The Getai Spirit Lives
The emcee engages the audience in witty dialect banter before introducing her next act. As the band begins to play, lighting and smoke effects are thrown into the mix and the performer belts out a Hokkien classic while dancing in her shimmering costume. The getai stage springs to life and the audience is enchanted.
A getai, in Chinese, means a song stage. It consists of variety performances, mostly made up of song and dance numbers. During the seventh month of the lunar calendar, getais are especially prominent in the heartlands, generating a lot of colour and noise.
It is customary at the getai for the first row of chairs to be left vacant for the spirits that are believed to roam our world during this month, which is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. Some Chinese would also burn more offerings and pray to their ancestors during this month, as it is believed that the Gates of Hell are open to give spirits a free pass.
It is remarkable that the spirit of getai lives on, considering that majority of the audience members are from the older generation – well beyond their fifties. This is all due to efforts from the Chinese associations, merchants and businessmen, who pour money into organising a getai event from their own pockets. Usually accompanying a getai is a dinner and auction, where funds are raised for a selected charity or home.
That is not to say the getai has not evolved with times. The scene at a getai today can be described as electrifying with LED lighting, smoke machines and a fully equipped sound system. More young performers are joining the getai run with their energetic dance numbers while the veteran performers continue singing to classic tunes familiar to the older generation. There are in fact several Facebook groups/pages with updates on getai activity and locations.
Other than technological advancements, licensing and regulations have also caught on with the getai. They are licensed to operate until 10.30pm, which is understandable given their heartland location close to residences. There are also restrictions on indecent attire, cross-dressing and the usage of obscene language.
Visit a getai near your home and feel the spirit – of the getai that is. Just make sure you don’t occupy the reserved seats.