I once heard a really beautiful quote that seems perfect for this situation – ‘The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.’
We are all very different people with different backgrounds that make us stand out, and yet ironically, make us fit in. Our religion, our race, our language, our dialects, all make up who we are.
However, it seems that lately, we’ve been gravitating away from our cultural identities. And I have the numbers to prove it: In ten years, Singapore has seen a decrease in Chinese dialects being spoken at home from 30.7% to 19.2%.
It is no secret that the predominant users of dialects are generally older generations, and younger generations seem to have lost touch with their roots. It becomes a devastating, endless cycle, with each generation drifting further and further away from the one thing that makes us unique.
Something must be done.
The TENG Ensemble (TENG) has done it.
On 27 November 2020, on all their social media platforms, TENG will be unveiling a new music video of the traditional Teochew lullaby, Ong Ah Ong. As an extension of the Forefathers Project, this project pays tribute to the Teochew culture and music.
The lullaby is a classic in many Teochew households. It’s sung to a child, about the aspirations and wishes that a family has for them.
The origin of this lullaby is believed to have been from the Song (960–1279) or Ming (1368-1644) dynasty periods, when there was an above-average number of scholars from the Teochew region that passed Chinese civil service examinations and became officials of the imperial court. This sort of success is also hoped upon for their children when seniors of the family sing this lullaby to their beloved baby in their cradle.
Hence, the TENG Ensemble uses this song with the message that we should relive memories that we have lost in this new time and age. They prove that it’s time to revisit our traditions, that reinforce our cultural identity and pride, in this period of modernity. Since this is a classic lullaby that almost every child from the Teochew household would remember hearing growing up, it is bound to stir some memories of your own!
The music video follows a mother and a not-so-enthusiastic daughter as they clean up their house during the Circuit Breaker. As their bond grows stronger throughout the music video, the daughter discovers some old tapes and watches them. She realises it is of her late grandmother, her mother, and her younger self.
She watches her grandmother gently cooing Ong Ah Ong to her younger self in the video. With the ensemble also playing the lullaby as she watches the tapes, it is a soulful music video that portrays rediscovery, and reconnection with seniors and cultural roots.
As the music video comes to an end, the daughter freezes in melancholy as she looks at her mother through the very camcorder that had documented her childhood. She stood there and realised that her mother was no longer as joyful and youthful as she was in the tapes, and that she had spent her fleeting youth caring for her and raising her.
With a story that breaks your heart, puts it back together, and then breaks it again, this music video is bound to invoke nostalgia. At the same time, your tears unleash, as you think back to the simpler days when you heard this lullaby from your elders, and how different everything is today.
So the message is: reconnect. Reconnect with your elders, your family, your traditions, your culture, your dialect. Be proud of who you are, and embrace it. This is what makes us unique, and if we abandon this, then who are we? Just humans of the human race, with nothing telling us apart.
Not just culture, but this music video also pays homage to Teochew music. By using a lullaby that many people of Teochew origin have heard growing up, TENG aims to raise awareness about Teochew music in general and how far it has come.
Through a digital release via social media platforms, TENG hopes to connect with younger generations and increase their awareness on the issue.
It is believed that different households know this song by different versions, but in the end, the one you grew up hearing is the closest to your heart, isn’t it? So which one’s yours? You might just remember it when you tune in on 27 November, for the premiere of this music video.
For more details, you can visit their official website!
Visuals courtesy of The TENG Ensemble.