Monday, February 07, 2011

New Orleans Jazz Bands And Chinese Funeral Bands

As a child I remember street music in Singapore which comes from Chinese funeral processions. These funeral bands play melodies from both Chinese and English pops. One particular pop song that I can still recall, Today, (You're) Not Coming Home (Jin Tian Bu Hui Jia 今天不回家), has been played so many times at Chinese funeral street marches that it's been accepted as the unofficial theme song for the occasion (Image 2: a band at Kim Yam Road taken in 1970 in Singapore).

Books from the US that discuss the history of jazz music claim that jazz bands began from dance bands or social orchestras. These were African American bands that played on the streets in New Orleans, U.S.A. officiating at funeral processions. They play solemn music on the way to the burial yard and hot jazz on the way back (Image 1: a New Orleans jazz funeral).

It is common knowledge in the 60s that some Singapore band boys who play in the night-clubs freelance and work as funeral musicians in the day. Again the parallel; New Orleans dance orchestras do not confine themselves to playing in the ballrooms but played at funerals. Nothing to be ashamed of because it's honest living.These funeral bands could comprise from eight members onwards and the instruments included trumpets, trombones, snare drums and cymbals.

The Chinese funeral bands have the same number of people with similar instruments. During a bigger and longer procession at a Chinese funeral (indicating the wealth of the deceased), more instruments could be used, like the larger bass drums and a tuba. When questioned why music is played during such a tear-jerking occasion, the band members explain that the noise drives evil spirits away. Comment?

Original article: Andy Lim

Image 2: National Heritage Board, Singapore.
Image 1:


Lam Chun See said...

You forgot to mention ... O when the saints, come marching home, O when the saints come marching home. O how I love to be in that ........

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, a more familiar one, and for both languages too.

Anyone has a list of these songs? Especially the Chinese ones?

Thanks Chun See for visiting.