they tend to be in pretty bad condition…if you have some nice ones let me know!

Cantonese Opera songs tend to have less exuberant percussion and a nice, relaxed pulse with beautifully intertwined Erhu melodies, sometimes sounding like two different songs at once! While all forms of Chinese Opera are more related to folk music than western opera, the southern style, cantonese style, is more folk like than the more stylized northern style, or Peiping opera. Cantonese spread throughout southeast Asia and influenced the local folk theater of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the general region.

Although Peiping Opera is considered a higher art form by some, the 78 rpm era saw a huge amount of Cantonese records being produced due to the massive emmigration of Cantonese speakers to countries around the world. For example, the Cantonese first arrived in California in the mid 19th Century and really boomed during the Gold Rush. San Francisco had a thriving Cantonese Opera scene and there are still amateur opera clubs there today. An excellent website on the subject can be found here, Pear Garden in the West.

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