Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sally Yeh - Cantopop's Nonpareil Siren of Song

It's been too long since I've listened to some good Cantopop. By good Cantopop, I don't mean those pretenders on the scene who half-whisper lyrics, sounding more like they're speaking than singing. No, sir. I'm talking about the old-school artistes, those whose work have secured them preeminent positions in the Cantopop constellation of stars; singers who can carry a tune. When one peruses the Cantopop canon, the same names appear again and again: marquee performers like Priscilla Chan, Anita Mui, and the quintessential paragon of pop in multiple dialects and languages, Sally Yeh (叶蒨文).

It's been too friggin’ long since I've listened to Sally Yeh. The four time winner of the Hong Kong Best Female Singer award rightly deserves every ounce of adulation she receives. Ignore the doubters and naysayers. Her body of work speaks for itself. Even if she doesn’t utter another note for the rest of her life, her decades-long career as has made her an enduring and fervently worshipped icon in the high-turnover world of Chinese idolatry.

It was a recent Apple iPhone purchase that got me re-acquainted with her music. Loaded up iTunes with Sally Yeh mp3’s and boom, a stream of her silk-soaked-in-honey vocals are flowing from my earbuds. Life is sweet. Listening to her also made me realize reason why I don’t listen to her more than I should -- my proficiency in Mandarin and Cantonese is -- optimistically-speaking -- about grade five-ish. It's barely enough to get by ordering food at a Chinese restaurant without running the risk of poisoning the entire table.

How could anyone with such feeble grasp of the lyrics gain an absolute appreciation and enjoyment of her art? It’s no mystery really. She possesses the ability to convey the emotional essence of every song through her voice alone. Words no longer matter; language no longer matters.

Over the years, however, I’ve often wondered -- how much more juice could I squeeze out then, if I could actually understand the lyrics? I thought it would be interesting to find out.

With the help of online dictionaries and, I'm going to translate my entire Sally Yeh playlist, verse by painful verse. Consider it a community service to all the Chinese-language-challenged Cantopop fans out there. I can't be the only one, can I? Or can I? Either way, I think it's gonna be fun, even if it benefits no-one else.

I’m gonna kick it off with 哭砂 (ku1 sha1): it's near the top of my all-time faves. Could this be the most tear-jerky song she has ever sung? I don't know. She sings a lot of tear-jerky songs. Hmmm... why does saying tear-jerky make me hungry?

Right out of the gate, the title causes me to stumble. I have no idea how to translate “哭砂”. If it is a metaphor, it’s one I’m not familiar with (along with probably a million others). Weepy sand? Teary gravel? If anybody out there has an idea, please speak up. For now, I'll go with "Tears in the Sand".

哭砂 "Tears in the Sand"

你是我最苦澀的等待 讓我歡喜又害怕未來
Waiting for you is a bitter experience; I feel at once hope and fear of the future.

你最愛說你是一顆塵埃 偶而會惡作劇的飄進我眼裡
You love to say you’re a speck of dust; Every so often, you playfully blow into my eye. (Clumsy, and weird - you can tell I have a lot of trouble with this line)

寧願我哭泣 不讓我愛你 你就真的像塵埃消失在風裡
You want to make me cry; You won't let me love you; You disappear like dust in the wind.

你是我最痛苦的抉擇 為何你從不放棄漂泊
You're my most painful dilemma; Why don't you ever give up your wandering ways?

海對你是那麼難分難捨 你總是帶回滿口袋的沙給我
It's tough for you to part with the ocean; You always bring me back pocketfuls of sand

難得來看我 卻又離開我 讓那手中瀉落的沙像淚水流
Visits from you are rare; We’re more often apart; Let sand flow from the hand like tear drops.

風吹來的沙落在悲傷的眼裡 誰都看出我在等你
Wind-blown sand lands in my sad eyes; It's obvious that I'm waiting for you.

風吹來的沙堆積在心裡 是誰也擦不去的痕跡
Wind-blown sand collects in my heart; Which is impossible to clean out.

風吹來的沙 穿過所有的記憶 誰都知道我在想你
Wind-blown sand scatters through all my memories; It's obvious I am thinking of you.

風吹來的沙 冥冥在哭泣 難道早就預言了分離
The wind-blown sand; I'm crying in the dark; could it have long predicted our separation?

The last two verses repeat.

Whew! I’m glad I got through that with dry eyes. Okay, I might’ve misted up a little there… in one eye.

Okay, obviously I didn’t do a literal translation of the song. I took some poetic license here and there. Some parts could be more elegant - your constructive criticism is welcome, of course. Until my next post, happy listening!


Nic Da Nic said...

i am a fan of sally yeh too
erm..i listen to this song many many times..but i couldn't find out what is the meaning of this song

thanks a lot....

Kuan said...

Hi WoozyDoozy! Just want to let you know I enormously enjoyed your post (it's very funny!), and wholeheartedly agree with what you said above about Sally's music becos, well, I've been a fan of Sally's for 16 years!:)))

Your translation of Koo Sha is very beautiful.. ohh it's such a good idea to translate some of Sally's lyrics into English because I know there are many fans out there who love Sally's songs very much but they don't know Chinese quite well, so it's hard for them to understand fully as for what those lyrics mean...Many of Sally's songs have POETIC lyrics with deep meanings...My favorite one is Hua Lee Yuan, but it's kinda hard to translate that one into English to convey all the subtle meanings.. probably I will try later...!

Ohh do you mind if I quote your blog entry onto Facebook to share with others? I know there are quite a lot who would enjoy what you wrote and how you wrote it... just as I did...

Ok wish you all the Best!! Keep writing!

WoozyDoozy said...


You may quote from this blog if you give the proper attribution, including a link to the original post.