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Heritage Museum traces development of Hong Kong Cantopop

The emergence of Cantopop - Cantonese popular music and songs - can be traced back to the years immediately after World War Two. Following its golden age in the 1980s, Cantopop also became a hit on the Mainland and in overseas Chinese communities. Although it has faltered recently as a phenomenon, Cantopop remains an essential part of Hong Kong’s popular culture with its influence persisting today.

To introduce the history of this musical genre from the 1950s to the present day, the “Riding a Melodic Tide: The Development of Cantopop in Hong Kong” exhibition will be held from tomorrow (November 11) until August 4, 2008, at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

The exhibition is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Radio Television Hong Kong, and organised by the Heritage Museum and the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Featuring some 200 artefacts, including stage costumes, scores by composers and lyricists and music awards, accompanied with illustrative panel text, the exhibition will give visitors an idea of how this local musical genre evolved, its relationship to social changes, the influence of the mass media and the development of Hong Kong’s music industry. Part of the exhibits are selected from the museum’s collection while others are on loan from public and private organisations and collectors.

The exhibition was opened today (November 10) by the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow, the Director of the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Clement So, the Assistant Director (PATV) of Radio Television Hong Kong, Mr Cheung Man-sun, the Chief Executive Officer of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group) Limited, Mr Ricky Fung, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong Limited, Mr Elton Yeung.

Four young artistes, Jade Kwan, Ryan Hui, Ken Hung and Sherman Chung took part in the opening ceremony as guest performers while the renowned Cantopop star, Alan Tam, attended to show his support for this exhibition.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Chow said that the exhibition encapsulated the history of Cantopop development from post World War Two years to the present day.

“Visitors to the exhibition can listen to memorable songs and watch the exquisite performances of the artistes. The exhibition also tells stories behind the production of the songs, which cause us to think about the relationship between Cantopop and the local culture,” Mr Chow said.

The exhibition is divided into three sections - Early Hong Kong Cantopop, Golden Years and Recent Development of Cantopop.

At the early Hong Kong Cantopop Section, visitors will see a selection of artefacts related to early Cantonese songs. Popular Cantonese songs of early days were mainly adapted from Cantonese operas for Chinese miners working in Singapore and then Malaya. Later, riding on the wave of Cantonese movies, movie theme songs became popular. Some of the theme songs contributed greatly to the cultured images of film stars and became all-time favourites, while others appealed to the masses with their true-to-life colloquial lyrics. Broadcasting for the first time in 1959, Commercial Radio quickly established itself as a key channel for promoting early Cantopop. It had special timeslots for Cantonese pop music. Meanwhile, commercial jingles began to be sung in Cantonese and Cantonese theme songs were developed for radio dramas.

Apart from featuring the oldies, highlights of this section include a photo of a singing performance at Ko Shing Teahouse in 1958, record albums: “Dancing Cantonese Song: The Terms of Marriage” in the 1960s and “Batgirl” in 1967 and a valve radio of the 1960s.

The golden years of Cantopop started in the 1970s and songs such as “The Fatal Irony” and “Games Gamblers Play” soon became popular after repeated broadcasts on radio and television. The rise of Cantopop coincided with the opening-up policy of China. Cantopop songs were introduced into China by Hong Kong visitors who took electronic music products and cassette tapes to the Mainland, where they quickly gained acceptance. At about the same time, locally produced television programmes began to be exported to China and Southeast Asia. As the locally produced television shows were very popular among the Chinese living abroad, TV theme songs exported with the programmes found new markets.

The rise of Cantopop can also be attributed to the advances in technology. The invention of vinyl records, cassette tapes, digital CDs, walkmans, MTVs and karaoke machines have led to a much closer relationship between business, the music industry and the end users, all of whom, in turn, have furthered the development of pop music.

Visitors to the exhibition will see numerous exhibits illustrating the golden years of Cantopop. They include manuscripts by renowned local composers and lyricists, trophies of various music awards, guitars used by famous Cantopop singer Samuel Hui, costumes of famous artistes, as well as photos of Cantopop stars. In addition, a television set in the 1970s is also on display to record the golden years of Cantopop.

The last section of the exhibition covers the recent development of Cantopop. When karaoke appeared in the mid-1980s people in Hong Kong quickly developed a passion for this new form of entertainment. Record and entertainment companies also used it to promote their current hits. For this reason, karaoke is now one of the key channels to promote Cantopop.

Internet is now an important part of people’s lives. Users can transmit and download movies and songs online, and music websites offer new communication channels for pop music. People can now play current hits on their mobile phones, and download Cantopop songs as ringtones. These new media have changed music's functions, forms and communication channels as well as the consumption pattern. However, one derivative of the new technology is illegal downloading.

The entertainment industry in neighbouring countries and regions has been blooming. Cantopop is now seen only as a niche in Chinese music in the Greater China Region. With reduced record sales and burgeoning new media, it is an opportunity to think about the new direction for Cantopop.

Exhibits illustrating the recent development of Cantopop include a souvenir of Samuel Hui’s Concert in 2004 and photos of famous artistes of the present day and their popular Cantopop songs.

The museum has also produced a series of photographs with images of renowned Cantopop stars as souvenirs, which will be given away in batches throughout the exhibition period to visitors with valid museum admission tickets or yearly/half-year museum pass while stocks last.

Located at 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin, the Heritage Museum opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays and from 10am to 5pm on Christmas Eve and Chinese New Year’s Eve. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Chinese New Year. Admission is $10, with a half-price concession for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and full-time students. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

Car parking is available at the Heritage Museum. Those who prefer to use public transport may take the KCR Ma On Shan line to the Che Kung Temple station, which is within five minutes’ walk to the museum.

For enquiries, call 2180 8188. For details of the exhibition, visit the Heritage Museum's website at .

Ends/Saturday, November 10, 2007
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