Saturday, October 29, 2011

People: Sarikei Lee Chai Fong 李采霞 - 1980s pop star in the cassette era

Sarikei CNY Singing Contest 1979. 
Lee Chai Fong (middle bottom row)
Source: Sarikei Music and Drama Society magazine

Before Stella Chung Siaw Yih 钟晓玉, the current pop star from Sarikei, there was Lee Chai Fong from the 1980s. Chai Fong didn't exactly just stepped out from singing in the shower to become the first national pop star from Sarikei under the stage name of 李采霞. There was a platform in Sarikei that groomed her stage presence.

(All photos below are from her facebook friend, Yeow Fai Yin)

1982 - 4th album

That platform was the much anticipated annual Chinese New Year singing competition in the mid 1970s and 1980s. It was held at the now demolished basketball stadium (next to the Chamber of Commerce at Market Road).

Sarikei folks would buy a ticket at a small wooden booth outside the stadium and hang out at the stadium to hear contestants belt out golden oldies and latest pop songs. Every now and then, special requests for veteran singers (not the contestants) were allowed. Many rural folks would hang out at the stadium for the whole day and only break to refuel at the kopitiam. Some kids would climb through the holes in the fence, walk over kamat (crab) mounds and climb in between the benches into the stadium for a free show.

1981 - first album

The most famous rivalry between the ladies was in the late 1970s between Janet Lee Chai Fong and another Foochow lass (who lived above a block of mechanic shophouses next to Nyelong River's marine police). 

1981 - second album

In the 1970s, Janet Lee was a demure teenager often seen with the Girls Brigade at the Methodist School. Her family's shop, Chai Mee, sold tidbits at 45 Repok Road, next to the former Rex cinema. She honed her stage presence in practices with her brother, Brendan Lee, and his band. She studied at St. Anthony's School and she had to work extra hard to learn Mandarin to master Chinese songs.

She was talent spotted after winning the Sarikei singing tournament for 2-3 years (how many years?) in the late 1970s. She was signed by Great Union and released her first and second albums in cassette format in 1981. The single 惊情 from her third album in 1982 rocketed her into national stardom. In 1984 she won an award in Taiwan and also won the Top10 Malaysia female pop singers. She recorded 7 albums and released 23 singles with Great Union, the last of which was released in 1989 (a re-interpretation of a Hokkien song). When the company was taken over by Music Valley, the new company re-released many of the singles in the form of CD/DVDs.

Janet Lee Chai Fong
CNY poster

Janet Lee Chai Fong
Volume 7

Janet appeared several times on TV and MTV in the 1980s with Anita Mui like hairstyles. She also performed occasionally in a pub in Sarikei in the 1980s. She hanged up her microphone in 2001.

She settled down in Sarikei after marrying Johnny Su, the son of the towkay (Su Hing Leh 徐與禮) of 新星 Sing Sing at Central Road (next to the former Cathay cinema). It's not easy to be a star in Sarikei. She had to ensure that she looked good when she's out and about. Heads turned when she's seen in town but it's a trade off that came with fame. Janet is currently working at Sarikei District Council.

Tree planting inside Sarikei's mosque
with Sarikei District Council. 2011

Janet Lee Chai Fong, 2000

You can reminisce by listening and watching the many music videos done by her facebook friend at 3 tabs at this link or at youku (2 songs). More photos at facebook group Sarikeians.

Janet Lee Chai Fong

Thanks for the memories, Janet.


Daniel Yiek said...

1. What are the Chinese characters for the name of the shop "Chai Mee"?

2. What's the name of the Foochow girl who competed vs Janet in the late 1970s?

阿炳 said...

After the CNY break your mind was filled with 路邊的野花不要採 while the teacher was teaching in front of the class. Mr Lee senior was a well accomplished singer himself with his glorious song such as 绿岛小夜曲. Few would know that he originate from Sibu, grewing up in Sibu from a opium smoking Heng Hua father and an Iban mother. His brother came to Sarikei too, married the daughter of the Hokkien Sim family (Shop 四丰)。Heng Hua are well know in the field of mechanic, you could see him the whole year round with grease and black oil tainted outfit but come CNY you could expect a well dressed Mr Lee singing his old time favourite 绿岛小夜曲.

Winnie said...

Speaking of the singing competition during CNY, it's nostalgic!

The foochow competitor, could she be Liu Mi Mi?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

It is nice to know about Sarikei's own singers and background!!

This is what a nice town is all about!! Good memories and good people...

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