Hungry Ghost Festival getai shows go online in new normal

Getai shows in Singapore are mainly held during the Hungry Ghost Festival in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when spirits of the dead are believed to return. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the popular form of entertainment in Southeast Asia is now being broadcast over the internet.

The livestreaming is a lifeline for performers like Febe Huang, who earns her living staging getai with her husband across the region – now taking place in a studio instead of being watched by a live audience of thousands.

The studio lights dim, the band begins to strum, and it’s showtime for a Singapore getai concert – a popular form of entertainment in Southeast Asia that features songs, skits and over-the-top costumes to celebrate the dead. Performers say without the thrill of a live crowd, it’s not quite the same.

“When this pandemic hit, there were two or three months where we just didn’t have any income at all,” she said. “We started selling things online so we had a little bit of a salary. And now this live-streamed getai has started.”

“Every year it’s the same feeling – when the Hungry Ghost Festival comes, (everyone) is very happy. But this year just feels a bit empty. There’s no particular feeling,” said Sam Loo, a veteran getai performer with 37 years of experience.

Still, the online performances have proven hugely popular, with some attracting audiences of hundreds of thousands.

Aaron Tan, founder of a company that produces getai concerts, said the hope is that new fans drawn to the online performances will mean bigger audiences for live shows when they reopen.

Ahead of a performance in a recording studio last weekend, caretakers from temples brought in statues of deities. There were food offerings for the gods, with cans of Guinness beers and a bottle of Martell Cordon Bleu cognac. Brightly dressed performers cracked jokes and sang songs in Hokkien, the main dialect of Southeast Asia’s Chinese diaspora.

The live-streamed getai have kept performers in the spotlight at a time when many other entertainment events are cancelled. “So we treasure, we really cherish this opportunity,” said veteran getai performer and comedian Liu Ling Ling.


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