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Heads up for 'Queen of the Pub' and 'Live Empress' from Taiwan

"TIGER" Huang Hsiao Hu has been belting it out for 27 years in pubs and clubs and makes her first Chinese mainland stop next week. Yao Minji keeps time.

Though Shanghai's nightlife is famous for luxury deco and vibrant beats, it still lacks good live performance venues.

Brown Sugar, a long-standing live music club/restaurant from Taiwan, opened its first branch in Shanghai around the same time similar types of venues closed. Many live houses in Shanghai, including famous ones like Ark, closed down or went into "renovation" due to the financial crisis late last year.

In keeping with its goal of spreading good live music, Brown Sugar has brought many veteran singers to Shanghai, both Chinese and foreign.

This time, they have invited "Tiger" Huang Hsiao Hu, Taiwan's "Queen of the Pub," to perform next Wednesday and Thursday.

It's the 46-year-old diva's first performance on the Chinese mainland.

Known for her somewhat androgynous appearance (spiky hair, simple clothes and a tough look), Huang has thrived on the border between the high-profile entertainment world and the vibrant lower-stratum of pub singers. She's also known as "Live Empress" and "Soul Queen."

Photos sent by her publicity agent, however, show a glamor woman in a sequined gown - the pop pretty woman mainstream look that's rather out of character.

For the past 20 years, Huang has refused to be mainstream. She rejected both the pretty, glamorous look of the 1980s and the Britney Spears-type hot singer-dancer of today.

Held in respect and awe, she has a wide following among those of her own age as well as younger, more rebellious people who similarly disdain the mainstream.

"I don't know when and why people started calling me 'Queen of the Pub,' but I have considered myself a servant of the pub for the past 27 years," Huang tells Shanghai Daily.

She started as a backup pub singer in 1982, and has been going strong ever since.

Huang's somewhat mannish and definitely not girlish appearance didn't go over well with the mainstream recording industry that wanted pretty girls in the early 1990s. She didn't get a recording contract for quite a few years.

Huang's first album introduced 12 new singers, each with one song, and the album sank almost without a ripple in the then-booming music market.

She got her first big break in 1990 after coming in fourth in an Asian singing competition with contestants from 12 countries.

Huang became a distinctive and powerful voice and knew how to move listeners.

In addition to singing music written for her, she is known for putting her own mark on classic pop songs, English and Chinese. She has released three albums with her take on classic English-language pops.

She reached her peak as an album singer in 1995, and she has released many classic albums since that time, but she never left pubs and never considered leaving.

"I love singing live in a pub and I'm bringing the band I always work with to Shanghai," she says. "I love pubs for the free and laid-back ambience. You hang out with friends and there are no restrictions.

"Performers get closer to the audience and I can see the expressions on their faces. You can't do that in a concert," she says. Huang looks forward to interacting with Shanghai audiences and expects "a lot of fun."

Huang became the first Chinese performer in Brown Sugar three years ago, when most live music restaurants in Taiwan invited only foreign singers.

"I was invited to Shanghai as a judge for a reality TV show and I really like the city," says Huang, adding that she hopes to have good news soon about staging a concert in Shanghai.

Last month she was touring Taiwan. These days she is recording a new album - the last was released eight years ago.

"Singers should never forget what it's all about," says the "Live Empress."

"Move everybody with your voice and consider every performance your last," she says.

Date: June 24-25, 10pm

Venue: Brown Sugar, Bldg 15, North Block of Xintiandi, 181 Taicang Rd

Tickets: 100 yuan

Tel: 5382-8998


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