HAVE A NICE 丁
By Elliot Fong
This was the first time I traveled with family in several years. Having not seen both my grandparents for a while, this was also a family reunion of sorts. I went in with the understanding that this was not my personal trip, but I had to squeeze in my own adventures whenever time allowed. However, I decided to look for vinyl records as a personal quest: specifically, Asian interpretations of American music (I.e.: funk, soul, rock n’ roll) during the ’60s and ‘ 70s.
In preparation, I spent hours researching online, and came across Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian interpretations of American music. This included traditional styles of Thai music such as luk thung, which became infused with funk and soul styles. A wide range of other artists included Rita Razon, CBC Band, Liev Tuk, Ros Sereysothea, and others. There’s a lot of stuff on YouTube, and snippets of personal collections on Instagram and Soundcloud (check out user siamfunko for the luk thung and Thai funk uploads).
Researching music also brought attention to music culture in context within a larger historical landscape. Music culture and histories functions as an extension, reaction, and result of the situations occurring during particular time periods. For example, a significant amount of music and artistic culture from Cambodia were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era. Recordings before 1980 are extremely rare, and it’s not easy to trace these histories. The KR killed up to three million people during the Cambodian genocide, in the process wiping out massive amounts of art and music.
While sharing some songs over the Internet with my friend Dexter, he brought up, how did black music get to Southeast Asia, in the ’60s? We discussed, most likely through the the black GIs. The US military at the time was still largely socially segregated. In Vietnam, groups like CBC Band played rock music for white folks. But where and how did off-duty military folks hang out, and who did they spend time with? How did James Brown get introduced to people in Thailand, and how did funk styles become integrated with luk thung? These questions brought up issues surrounding the largely buried histories of the relationships between black GIs and local people.
On my first full day off the plane, my friend Edwin took me out to explore the artistic side of Hong Kong and to look for vinyl records. We checked out the the 13th floor of the Sino Center, but the Old Sound Collection–Used Records and Magazines, was not open. There were some records at the indie/arthouse theatre, Broadway Cinematheque, but they mostly had new imported albums. Kubrick, the bookstore adjacent to the cinema, carried a wide collection of books, and some zines. There’s another record store (Hang Sing?) around the Apliu Street area that has a good vinyl selection of some ’60s and ’70s, but mostly ’80s Hong Kong and American pop. However, our main score was in Apliu Street, a huge flea market spanning multiple blocks with literally all kinds of shit: three foot mounds of used (and rusty) power drills, old coins, fake old coins, old electronics, flashing lights, old mail, and basically anything anyone could possibly sell. We found a bunch of UK imported 45s from the late 70s and early 80s, tucked behind a stand. The 45s included titles that spanned from Two Tone Records to Motown. I even got lucky and found Chic. These 45s reflected remnants of British colonialism and in Hong Kong. However, it seems that Asian funk and soul records were not easy to find.
The next day my dad and I intended to go to the Bruce Lee exhibition, but instead we ended up at the HK Museum of History. In the section featuring the 60s and the modern era, the soundtrack jumped out at me. This is the stuff I’m trying to look for! What is this HK ’60s music called? My dad responded, this is A Go Go music, for dancing. Specifically, The Chopsticks or The Reynettes performing “Kowloon Hong Kong.” Sweet, I was really happy to have a reference point for Hong Kong music, and the search for funk transitioned to A Go Go, and Hong Kong English Pop.
We went to Apliu Street and found the record store (Hang Sing?) and picked up an A Go Go compilation, including a couple blind buys including a Pancy Lau LP (because that same album was on CD at the HK museum bookstore). I don’t know if I was looking in the wrong places, but it was difficult to find A Go Go vinyl from the 60s. To state the obvious, I guess it’s not necessarily easy to find 40-year-old records in Hong Kong.
When my family visited George Town, Penang, Malaysia, I was able to get dropped off on Lebuh Chulia, a street lined with many antique shops. At the first store I stepped into, the storeowner was tinkering with a working gramophone. It was spinning a 78 and playing Chinese music. After sifting through about a couple hundred 45s, I picked out The Melodians, Nancy Sit, Shao Fong Fong, and a couple Off Beat and A Go Go compilations. Since these were all blind buys, I did not want to look through any LPs. These releases were largely distributed through Singapore and Malaysian record labels in the 60s.
The record store I looked forward to the most was Red Point Record Warehouse in Singapore and over 10,000 LPs, including lots of rare American rap and jazz records. Thankfully, the amazingly helpful store owned showed me a bunch of A Go Go and 60s dancing music. (But still no Asian funk or soul records). He picked out a stack of albums for me to listen to, and we would narrow them down into particular kinds of recordings. This lasted for over three hours. I felt kind of honored when he gave me a bottle of water, after I had read in an online forum that he often gives people water when they visit the warehouse shop.
He said A Go Go could be interpreted in different sounds, depending on the group. Some of the artists that stood out to me included The Silverstones, The Saint, The Stylers, and Apollo. I saw a bunch of The Melodians LPs and EPs that I came across at the Penang antique store, but in better condition. I don’t want to state the obvious, but generally speaking, vinyl records are very regional. Red Point had lots of music from Singapore and Malaysia, but no funk from Thailand. It wasn’t easy finding albums from neighboring countries, unless the artist or band was well known.
A Go Go bands in the ’60s and ’70s embraced a distinct overlapping of musical styles. The drum beat and bass lines in many of the A Go Go bands had a rock n roll beat, while the guitar, keys, and vocals had a strong Chinese-influenced sound. This formed a distinct style of Chinese-related style of rock n’ roll. Same with some of the funk influenced stuff in the ’70s. Bass and drum beat pretty funky, and the treble would have a strong Chinese sound. For the most part, songs were usually played in major keys and sounded happy, fit for dance parties.
Through this brief journey in search for vinyl records, I can only attempt to piece together a limited historical cultural narrative. For instance, the influence of funk and soul from the United States in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the ’60s. While there’s a variety of Thai funk and soul music, there’s unfortunately not much Cantonese, Mandarin, or Singaporean funk. However, the influence of some British and European-style pop music in Hong Kong and Singapore is evident in A Go Go and related music. Surf rock styles were also apparent in popular ’60s Singaporean bands.
These observations, however, are a generalized overview of the music I came across and was exposed to. The journey in the attempt to find funk and soul vinyl records unveiled deeper connections relating to historical timelines. Armed conflict, war, and colonialism were some of the factors that directly influenced music culture in particular geographical regions. What I’ve written here only scratches the surface. That’s it for now. Thanks to user eric93106 for the amazing uploads.
Shouts out to all the soulful funky Asians.
About the Title
A Cantonese slang phrase for masturbation, “da fei gei,” means to hit the aeroplane, or to beat the aeroplane. It evolved into “da fei jei.” Then it just became “J.” I saw an older guy wear a shirt in HK with a sweaty happy face that said, “Have A Nice J,” and immediately thought it was a reference to masturbating. Turns out, the T-shirt is a Jordan shirt, and has nothing to do with Cantonese slang. While writing this, the slang for masturbating has transformed into “丁”(pronounced “ding”) because 丁 looks like J. So, have a nice 丁!
Have A Nice 丁 is a two part digital/print series. Part I is necessarily digital because having an attached soundtrack is necessary. Part II will be a zine with more writing and reflections.