Xinyao (Chinese: 新谣; pinyin: Xīnyáo) is a genre of songs that is unique to Singapore, where the songs are composed and sung by Singaporeans and are often about life within the country. Xinyao can be clearly identified by its distinctive style of clean acoustics, with a group of people singing and harmonizing together, usually accompanied solely by the guitar. As the movement grew and became semi-commercialized in the early 1990s, more sophisticated accompaniments with drums, castanets etc. were adopted.
Xinyao is a Chinese noun comprising two words: Xīn (新) which is an abbreviation for Singapore, and yáo (谣) for song. The extended form is Xīnjiāpō gēyáo (新加坡歌谣), which simply means "Singapore songs".
In the Chinese music scene, the local xinyao movement started in mid-1980s and was the source of a number of success stories in today's regional Chinese pop music industry. This genre had its roots in the 1980s within local schools, who were influenced school campus songs (校园民歌) from Taiwan. The Taiwanese folk genre sought an authentic native Taiwan identity exemplified by songs such as "Grandma's Penghu Bay" (外婆的澎湖湾). The rise in popularity of the school campus song movement (校园民歌) especially among the Chinese students and schools came at a time of major education reforms led by then Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Mr Goh Keng Swee which sought to streamline and align Chinese education into the national syllabus, which can be interpreted as an spontaneous reaction to assert identity against these changes similar to the Taiwanese genre.
Early pioneers of this style of music include Wong Hong Mok, Liang Wern Fook, who has since become a prolific local songwriter, Billy Koh who discovered & groomed many successful Singapore artistes into the Asia Chinese-Pop music scene (including Kit Chan, A-Do and JJ Lin), Li Wei-Song, Li Si-Song, and Eric Moo.
Songs such as "A Step at a Time" (一步一步来) written and sung by xinyao artists were popular with those born in the mid-1960s to 1970s. In 1983, the song "Encounter" (邂逅), a duet by Eric Moo and Huang Hui-zhen, became the first xinyao song to make it to the Mandarin pop song ranking chart "Pick of Pops" (新加坡龙虎榜) on Singapore's radio station. The song was part of a xinyao album (明天21) released in 1983/1984 and is considered by some as the landmark album that brought xinyao to the mainstream. The creation of this album by Billy Koh, Koh Nam Seng, Huang Yuan Cheng, Zhang Jia Qiang and Colin Goh also led to the birth of what would become 海蝶音乐 / Ocean Butterflies International, a major Singaporean/Pan Asian music publishing house.
The xinyao movement was largely home-grown and enriched the local arts scene in post-war Singapore. It was one of the more notable youth music subcultures in Singapore which outgrew its origins and gained public acceptance as well as support.
- That Girl in Pinafore, a 2013 comedy-musical film directed by Chai Yee Wei inspired by xinyao
- The Songs We Sang, a 2015 documentary film about xinyao directed by Eva Tang
- Crescendo the Musical, a 2016 musical inspired by xinyao
- Ng, Gwendolyn (August 27, 2015). "Xinyao hits a crescendo". The Strait Times. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Retrieved March 31, 2016.