Near the end of 2008, Singapore Channel 8 broadcasted The Little Nonya (小娘惹), a period drama about the Peranakans and its theme song 如燕.
The Peranakans are a mixed group between the Malays and Chinese. They are found mostly in Malacca, Penang, and Singapore. They have a distinct culture, vaguely familiar to the Chinese yet different.
Nonya is the term for the Peranakan lady. The Peranakan man is known as a Baba. They typically speak Malay and Hokkien, a Chinese dialect.
The drama was a big hit and many who do not normally follow local dramas tuned in. I think I saw the first episode, missed the entire middle section, and caught up with the last few episodes. Although I was missing a lot of details and side plots, I could still get the gist of the story.
The ending resulted in a controversy. A lot of people expected a good ending where the heroine gets her man. But she didn’t. It was a little sad but she was not the worst for it in the end. She still married well.
Anyway, drama aside, the theme song 如燕 (loosely translated as Like a Swallow) was fantastic. I thought it captured the essence of the culture and era. It can immediately affect the mood of the listener. The lyrics are so poetic, like a graceful lady sashaying, just like a N
Some have suggested that the song could be used to teach mandarin. I agree. If I was a secondary school student, I would learn mandarin just to understand this song.
The songwriter is a local veteran songwriter who keeps a very low profile. I hope he makes lots of royalties from this song.
Happy listening, Phoebe
2019 Update: apparently a remake by China is underway. I doubt it will be as good as the 2008 version. There