Singapore Infopedia

by Koh, Jaime, Ho, Stephanie


Getai (歌台), which literally means “song stage” in Chinese, is believed to have originated during the Japanese Occupation at the New World Amusement Park.1 It became a popular form of mass entertainment in the 1950s with getai established at various amusement parks.2 Today, getai is mainly staged during the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节; zhong yuan jie) to entertain both the living and the dead.3

Getai is said to have originated during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–1945). The first getai is believed to be the Da Ye Hui (大夜会) at the New World Amusement Park.4 At the time, Da Ye Hui had a five-member band and two singers, and they would perform every night, mostly singing.5 The other main getai then was An Na Shi Tang (安娜食堂), also established at the New World Amusement Park.6 The songs performed were generally folk songs or more traditional Chinese songs.7

Getai went on to become a popular form of entertainment. There were two reasons for this: the Japanese allowed the proliferation of getai because they loved music, and the locals flocked to getai for the much-needed entertainment to distract them from the hardship during the occupation.8 In those days, the audience did not have to purchase tickets to attend the shows; they were only required to pay for the drinks ordered.9

The popularity of getai coincided with the decline of the ge wu tuan (歌舞团; song-and-dance troupes) that had taken root in Singapore in the 1920s.10 After the war, the getai remained a popular form of entertainment. According to Bai Yan, one of the veterans of ge wu tuan and getai, businesses flourished during the early 1950s – the economy was booming and people had money to spend as a result of the Korean War. With limited forms of entertainment, getai was then the entertainment for the masses.11

At the amusement parks
During the 1950s, there were many getai established at the three amusement parks – Great World, Happy World and New World. Generally, these getai were made up of a permanent team of singers and the band. The programmes for the shows were constantly refreshed in order to provide variety to sustain audience interest.12 In addition to singing, the performances included folk dances, sketches, dramas and cross-talk.13

At its peak in the 1950s, there were more than 20 getai in the three amusement parks. These include Shangri La (香格里拉), Broadway (百老汇), Man Jiang Hong (满江红), Phoenix (凤凰), Double Happiness (双喜歌台), New Life Getai (新生歌台), Jin Lu Hua (金露华歌台), China Restaurant (中国酒家歌台), Wild Grass (野草歌台), Happy Sky (快乐天歌台), Bai Yue Hui (百乐汇歌台), Xian Yue (仙乐歌台; later renamed Tao Hua Jiang Getai, 桃花江歌台), Bai Yue Men (百乐门歌台), Night Garden (夜花园歌台) and Nightingale (夜莺歌台).14 Many of these getai, however, did not last long. Usually, when one closed, it was quickly replaced by another.15

In addition to these getai, there were also restaurant-based and travelling getai. The travelling getai were generally known as ge ju tuan (歌剧团; song-and-drama troupes).16

The performance lineups for the various getai were published in the newspapers.17 Families often attended getai performances on weekends.18


By the late 1950s, amusement park getai had begun to decline in popularity in light of competition from new attractions such as striptease shows. The end of the Korean War boom also affected business.19 All these, coupled with the introduction of television in the 1960s, followed by colour television in the 1970s, marked the end of getai in amusement parks.20 In 1988, the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (now known as MediaCorp) aired a Chinese drama series, titled Wu Xie Ge Tai (舞榭歌台), about the rise and decline of getai in Singapore.21

Street getai
By the 1970s, getai had become a mainstay of the Hungry Ghost Festival held during the seventh lunar month.22 During this month, the Chinese believe that the gates of hell are opened for spirits to wander the earth. Thus, the Chinese prepare offerings of food and incense, and stage entertainment to appease these “hungry ghosts”.23

Unlike their predecessors in the amusement parks, street getai were staged as a form of entertainment for the spirits. In addition, street getai did not usually have a permanent team of singers and band. Instead, the organisers hired performers according to the budget given.24

By 1990, Chinese opera troupes had reported a decrease in business, unlike getai which had become increasingly popular. Chinese opera performances were more expensive to stage and attracted smaller audiences compared with getai which appealed to a younger audience.25 That year, getai commanded at least half the market share during the Hungry Ghost Festival. 26

Today, getai is the most common form of entertainment during the Hungry Ghost Festival.27 Getai acts are usually performed on make-shift stages in open-air venues in Housing and development Board (HDB) estates. In 2007, it was reported that there were as many as 40 getai acts a night during the festival, with each attracting 1,000 to 5,000 people.28 Although getai performances are also staged throughout the year by various entities such as residents’ committees, community centres and corporations, getai is synonymous with the Hungry Ghost Festival and has become an identifying feature of the festival.29

By the late 1990s, staging getai had become increasingly difficult. Since 1997, getai organisers had to pay a copyright musical licence fee to the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS).30 Getai organisers were also receiving fewer “confirmed” orders for performances, and the budget for a show had decreased from between S$6,000 and S$8000 to about S$3,500. Some zhong yuan hui (Hungry Ghost Festival committees) even decided against staging getai because of financial constraints.31

Furthermore, the introduction of new rules and restrictions also affected the getai business. In 2000, a new ruling stating that festivities must end at 10.30 pm came into effect, which meant less time for performances and hence fewer shows for getai performers. There was also less time for auctions, resulting in lower revenue to fund getai.32 Auctions of “good luck” items are part of the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations, and money raised from the auctions is used to fund the following year’s festivities. Surplus may also be donated to charity or temple-building activities.33

Reviving getai culture
From 2006, getai received a boost from several sources. In 2006, citizen-journalism and social-networking website Stomp initiated the Getai Awards to preserve and promote getai culture, which was seen as a “uniquely Singaporean tradition”, and to recognise the work of getai performers.34

In 2007, the following year, Stomp launched an information portal for the getai season known as Getai A-go-go. The portal offered information on getai performances, related photographs, videos and blogs.35 It also helped the getai fan base by its extensive coverage of the getai scene and by introducing English-speaking fans to getai.36

In 2007, local filmmaker Royston Tan released 881, a film that revolves around the Papaya Sisters, played by Yeo Yann Yann and Mindee Ong, who try to make a name for themselves in the getai scene.37 The film, with its Hokkien getai songs and smatterings of Hokkien dialogue, was a success grossing over S$1.2 million within a month of its opening. The movie soundtrack was also a bestseller, with one of the songs making it to Chinese-language local radio station Yes 93.3 FM’s top-20 chart.38 In 2011, 881 was adapted into a stage musical by theatre group Toy Factory.39 Following the success of 881, more young people were seen at getai performances.40

There were also other efforts to promote getai to a younger audience. In 2004, as part of its programme “ACM After Dark”, the Asian Civilisations Museum organised a getai performance that attracted more than 1,000 people. It was reported that the majority of the audience were young people.41

Seven years later, in 2011, a getai show was staged for the first time on Orchard Road at the plaza in front of Ngee Ann City shopping mall. This effort to win over tourists and younger audiences attracted a crowd of about 10,000.42

In 2012, MediaCorp broadcast a getai-themed period drama, Joys of Life (花样人间), which was a success. It drew 993,000 viewers to its final episode, and was the highest-rated drama that year.43

Changing face of getai
Over the years, getai organisers have resorted to various gimmicks to attract audiences. These include having air-conditioned venues, large video screens and non-Chinese performers.44 In recent years, LED panels have also been used to enhance the atmosphere and show live footage of the audience and the action on stage.45 Some organisers have resorted to raunchy content, including engaging scantily-clad models, to attract audiences,46 although rules stipulate that “performers cannot use vulgar or obscene language, cross-dress or be indecently attired”.47 These days, getai performances may include traditional dialect songs sung along with “techno” renditions of Mandarin and English popular music.48

Generally, today’s getai performers are younger, with some coming from Malaysia and China. Getai has also produced stars such as Hao Hao from Taiwan. In 2013, he won the award for most popular male singer at the Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News Getai Awards for the fourth time.49

In addition to entertainment, getai has also been used for public education. For example, the first AIDS roadshow organised by the Ministry of Health took the form of a getai to reach out to Chinese-educated HDB residents.50 In 2014, a series of getai concerts were organised by the Lien Foundation with the aim of getting people who view death as taboo to start talking about it before it was too late.51


Jaime Koh and Stephanie Ho

1. Wang Zhencun 王振春, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà 新加坡歌台史话 [The history of Singapore’s getai]. (Xinjiapo 新加坡:Xinjiapo qing nian shu ju 新加坡青年书局, 2006), 1–6 (Call no. Chinese RSING 792.7095957 WZC); Mo Meiyan 莫美颜, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!” [Curtains down on getai]. Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 ,  22 May 1988, 50. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
3. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 67.
4. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 1–6; Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
5. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 1–6.
6. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 1–6.
7. Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
8. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 4, 6.
9. Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
10. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 204–08; Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
11. Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
12. “旧’歌台与街头歌台不同,” [The difference between the ‘old’ getai and street getai], Lianhe Zaobao联合早报 , 22 May 1988, 50. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “别忘了另一段歌台历史,” [Don’t forget the other history of getai], Lianhe Zaobao联合早报 , 27 October 2007, 25 (From NewspaperSG); Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
14. Jin ren 金人, “五十年代歌台点滴.” [Some details of getai in the 1950s ], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 , 28 November 1993, 50 (From NewspaperSG); “别忘了另一段歌台历史.”
15. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 66.
16. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 70.
17. “黃昏歌台歌星陣容實間:每日下午三時至晚上七時止,” [Huang Hun getai singers lineup: Daily from 3pm to 7pm], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商 ,  2 April 1969, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “别忘了另一段歌台历史,”
19. Mo, “歌台,舞‘谢’了!
20. “别忘了另一段歌台历史.” 
21. Zhengliming 郑莉明, “演出《舞榭歌台》– 多位艺人唱剧中插曲,” [Artistes sing songs for Wu Xie Ge Tai], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 , 7 January 1988, 24 (From NewspaperSG); Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 211–12.
22. “胡姬及旅者歌台承接七月街頭戲,” [Hu Ji and Traveller getai accepting orders for Hungry Ghost street performances], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商 , 6 September 1974, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Tan Ban Huat, “Soul Food,” Straits Times, 24 August 1989, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “旧’歌台与街头歌台不同.”
25. “Singapore Opera Blues,” Straits Times, 30 September 1990, 2; “Superstition or Not, It Is a Folk Custom That Has Adapted and Endured,” Straits Times, 17 August 1995, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Singapore Opera Blues.” 
27. Wang, Xīnjiāpō gē tái shǐhuà, 67.
28. Mindy Tan, “Clueless about Getai? Let Us Guide You...,” New Paper, 17 August 2007, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Singapore Opera Blues.” 
30. Chin Soo Fang, “It’s a Hard Day’s Night for the Getai Boss,” Straits Times, 14 August 1997, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Guo Lijian 郭丽娟 “中元歌台一年不如一年,” [Zhongyuan getai declining by the year]. Lianhe Zaoabo 联合早报 , 11 August 2002, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Clarissa Oon, “Going Fast… Going Faster,” Straits Times, 6 August 2000, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Festival of the Hungry Ghosts,” New Paper, 24 July 1992, 5; Chong Chee Kin, “It’s Hell Doing Seventh-Month Auctions,” Straits Times, 25 August 2002, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Kenneth Tan, “Night of Getai Passion,” MyPaper, 8 July 2011. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
35. Byrna Sim, “Introducing STOMP’s Vibrant New Feature on Getai,” Straits Times, 5 August 2007, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Azhar Kasman, “Getai Lives On,” MyPaper, 1 July 2011. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
37. Lee Sze Yong, “Celebrating Getai Culture with 881,” Straits Times, 2 August 2007, 49. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Getai Is S'pore's Hip-Hop,” New Paper, 28 August 2007, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Dylan Tan, “A Musical of Our Own,” Business Times, 22 April 2011, 20–21. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Liew Kai Khiun and Brenda Chan, “Vestigial Pop: Hokkien Popular Music and the Cultural Fossilization of Subalternity in Singapore,” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in SE Asia, 28, no. 2 (July 2013): 272–298. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
41. Huang Kangwei 黄康玮, 歌台首次走进博物馆 [Getai enters the museum for the first time]. Shin Min Daily 新明日 , 26 October 2014. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
42. “Getai in Orchard Road Draws Crowds,” Straits Times, 1 August 2011, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
43. May Seah, “It’s a Joyful Life,” Today, 15 August 2012, 61. (From NwspaperSG)
44. Chin Soo Fang, “Gimmicks the Order of the Day for Many Hungry Ghost Getai,” Straits Times, 24 August 1994, 7; “Faith, Notes and Charity,” Straits Times, 12 September 1996, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
45. Pearl Lee, “Getai Goes High-Tech This Year,” Straits Times, 20 August 2012, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
46. Lim Hongyu 林弘谕, “三五年后歌台将被淘汰?” [Getais to lose appeal in three to five years’ time?], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 , 26 July 2000, 71. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Yeo Sam Jo and Linette Lai, “Getais They Are A-Changin’,” Straits Times, 23 August 2013, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
48. Yeo and Lai, “Getais They Are A-Changin’.”
49. “Flamboyant Hao Hao Is Most Popular Male Singer,” Straits Times, 27 September 2013, 14. (From NewspaperSG); Yeo Sam Jo and Linette Lai, ‘Changing Getai,”, Asia News Network, 6 September 2013. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
50. Chin Soo Fang, “Huge Crowd, Wrong Answers,” Straits Times, 22 November 1998, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
51. Samantha Boh, “To Take Away Your Breath, They’ll Rap about Death,” MyPaper, 7 May 2014. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

The information in this article is valid as at 25 February 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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