British Columbia

Cantopop ballad with COVID-19 twist co-written by UBC contest winner

School of Music student Emily Liang is the winner of the inaugural Cantonese Lyrics Competition put on by the University of British Columbia's School of Music and Cantonese Language Program.

The winning ditty, 相擁風雨中 Rain Before Sunshine, has been released on iTunes, Apple Music, and YouTube

Hong Kong-based singer Ashia 廖嘉敏 , pictured here, sang the winning song, with lyrics penned by UBC student Emily Liang. The production process was completed remotely, with no face-to-face contact. (Ashia 廖嘉敏/Facebook)

A new Cantonese pop song about the coronavirus pandemic — with lyrics penned by a University of British Columbia music student — hit digital streams this week. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the University of British Columbia campus in mid-March, the spring term was irrevocably altered. With classes moved online, many projects, assignments and events had to adapt to the new measures.

One such project was a Cantonese singing contest, organized by the School of Music and the Cantonese Language Program, which morphed into a Cantonese pop song lyrics competition.

Hedy Law, an associate professor of musicology and one of the organizers of the contest, said they wanted to continue the spirit of the competition, but in a way that could be done with no contact. 

The theme of the contest was COVID-19.

"We just wanted to create this opportunity for students to kind of organize and [channel] their disappointment and emotions a little bit," Law said. 

Emiliy Liang, a student at UBC's School of Music, was crowned the winner for her composition 相擁風雨中 Rain Before Sunshine. The song is sung from the perspective of a front-line nurse saying goodbye to her loved ones before heading back to the hospital. 

"It is to raise awareness and give recognition to any medical personnel on the front-lines of the battle against the pandemic," Liang said. 

Listen to the contest winner here:

The contest marked Liang's first time penning the lyrics to a Cantonese pop song. Cantonese pop, or Cantopop, is an integral part of the popular culture scene in Hong Kong, and has a fan base across Asia and the diaspora. 

As Cantonese is a tonal language, Liang says one of the of the major challenges she faced during the writing process was to make sure that the linguistic tones of her lyrics were conforming to the tones of the song as well, to make sure listeners could interpret and understand the meanings she was conveying. 

A panel of judges picked the award-winning composition out of a group of 20 entries. The song was sung by Hong Kong-based singer Ashia, and mixed and recorded by artists in Vancouver, Hong Kong, and the U.S. — all without contact. 

Law says though it was challenging to put the song together, this was "a little gift" to healthcare professionals and others struggling during the pandemic.

"In a nutshell, this is what music creativity looks like on lockdown."

相擁風雨中 Rain Before Sunshine is streaming on iTunes, Apple Music, YouTube, and Spotify.

With files from On The Coast