The Little Nonya (小娘惹) theme song is a beautifully written Chinese song for a Singaporean period drama of the same name broadcast in 2008.
The drama tells the story about the Peranakans, an ethnically mixed group between the Malays and Chinese. They are found mostly in Malacca, Penang, and Singapore. They have a distinct culture, vaguely familiar to the Chinese yet different.
Nonya is the term for the Peranakan lady. The Peranakan man is known as a Baba. They typically speak Malay and Hokkien, a Chinese dialect.
The drama was a big hit and many who do not normally follow local dramas tuned in. I think I saw the first episode, missed the entire middle section, and caught up with the last few episodes. Although I was missing a lot of details and side plots, I could still get the gist of the story.
The ending resulted in a controversy. A lot of people expected an ending where the heroine gets her man. But she didn’t. It was a little sad but she was not the worst for it in the end. She still married well. The 34-episode drama is available for viewing at meWatch in Singapore and maybe on Youtube.
Anyway, drama aside, the theme song 如燕 (loosely translated as Like a Swallow) was fantastic. I thought it captured the essence of the culture and era. The music can immediately affect the mood of the listener. The lyrics are so poetic, like a graceful lady sashaying, just like a Nonya in her kebaya (a traditional Malay costume).
It weaved elements of Peranakan culture such as the colourful ceramics and mosaic tiles (碎片, 瓷花拼凑), traditional cake moulds (模), bead embroidery (针线, 女红), and the kebaya (斑驳, 盈步婀娜).
Some have suggested that the song could be used to teach Mandarin. I agree. If I was a secondary school student, I would learn Mandarin just to understand this song.
The songwriter is a local veteran songwriter who keeps a very low profile. I hope he makes lots of royalties from this song.
如燕的歌词 Little Nonya
The drama was remade by China in 2020. The original must have done well abroad. Why the Chinese producers think it necessary to remake an already successful drama is beyond me. As a Southeast Chinese, I find the 2020 drama lacking. I may be biased I guess.
But one thing I am sure, the opening theme song of the 2020 drama really can’t compare to 如燕.
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