Getai is a big part of our culture, but how many of us actually know the significance of the lively, sometimes rowdy, live stage performances?
A Getai (literally song stage, 歌台), is traditionally held during the Hungry Ghost Festival (also know literally as Zhong Yuan Jie) and is common in Singapore and Malaysia.
According to historical sources, Zhong (middle) Yuan Jie started in the Tang dynasty (618 – 907) as the middle part of the three related festivals during which people offer prayers and food to the tian guan (the Heavenly God),di guan (the Earthly God), and the shui guan (the Water God).
During this period, people believe that the dead need to be appeased and consequently burn offerings and pray to their ancestors to show their respect. If these rituals are not observed, some believe that this will offend the restless spirits and bring them bad luck.
In Singapore, the Hungy Ghost Festival has evolved over the years to include new traditions such as auctions, dinners, operas and live performances out in the open.
The performances, which have evolved over the years to its present state, are meant to entertain the restless spirits that are let loose when the Gates of Hell open during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. However, they also draw a large physical audience, especially in the heartlands.
Typically, temporary wooden stages are planted in open spaces or grassy fields, or indoors within temples and buildings. Performers are often clad in colorful, glittery costumes and perform familiar favorites to accompaniment of a live band. The younger performers are usually more bold in their dressing, favoring revealing outfits to the delight of the older male audience.
The stage is usually painted in bright colors and further compounded by colorful strobe lights. There is usually a host, who engages the audience with humor and the occasional crude reference. Some hosts are effectively multi-lingual, switching between various Chinese dialects and the 4 official languages with ease.
The performances are free and everyone is invited to watch, only that you are not allowed to sit in the front row as these are reserved for the night’s “special guests”. Widely accepted as a integral part of local culture, Getai has also been incorporated into the mainstream media with acclaimed director Royston Tan’s movies 881 as well as 12 lotus. Local citizen journalism portal STOMP also holds the Getai Awards annually to honor the most popular Getai artistes.
Popular Getai artistes