I can remember my first three years in China listening to Cantonese music in bars, friends’ cars, on TV, and hearing lots of songs I knew were popular, but never taking the time to figure out what they were called. I liked a lot of them and it turns out most of those songs are by a Hong Kong band from the eighties named Beyond. Their main song writer and lead singer, Wong Ka Kui, was responsible for founding one of the first and most successful rock bands in China and Hong Kong. He died in an accident in Japan in 1993.
Below is my translation and English approximation for the Cantonese pronunciation of their song 光辉岁月 (guāng hūi sūi yūe) “Glorious Years”, which is a tribute to Nelson Mandela. It’s my favorite Chinese (Cantonese) song.
Jong sing heung hay gwai ga dik soon hoe
In the sound of the bell which signals home coming
Joy ta song mang loi fong fot dai dim hay hoi
In his life seems to also bring a hint of a sigh.
Hak sik gay foo kup ta dik ee ee
The meaning given to him through his black skin
See yut song foon heen foo sik dao dzang dzong
Is a life’s devotion to the struggle for racial equality.
Nin yue ba yong yao been joe sut hoi
The years have changed possession to loss.
Pay goon dik seung ngan dai jek hei mong
The weary eyes have hope in them.
Gum tin gee yao tsan lau dik koi hawk
Today only a worn-out body remains
Ying jip guang fai soi yue
To welcome the glorious years.
Fung yu jong poe gun gee yao
Holding to freedom amidst the wind and rain,
Yat sung geng gwa pong wong dik dzung dzak
Through a lifetime of struggle despite fear,
Gee soon haw goi been may loi
He is confident he can change the future.
Mun soi yao nung joe doe
Who else could do this?
Haw faw bat fan fu sik di gai han
Could there be no distinction of colors?
Yun je toe dei loi bat fan nay gnaw go dai
Hope there could be no differences between you and I in this land.
Bat fan sik choi sim chut dik may lai
The beauty that is emitted by a dazzling array of colors
See in tah mutyaofan hoi mui jong sik choi
Is there because there is no distinction of color.
Repeat Chorus and Bridge
When I go back to visit Guangdong, my friend and I still enjoy blasting these tunes as we drive around the palm-tree-and-factory-lined streets.