Is Chiense restaurant music really popular in China?

Chinese restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets throughout the United States tend to be very formulaic; similar menus, similar decor, similar names. They also seem to play the same kind of background music; usually it’s a female vocalist wailing in a very high-pitched voice, processed through a reverb box from Hell, with musical backup by what sounds like a 1970s-era 1000 strings-type studio band, only with a lot more flutes. To my Western ears, it sounds pretty, corny and grating.

Is Chinese restaurant music really popular in China? Is it the dominant form of pop music there? Is there a name for that style?

I am really not sure what you’re describing, because I just can’t think of the music played by any Chinese restaurants in the US. From my time in China, I don’t think music is very often played in Chinese restaurants, either.

But traditional Chinese music features a falsetto-type singing, accompanied by an instrument called the erhu, which sounds a lot like a violin, and various cymbals, flutes, and other instruments. It can be very, very grating on Western ears. Here are some clips of Beijing opera, which is quite popular in China. I’m sure you’ll have a blast listening to it, whether or not its the type of music that you hear in your local Chinese restaurants.

Can’t speak about Chinese music, but I have noticed that the music they play in Mexican restaurants is very popular with Mexicans. Driving around in the summer it always strikes me funny when a car pulls up next to me at a stoplight with Mexicans in it and they are playing loud music that sounds exactly like what you hear at the restaurants. The whole accoutic guitars and trumpets thing.

Dude!That Opera Rocks!

Pointless anecdote: There’s a downright heavenly restaurant in the Philly area, which serves Chinese/Japanese/other Asian food. Thing is, it’s all vegetarian. Also, it’s all kosher. One of the restaurants is owned, in fact, by a Jewish guy. They often play klezmer music in the background, which is a rather unique experience.

But I don’t think klezmer music is real popular in China.

Take a typical, small “1000 strings” type studio band; what you might have heard on the “beautiful music” stations your grandparents listened to in the 1970s. Add more flutes, some erhus, and whatever instruments make that “plinging” sound that is associated with Chinese music.

Now, add a woman with a high-pitched, lilting singing voice, howling “waaaaaaaahachaieeeeeeepaieahhhoooowahaieee” into a microphone, with the voice being processed in a reverb box.

Put it all in a tape loop. Chinese restaurant music is the result.

It occurs to me that the oldies and classic rock’n’roll you hear at stereotypically American-themed restaurants (think, say, Johnny Rockets) is actually popular among real-life Americans as well.

What you just described is pretty much the “adult comtemporary” version of Asian pop music. Throughout Asia, female vocals tend to be quite high-pitched… but sometimes so is Mariah Carey. The kids would likely be listening to what sounds pretty much exactly like our bad teen pop (Backstreet Boys type pop) but in native languages and with higher pitched female vocals. You also have Asian metal, punk, pretty much everything we have … with the exception of Japan however the Top 40 teeny bopper pop predominates. (Anyone recall the Thailand hubbub when Thai boy band star Big had his car accident?)

Also absurdly popular in East Asia: karaoke! The cheesier/more “Muzak-y”, the better…

I venture to guess that you’re more likely to hear the same music in Taiwan or the Chinese diaspora in SE Asia than in China itself; in fact the immigrants running a lot of these restaurants are more likely from one of those places than mainland China directly. If you have a Chinatown, you can find Chinese pop of all varieties.

My favorite Asian pop is certainly the old “circle dance” music of Cambodia, which tends to sound more like western pop except for the high pitched female vocals, and the fact it’s in Khmer.

Ahh. Basically, if I was tuning through the FM band in Beijing, and stopped at the equivalent of “Lite 93, the listen-at-work station”, this is what I would hear?

Now I’m wondering … if your typical strip plaza Happy Lucky China jade Panda Dragon Garden Chinese Buffet serves westernized Chinese food, why isn’t the music in the background a bit toned down as well?

Regarding the music in Mexican restaurants; the oom-pah stuff you hear is ranchero and norteno music. It’s supposedly the equivalent of Mexican country music, and extremely popular among those living in rural northern Mexico, the home of a very large percentage of mugrant workers in the States, When I was living in New Mexico, I usually heard nortenp music in lower-end joints, and quieter acoustiv guitar music – no accordions, tubas or trumpets – in upscale restaurants. Listen to radio from El Paso and Juarez, and you hear a lot of oom-pah, but it’s just a plurality; you’ll also hear Spanish-language rock, pop, dance and adult contemporary.

Hampshire, how could you be sure they were from Mexico? :confused:

In small restaurants in China they might have a radio or, more commonly, TV playing. In bigger ones, there’s no music - the racket from all the people talking (people like to eat in large groups) would make it pointless.

Restaurants in China might have music if they are ‘themed’ places - eg trying to be French or something. And that’s to create an ambience to give an impression of authenticity. Which is why US Chinese restaurants play the sort of music they do.

Maybe on a Chinese message board right now there’s a thread “do American restaurants in the US play the same horrible music American-style restaurants in China do?”

I just got back from eating at a restaurant here in China. There was no music there and there never is at almost any restaurant here. Chinese restaurants have a real “talkative” atmosphere, as every one is talking and getting drunk. They don’t need music.

I’ve been in a few Chinese restaurants in Canada with vaguely Asian flutes and strings music. They are usually the places that have lots of red and gold gilding, serve Polynesian drinks in coconut and mermaid cups and have all you can eat buffets. The music makes the experience more authentic, in the eyes of the owner, in the same way (his) collection of tacky knick-kancks might transport you to some imaginary Zhangahou.

There are a lot of excellent Chinese restaurants in Toronto (allegedly now North America’s largest Chinatown) and Scarborough. Places with large crowds of Asian faces, tasty and authentic food, etc. These places play no music, and everybody is in a chatty mood.

Very rarely do you get Chinese restaurants in China playing music, especially the ‘Chinese restaurant music’ heard overseas.

My favorite Chinese buffet plays Chinese-language versions of American pop songs. Once we had the surreal experience of listening to the Macarena in Chinese.

To continue the Mexican music hijack, there are many Mexican radio stations in the Dallas area. Most of them play the music described as “nortero” - I like that station; the music pleases me. If that’s the Mexican version of country music, it certainly makes sense that it’s what most of the stations play; most of the English stations play country music, too. Another one plays your average everyday rock music, the kind of thing you’d hear on a basic ClearChannel station - sounds like Nickelback and Creed with some Kid Rock metal/hiphop stuff, that sort of mix - only it’s all in Spanish. Musical tastes don’t differ all that much, apparently.

I distinctly recall hearing a Madonna like song in a Chinese restaurant containing the exciting English lines:

“Temperature rise, one hundred degree
I hope that you like my bod-ee”.

Thrilling, yes, but different from the flutes-n-string combo. I have heard lots of foreign pop songs contain English words in the chorus, perhaps as a mark of coolness or global connectivity or somesuch.

At most non-mom and pop places (i.e.,chains) the music is anything but Mexican!

Whenever I go out with my mom, we laugh and try and point out when they actually do play a Mexican song. It seems that the music is typically Cuban (such as Gloria Estefan or Celia Cruz) or even more strange (considering past history) Spanish music.

Gipsy Kings and Mexican food. That’s just plain odd to my ears.

For best effect, you must go the direct remake route. Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the Chinese Restaurant Music version of “My Heart Will Go On”. I wish to God I was kidding.

My favorite is when the car is full of straight up Hispanic gangstas, and the music is Combination Platter 11 No Substitutions. I know there’s Spanish language rap and hip hop, but it seems like every time I hear Spanish language music coming out of a car it’s got a trumpet in t.

I have a relaxation video with background music played on a Chinese stringed instrument called a sanxian. (I think that’s close.) I grew to like the sound and found still more that I like. Some of these instruments are really fine.

I too find the traditional female vocals a little unnerving, but I don’t know how to listen to it.

I’d like to add my voice to saying that it’s pretty rare to hear music in restaurants in China (although TVs are fairly common in restaurants.) Chinese restaurants are LOUD and any music would quickly be overwhelmed by top-volume conversation, yelling, and loud drinking games.

90% of the music that I hear in China is bubble-gum boy band pop music punctuated by the occasional bit of awful cheesy techno. Now and then I’ll get into a taxi where the driver is playing folk music, and older people often play folk music in the parks. And there is a lot of opera on TV. But mostly- it’s syrupy packaged pop music.