…..A-Mei has brought a message of hope to the community at
the close of this year. She has reminded us of Amazing Grace and
it is indeed a sweet, sweet sound.
The first time I got to know about A-Mei (阿妹) was through Zhang Yu-Sheng (張雨生), a very popular Taiwanese singer in the early 1990s. She was known to Mandopop followers as the one Zhang Yu-Sheng was mentoring and leading into the music profession. At that time, she was called Zhang Hui-Mei (張惠妹) which was later affectionately shortened to A-Mei. The year was 1996. I remember listening to one of her earlier songs, ‘Sister’ (姊妹) on YES 93.3, the radio station and wondering who the aboriginal singer with powerful vocals was, as the signature chant-like native calls filled the air waves. At that time, she had released her first album, Sisters (the same name as the song). Later, I was introduced to her duet with Zhang Yu-Sheng, the ballad – “The One I Love Most Hurts Me Most” (最愛的人傷我最深).
What really caught my attention was the next song, ‘Bad Boy’, and I remember that I couldn’t help moving to the strong beat of the music as I listened to it over the radio…..I tried my best not to move too much when driving lest others thought I was crazy as they saw me through the car windows. I still have to try and control myself when the song is aired nowadays once in a while.
Other hits were subsequently aired, all of which became a great listening pleasure and endeared her to me and her listeners more and more:
You want nothing from me after all (原來你什麼都不要)
Listen to the Sea (聽海)
Holding Hands (牽手)
Moving Mountains and Seas (排山倒海)
I Want Happiness (我要快樂)
Her decision to go back to her aboriginal roots, taking on her original name Amit (阿蜜特)in 2009, was well received, although it didn’t resonate with me because somehow the change in musical direction didn’t quite work for me. But I respected her courage to re-invent and to present another side of herself which may possibly lead to a drop in her popularity.
In 2009, she caught my attention again, when she sang for the Taipei Gay Pride Parade and became the ambassadress for Taiwan pride. I believe that her willingness to stand up and be counted as a supporter of the LGBTQ community must have been instrumental in making the Taipei Pride Parade, the largest and most successful pride parade in Asia. It has also made Taipei the gay capital of Asia, a far cry from the time I worked in Taiwan more than 20 years ago.
Fast forward to 2013.
I consider this year, the year of A-Mei for the LGBTQ community. In Singapore, it began in January when A-Mei held a concert here. I believe it must have been the first time in Singapore when a concert had same-sex kissing shown on the big screens in the Indoor Stadium. Within a couple of hours after the concert, the video recordings had gone into cyberspace. Couples both straight and gay were seen on the screens kissing as A-Mei sang Rainbow (彩虹) and Tien Mi Mi (甜蜜蜜) on stage, scoring a first and definitely a step forward in the LGBTQ journey in Singapore.
As recent as a few weeks ago, A-Mei scored another first, this time in Taiwan by putting up a concert on 22 December, in support of gay marriages in Taiwan as the country struggled with those who protested against the draft bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Taiwan.
I watched the video online and was moved by the fact that although it was very cold outdoors, the event attracted 20,000 people. What was even more amazing was the fact that A-Mei paid for it, estimated at NT$3 million – US$100,625, out of her own pocket. To me this is a good example of a supporter who puts her money where her mouth is.
One of the songs she sang at the concert was ‘Amazing Grace’, a well-known and well-loved hymn. Her singing it at the concert added a new dimension to the song.
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see…..
While to the believer, it spoke of God’s amazing love, to the LGBTQ community, it spoke of finding true love either in that special someone or in the people around you. It preached hope in the midst of social rejections, betrayals of love, cruelty to mankind and hatred in hard hearts; it must have brought a strange feeling of warmth to the hearts of those in the freezing temperatures and wet weather in Taipei as it will in the hearts of online viewers here in Singapore.
…..For the mature men who grew up in a Singapore…..
the hope is that we will live to see better days ahead…
For the mature men who grew up in old Singapore, when being gay was such a taboo to society that it was hardly talked about except in demeaning tones, seeing a time when cyberspace had liberated society so much that same-sex kissing can be viewed online, it must be very encouraging. Yes, society has changed and is changing. While Singapore still has Section 377A (which criminalizes consensual sex between adult men) and there is a pending court case challenging the constitutionality of workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, we can see that the world outside has moved on and though there may be segments of society who may stand in the way, the hope is that we will live to see better days ahead.
The year of A-Mei has brought a message of hope to the community at the close of this year. It was indeed an Amei-zing year just as she had named one of her concerts. She has reminded us of Amazing Grace and it is indeed a sweet, sweet sound.
May amazing grace and love fill you through 2014.