Opinion & Analysis

The Shanghai Mimi Band really bangs

The Shanghai Mimi Band is a good start to approaching a diverse audience in Aotearoa New Zealand, says writer Portia Mao who went along to the show in Auckland.

Sophie Koh and her band | Photo: Supplied

OPINION: I have never expected to listen to cabaret jazz from old Shanghai in Auckland.   Thanks to the musicians of The Shanghai Mimi band who recreated a nightclub in Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, now I have.

A blend of Chinese folk and American jazz fusion was popular in Shanghai, known as Paris in the East or “Adventurer’s Paradise” in the 1930s and 1940s. It is said this port on the mouth of the Yangtze River “boasted some of the most lavishly appointed hotels on earth” in the 1930s.  As an international metropolis, Shanghai was a   playground of the rich and famous in the West, even the silent film stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were frequent visitors to Shanghai.

“Shanghai nights, Shanghai nights, you are a city that never sleeps”. When the theme song of a Chinese love movie in 1940 kicked off the show, Sophie Koh, the New Zealand-born Malaysian-Chinese singer, won rapturous applause from the audience with her exquisite performance.

The dazzling music style of the cabaret was so exciting and brought so much joy to the audience that I witnessed a few other Asian girls who couldn’t help dancing to the melody of the music in their seats.

The glamorous show is indeed a “sumptuous cabaret of the delights where East meets West”. What beguiled the audience is not only Sophie Koh’s old beautiful songs with a modern twist, but also the brilliant jazz band of five musicians of European descent. What is noticeable is a young female player also dressed in Qibao, the most popular dress for women in Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s.

Together, the musicians of different cultural backgrounds created the energy and elegance of old Shanghai for the audience in Auckland.  

Apart from old Shanghai songs, Sophie Koh also sang a number of intoxicating songs that were popular in the 1970s in Taiwan with a modern twist. Those songs later became popular in mainland China in the 1980s.  Sophie even invited Chinese audiences to sing the songs with her, which brought a livelier atmosphere.

Among the audience was a Chinese tourist who just came to New Zealand with a working holiday visa with the purpose to see the world outside Chin. It was a stunning experience for him to see the jazz music of old Shanghai style played in New Zealand.  It is always amazing to see one’s own culture interpreted by a different cultural group from a different perspective.

When I posted a 19-minute-long video clip in which several Asian audiences danced to the jazz music of the show on WeChat, some of my readers asked for more details about the next show as they all want to watch it. 

New Zealand has become a multicultural society nowadays with more and more people immigrating into the country with different cultural backgrounds. How wonderful it is to see the local-born Asian musicians work together with non-Asian musicians on some work that may reflect the cultures they come from.

In this case, it shows that the Chinese culture is not a closed culture, as many people assume, but an open culture. Although it was interrupted sadly in 1949 when PRC was established, and the era of Chinese Jazz music came to an end temporarily.

It is exciting to see there is a cross-cultural cabaret like The Shanghai Mimi Band to be staged in Auckland, which indicates there is a diverse audience who needs high-quality multicultural performances.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

- Asia Media Centre