The studio lights dim, the band begins to strum, and it’s showtime for a Singapore getai concert - a popular form of entertainment in southeast Asia that features songs, skits and over-the-top costumes to celebrate the dead.
Because of the coronavirus, instead of being watched by a live audience of thousands, the performance is taking place in a studio and broadcast over the internet. The livestream is a lifeline for performers like Febe Huang, who earns her living staging getai with her husband across the region.
“When this pandemic hit, there were two or three months where we just didn’t have any income at all,” she said. “We started selling things online so we had a little bit of a salary. And now this livestreamed getai has started.”
Getai shows are mainly held during the Hungry Ghost Festival in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when spirits of the dead are believed to return to wander the Earth. Performers say without the thrill of a live crowd, it’s not quite the same.
“Every year it’s the same feeling — when the Hungry Ghost Festival comes, (everyone) is very happy. But this year just feels a bit empty. There’s no particular feeling,” said Sam Loo, a veteran getai performer with 37 years of experience.
Still, the online performances have proven hugely popular, with some attracting audiences of hundreds of thousands. Aaron Tan, founder of a company that produces getai concerts, said the hope is that new fans drawn to the online performances will mean bigger audiences for live shows when they reopen.
Ahead of a performance in a recording studio this weekend, caretakers from temples had brought in statues of deities. There were food offerings for the gods, with cans of Guinness beers and a bottle of Martell Cordon Bleu cognac. Brightly dressed performers cracked jokes and sang songs in Hokkien, the main dialect of Southeast Asia’s Chinese diaspora.
The livestreamed getai have kept performers in the spotlight at a time when so many other entertainment events are cancelled.
“So we treasure, we really cherish this opportunity,” said veteran getai performer and comedian Liu Ling Ling.