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Arts

Southeast Asia leads vintage Chinese jazz revival

A century on, 'indecent' Shidaiqu music is blossoming in Malaysia and Singapore

The Shang Sisters: Winnie Ho, left, Janet Lee, center, and Mian Tan. Their eponymous second album, released in June, is a mix of originals and covers of old Malay and Mandarin language classics, interspersed with snatches of sounds and conversations from Malaysian history. (Courtesy of the Shang Sisters)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Onstage, the spotlights are on three Chinese Malaysian women in retro bob haircuts, colorful dresses inspired by the region's floral batik tradition, and vertiginous high heels. Standing in single file, they take turns to wail melodiously -- in Mandarin, Malay and English -- while a band of Malaysian men in ties zeros down on strings, keys and skins.

In front of the stage, a mixed crowd of elderly Chinese Malaysians, smartphone-toting millennials and curious expatriates hum and cheer a repertoire of vintage Shanghai jazz, rearranged Malay classics and tunes from the great American songbook. To some spectators, the music brings back the thrills of youth. To others, the performers sound and look uniquely chic.

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