“Wherever there are Chinese,” goes the saying, “you will find Tsai Chin.” Hers is a voice that captivated a generation, dominating the Chinese-language airwaves of the 1980s and early ’90s.
The secret behind the veteran Taiwanese singer’s enduring popularity is neatly captured in Hong Kong’s 2002 blockbuster gangster movie Infernal Affairs. In a famous scene from the film, Andy Lau’s triad mole sits side by side with Tony Leung’s undercover cop, enemies momentarily united in their appreciation of Tsai’s melancholy rendition of Lost Time. Leung’s character says, “Her soprano tenor is sweet, while the alto is accurate, and the contralto bass is deep. In a word, it’s transparent.” It’s a description her many fans would recognise.
Tsai is more than just a singer. The entertainer’s 36-year career has spanned television, radio and stage. A string of musical hits was topped by 2005’s stage show Running Angel, in which she reprised Whoopie Goldberg’s role in Sister Act for audiences in Shanghai and Beijing.
A veteran broadcaster, her work has ranged from CCTV’s Xiangjiao Xin Leyuan (New Banana Paradise) to the BCC radio program Ri Zheng Dang Zhong (Middle of the Day), in which her witty repartee and outspoken views held Sunday lunchtime listeners enthralled. It’s a unique style that won recognition with the accolade Best Host in a Variety Program at the 29th Golden Bell Awards in 1994.
Renowned for opening her heart to her fans, the singer will perform at Cotai Arena at The Venetian Macao on June 24, giving fans not only a chance to experience her uniquely smoky, powerhouse voice, but also to be entertained with fascinating stories of the talented pop and folk singer’s life and in the music industry.
Singing in both Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien, Tsai has a reputation for dazzling shows. For Tsai Chin 2017 Concert in Macao, her repertoire is expected to include timeless folk songs, covers of the biggest Chinese songs of the 1970s and 1980s and her own classic Mandarin pop hits Read You and Just Like Your Tenderness.
Tsai began her show-business journey as a folk singer on Taiwan’s university campuses during the 1970s. After taking first prize in a singing competition, she was scooped up by the record label Hai Shan and quickly released her debut single Just Like Your Tenderness. The song was an instant hit across the region.
“When I released Just Like Your Tenderness, I was still a student,” she says. “Of my 50 or so albums and 400 songs, it’s hard to say which I like best. But ultimately, the most unforgettable is my first.”
Tsai estimates that since her career began she’s sung Just Like Your Tenderness more than 80,000 times. “I have never felt sick or tired of it,” she says. “Its lyrics and melody go beyond time. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed when you sing this you will always think it is the song for today.”
In the 1980s, the singer produced a string of chart-topping records and made movies in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 1985, she starred in Edward Yang’s Taipei Story and she married the film-maker the same year.
But the ’90s were to mark a dip in Tsai’s fortunes. Her recording career floundered, hit by conflicts with record companies in a music scene that was dominated by rising pop stars. In 1995, she and Yang divorced, and not long afterwards the singer suffered health problems that included a temporary loss of hearing.
It was a low point, and Tsai says the trials she has endured have added to the mixed emotions she feels when she returns to that first song, Just Like Your Tenderness. “It’s an extremely popular song,” she says, “Every time I perform it the audience will sing along naturally. I am deeply touched and amazed by that. When I sing the line, ‘A certain day in a certain month of a certain year is like a torn face,’ I can’t help but wonder how everyone, regardless of sex or age, is always able to sing along. I think it’s a magical song.”
The release 15 years ago of Infernal Affairs signalled a renaissance in the singer’s career, rekindling the popularity of the track Lost Time and returning her to prominence. She has been touring almost ever since.
Her sell-out 2004 Under the Moonlight concerts took in 20 Chinese cities, playing to audiences totalling 16 million and setting box-office records for a mainland tour by a Chinese singer.
Although renowned for her love songs, Tsai has remained single since her divorce. “Not everyone is suited to being single, and marriage doesn’t work for everyone,” she says in an open exchange typical of what fans can expect whenever she performs. “Not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy married life. It depends on whether you marry the right person and whether you can handle both your work and family. It seems that I’m destined not to have a marriage.”
Still, she is content with her life. “Being single works for me,” says Tsai. “My work occupies my time. Without a family I am free to focus on that. When I’m packing my luggage, or I have to be away from home, I feel carefree because I’m single. Although it might be lonely sometimes, I don’t have any restraints or burdens. I can go whenever I want for as long as I need to.”
Tsai Chin 2017 Concert in Macao, Cotai, Arena, The Venetian Macao
+853 2882 8818, cotaiticketing.com