My Kung Fu Shifu is great at translating songs. Last winter, after 6 am training, my hair smelling of sweat because it was too cold to wash it, I’d sit in his office munching an apple while he translated Everywhere You Go.
He’d ask me things like,
“What does put your hair down to touch the ground mean?”
I’d squirm and say,
‘Well there was this boy and this girl and they got… intimate.”
Every now and again he’d go outside to bash a student in the stomach with an iron bar or break a stick over someone’s arm then come back and continue with the translation.
“I want to be outside your window, I want to be outside your door?”
“She’s in love. She wants to spend every moment of her life with him.”
After he finished the translation, I recorded him speaking the Chinese, and spent any loose time I had learning the words; on the bus, on the tube. I relished queues because it took away the guilt that really I should be doing other things than learning a song in Chinese.
Each morning, I’d be kicking a bag and Shifu would wander up to me, pen in mouth, translation in hand. He would change a line here or a word there, perfecting it like a poem. He used the same concentration he used for his kung fu. I guess that’s why his translation is so good. But I was pretty pissed off because just as I’d learnt an impossible to pronounce word , he’d swap it for an equally impossible to pronounce word and I had to start all over again.
My friend, Yonghu ( his name means Brave Tiger) came to the recording studio to make sure I was pronouncing it correctly. It usually takes about two hours for a lead vocal but this took six.
And do Chinese people understand? Chinese people understand about 75 % of what I sing without reading the lyrics, which I think is pretty good innings for my first Chinese song. Even if I was native Chinese, Chinese people wouldn’t understand some of what I sang because when a person sings there are no tones so the words can mean different things. For example, my boyfriend’s name is Yan Lei. His name means thunder but it can mean tears depending on the tone. One day I was listening to a Chinese song and I recognised the word ” Yan Lei” and I said “that’s you” and he said “no it’s not, it’s tears.”