The Band Post speaks to Adrian Cheong, the Singaporean fan behind the Anita Mui’s festival, and his role in programming the finale concert with the Philharmonic Wind Orchestra (PWO).
Led by conductor Andy Sim, Philharmonic Wind Orchestra will present a symphonic pop concert featuring Mui’s classic hits and movie theme songs. Joining more than 60 musicians are singers Zita Tse from Hong Kong and Novabelle Ng from Singapore, and local stage actor Timothy Wan.
Cover Photo: Adrian Cheong (front row, 3rd from right) with other fans from Singapore and Hong Kong at the conclusion of the Anita Mui Tribute Exhibition which was held at Raffles City and saw more than 6000 visitors over 10 days.
What is your motivation behind the Anita Mui’s Festival?
I’m a huge fan of Anita, and I believe she’s a very important cultural icon in my view. Her life is very interesting and I feel that more people should know about her.
This festival was actually done not only with fans in mind, but also the people who don’t know her well. That is why during the exhibition, we took a lot of care to explain her life, because actually all the fans know most of that. We took a lot of efforts to really tell the different parts of her life, because some people think that she’s a famous singer, but actually she’s also an award-winning actress.
The late Anita was one of the top female singers in Hong Kong before the likes of the Four Heavenly Kings of Pop (四大天王). In fact, even for her acting, like the movie “Rouge”, she was the first to win the Golden Horse Award for Best Leading Actress, Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress, and Asia-Pacific Film Festival Awards for Best Actress awards. Of course, she has other many acting accolades, and we wanted to showcase all of this.
So, for the film festival, we could have just shown her best one or two films, but we decided to show eight of her best films because we wanted to show what she could do. In acting, she is able to play all roles, in dramas, serious films, comedies and even action films. I believe, at that time, it’s very rare for a female actor to be the first name in the movies, and she had quite a few of them.
In her own personal life, she started to sing at the age of four. Coming from a single parent and poor family, she had to help provide for her siblings at an early age and subsequently dropped out of school at the age of 13 or 14. At that time, performers do not actually have a good reputation and she has to face such reality at a rather young age. It was in 1982 that she was encouraged by her sister to compete in the first New Talent Singing Awards, where she emerged champion and became a hit. I find this story very interesting – her singing is excellent to me and she has a great and natural stage presence which I feel there is no one like her even in the world today.
Is that why you have decided to collaborate on PWO for the finale concert?
Really, I wanted a whole series of things to celebrate and to remember her. I’m glad to be working with PWO for this concert which is also the closing of the Anita Mui festival. Her music, to me, is the most important, more so than even the movies, although I also like the movies too.
Just the other day, I told the band a story about her passing. She had cervical cancer, and in the last year of her life in 2003, around age 40, she still continued to work. In September when she was going through a very difficult time, she came out to tell people she had cancer and said that she still wanted to work and hold concerts for her fans while seeking treatment.
In November, she held a series of eight concerts, with the last night being November 15th, before passing away shortly after on December 30th. Perhaps she already knew she was not going to make it, but she wanted to leave something for the fans to remember her, as she left the stage in a symbolic act of “marrying the stage”.
So again, there’s this story about what is fame or what is fortune, when actually all she wanted was just to live a simple life. In her last concert, she said on stage that all she has left are her fans. This desire, or this passion for performing and to her craft; I really hope will inspire everyone, especially people who are musicians and other people in the performing arts.
What can audiences expect from the concert other than her music?
I don’t wish to say too much, but essentially, we will attempt to, again, give a display of all these parts of her life. Her early part of her life, the acting accolades and things like that. In the middle, there’s one section where we will have all the movie themes that she has sung before. That is where Samuel and Bian Tong will be on stage.
Samuel is performing a piece called ‘Nu Ren Xin (女人心)’, which is the theme song for one of her movies ‘The Heroic Trio (东方三侠)’. This, I feel, is a very emotional piece. In fact, we were thinking, should it be sung or performed by a band, but I eventually felt that it should be a solo piece as it would be even more emotional; and I am confident that Samuel will be able to do some magic with it.
The other one is a movie medley with Bian Tong on the Dizi, which I think is a feature. There is one section of the music where we are featuring three of her closest friends, Leslie Cheung, Danny Chan and Roman Tam, who unfortunately have all passed on. We wanted to remember them, and give respect to them as they were very important in her life. This part is actually an homage to her own concerts because when we watched her concerts, she always liked to sing the songs of other people, and as fans, we always think that she sings the songs better than the originals. So, we thought, in this concert, we not only want to play the songs that she sang before, but also those of her friends, who had a great impact in her life.
I guess the entire concert is mostly made out of her more popular songs and the theme songs of the movies that she acted in. The music is arranged by different people, and put together with singers and the members of PWO. Of course, we’ve got the show with classics, which will be sung by the Hong Kong singer Zita Tse. Local singer Novabelle Ng will be singing songs from the younger era of Anita where she has just finished her first competition and started her career with a few albums.
Similar to the festival, is the concert curated in the same way to reach out to people who are not so familiar with the life of Anita Mui?
Yes. Of course, fans will know a lot of insider news, but actually, non-fans can also come and enjoy Anita’s music because the arrangers have all done a great job for them. The individual music is still original even if the arrangers have added some of their own creativity to it.
Through the concept, we will also be telling her story either through multimedia or through a host. It’s not meant to be like a documentary, or very detailed life story, but we hope that people will know enough about her after the concert and be intrigued to find out more.
What is your role in this concert, and how did you find and decide which artists to collaborate with?
I think about the songs to be featured, who to sing what, and how each piece should be presented. For example, about Samuel’s solo, it would sound best not sung because to be honest, it is very difficult to find a singer that can actually sing like her. We thought someone like Samuel will be able to bring a new perspective to it and then it would be interesting to both the fans and to the non-fans as well.
As for the singers, Novabelle was recommended by my friends, because I was looking for a singer that could sing Cantonese songs, and enjoy singing in public and recording her performances. I’ve listened to her on several occasions, and was happy to feature her in our programme. Then, somehow, I was also searching for another singer, and Zita just happened to pop up on my YouTube feed. I don’t really know Zita but as I listened to her vocals, I felt that she would be a great addition to the show.
We were quite clear that we are not looking for an impersonator at any stage, or looking for someone to sound exactly like Anita, because truthfully, we cannot find one. So, it was about artists who can bring up the true meaning or the best representation of the songs.
Finally, what are some of the challenges you have faced while you are producing this concert?
I think the first challenge was to streamline the songs because again, as a fan, everything about Anita is nice. Out of practical reasons and to make a good concert, you need to think about how to make a tight and good programme.
Next, is to find the arrangers, and I must say we are very lucky as we have found a team of interesting team of arrangers, namely Ong Jiin Joo, Yap Sin Yee, Germaine Goh, Robbie Say, Ralph Emmanuel Lim and Gordon Tan, where we have all worked with before. I think the outcome is a good one because then we have different styles, and different interesting sounds.
Then, of course, the main challenge is the arranger’s own work. So that is not just my challenge then as I believe they must also have a challenging enough time too. These are not songs that they know they are familiar with anyway, so it means they need to listen, digest and then create, which is not easy in a not very long time anyway.
As to how the final show sounds, it will be up to you to come and listen, so I hope to see you there!
Either you’re already a fan of Anita Mui or curious about this iconic star’s life and career, PWO’s concert on 23 December promises to be a show not to be missed.
Legend – Anita Mui Tribute Concert
Saturday, 23 December 2023
Esplanade Concert Hall, 7.30pm
$25, $38, $50