A delightful song and dance about Katong

22 02 2022

Betel Box Tours must be applauded for its most recent effort at bringing out the wonderful tales that are connect with the especially colourful district of Katong. Titled Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour, the tour involves a walk of discovery through the district’s much storied streets with its stories told through verse, through song and through dance. Created by August Lum, Marc Nair, Mark Nicodemus Tan and Valerie Lim, and produced by Jamie Lee, two of the wonderfully talent team – Mark Tan, who takes on the role of guide, narrator and singer (he dances too) and independent movement artist Valerie Lim, expertly provide a highly entertaining and refreshing take on Katong’s streets, back lanes, personalities, cultural and religious sites. The tour is certainly well worth the two hours and the price of the ticket!

The musical tour runs until the end of March 2022 and tickets (and further information) may be obtained through: https://katongdreaming.peatix.com/.

Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour — performed by Mark Tan and Valerie Lim.

About Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour

Katong is always a delight to visit, with its colourful houses, sleepy streets and culinary treasures. But Katong also holds a rich history, steeped in Peranakan culture and traditions, brimming with surprising stories.

Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour, is a performance art tour created by August Lum, Marc Nair, Mark Nicodemus Tan, and Valerie Lim. It is produced by Jamie Lee for Betel Box Tours, supported under the STB-NAC Performing Arts Tours Pilot Grant, an initiative by the Singapore Tourism Board and National Arts Council to encourage the development and test-bedding of innovative performing arts tours by tour operators.

This two-hour walking tour begins at the southern border of Katong at East Coast Road before winding through Ceylon Road, Joo Chiat Road, Koon Seng Road, and Tembeling Road. In three broad chapters, familiar experiences of food, faith and historical landmarks are woven together through cross-disciplinary art forms into a groundbreaking blend of musical theatre, site-specific performance and tour guiding.

Valerie Lim and Mark Tan

About the Artists:

Marc Nair is a poet who works at the intersection of art forms. His work revolves around the ironies of everyday life. He has published ten collections of poetry.

Valerie is an independent movement artist. The mysteries of the human body, multi-disciplinary and immersive works deeply thrill her. She believes life must be spent pursuing what makes us feel the most alive.

August is a musical storyteller, who has been making sounds for a variety of mediums, from stage to film to theme parks as well. Included in his wish-list is the desire to write music for a dramatic series, as well as background music for certain public spaces.

Mark is a musician, writer, performer, and tourist guide. All of the aforementioned stages allow him to talk about his loves for art, music, history, football, and cricket, to audiences who have no choice but to listen.

Photographs taken during the tour

(Re)Energising the power station

14 12 2019

Held on 7 Dec 2019, the debut of The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions brought great fun and energy to one of Singapore’s best kept secrets, the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station. Singapore’s latest music festival has shown the potential of the unused spaces – of which there is a wealth is – in playing host to large scale events. Featuring a global and local cast of female fronted acts, the festival also had the essential distractions such as food, drink and art – a female themed bar and even a place to do one’s hair.

Cate le Bon on one of the Alex Blake Charlie Session’s three stages.


Chill-out spaces during the Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.

Among the star global acts was the fresh-faced Welsh-Australian artist Stella Donnelly. The fast rising indy star and a voice for change is a breath of fresh air and a joy to hear from. We were able to learn about her fashion choice of second-hand clothes, and about some of the more unusual stages she has performed on – which includes the back of a moving truck.

Stella Donnelly at the former power station.

The former power station – Singapore’s second public power plant built in the 1950s and decommissioned in the 1980s, was recently the subject of a competition to find ideas for its interim use prior to the detailed planning for the Greater Southern Waterfront being carried out. Since 2017, it has attracted attention as a location for filming, music-videos and also for advertisements. It would certainly be nice to see more events on the scale of the music festival to bring the best out in the space.

The disused power station during the Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.




Another of SOAK at the Nest.


The Nest.

Dream Wife on “A” Stage.



Cate Le Bon.

Vendetta at the Nest.


Stella Donnelly.

Stella Donnelly.


Stella Donnelly.


Cate Le Bon.

A Whiskey Bar.



Powering Pasir Panjang with the raw power of music via The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions

22 11 2019

It is wonderful that the former Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station, with its voluminous turbine and boiler halls that offer immense possibilities, is getting the attention it deserves.  Come 7 December, the wonderful building will turn into what promises to be a magical music venue – when the space’s very first big music event and Singapore’s newest music festival, The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions, makes its debut.


Pasir Panjang ‘A’ Power Station.

Promising a feast of music across genres such as pop rock, R&B, indie, folk and electronica, the all-day event will see a line of of both international and Singapore artists with a strong female focus.

1-The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions-KV-Full Line-up with Photos-Portrait.jpg

Among the international acts are Perth based indie pop/folk singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly and SOAK, an indie folk/dream pop singer-songwriter from Derry, Northern Ireland. Donnelly was recently nominated in the category of Breakout Artist at the 2019 ARIA Music Awards, Australia’s most prestigious music awards and came in at no 6 in Happy Mag’s list of “The 15 Australian female artists changing the game right now”.

Stella Donnelly-2-Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Stella Donnelly (Photo by Pooneh Ghana)

The local line-up includes Vendetta, electrco-soul R&B artist and Ginette Chittick, a multi-disciplinary artist, professional DJ and bassist.

Ginette Chittick-2

Ginette Chittick.

The event, which also brings shopping, food and art to the space, is being brought to the station by 24OWLS – a collective whose people were behind the last five editions of the Laneway Festival in Singapore.

Event details:

Date: 7 December 2019, Saturday

Time: 10am till Late

Venue: Pasir Panjang Power Station, 27 Pasir Panjang Road

More information can be found at :  www.alexblakecharlie.sg


Tickets now start from S$500 for a Bundle of 3 Tickets and S$180 each for Phase C Tickets.

On sale via:



In a beautiful mess of her own creation

1 06 2013

One of the things I was able to do during the recent Indie music festival, Music Matters Live with HP 2013, was to catch a few of the local acts. One act which came at the recommendation of a friend, was that of singer/songwriter Natalie Hiong, who I also had a chance to have a short chat with after her performance on the final evening of the three day festival.

Natalie Hiong

Natalie Hiong

Blessed with great looks and a great voice, there is probably nothing about Natalie not to like. I did find her music very likeable as well. Simple, bright and cheerful, her melodies and lyrics are easy to listen to and I enjoyed every bit of her brief appearance at Beer Market during which she performed songs which featured in her second EP, Beautiful Mess.

Natalie and her band at the Beer Market during MML 2013.

Natalie and her band at the Beer Market during MML 2013.

It is in the title track of the five track EP where Natalie speaks of the beautiful mess of her “own creation, awash with colours of fear and excitement”, which she does find herself in. It is a mess she got herself into a little more than two years back, quitting a two year investment banking job in London she found herself bored in, admitting that she would have quit earlier if the bonuses paid at the end of the first year had been better.

A graduate of the London School of Economics (LSE), Natalie does admit to being something of an academic high-flyer – which does make it a lot more unlikely for her to take the path she has. Trained in classical music, it was her involvement writing music for a student produced musical, “Excess Baggage”, in her second year in LSE in 2007 which provided her with the yearning to pursue a career in music – again admitting to wanting very much to quit her studies there and then to allow her to do just that.

In her beautiful mess.

In her beautiful mess.

With two EPs under her belt, Natalie is now working towards her goal of recording a full album – which she hopes to complete next year. It is also her dream to get into the musical scene, having had acquired a taste for it with Excess Baggage, as well as in her writing the lyrics for the recently concluded magic themed musical Incanto which played at Resorts World Sentosa. I did also have the chance to ask Natalie if her parents were supportive of the choices she has made. “They are”, Natalie says, “they always knew I was going to go into music, it was only a question of when”.

More of Natalie:

Watching the stars under the stars

29 05 2013

The last place in Singapore to soak in the atmosphere of the festivities which accompany a religious festival in a setting most of us may not seen for a quarter of a century is Pulau Ubin, the last island off Singapore (save for Sentosa) which has a community of residents. It is in the remnants of a village close to the island’s jetty where a Chinese Taoist temple, the Tua Pek Kong temple (Pulau Ubin Fo Shan Ting Da Bo Gong Temple or 乌敏岛佛山亭大伯公庙) dedicated to the Earth Deity 土地公 (Tu Di Gong in Mandarin) who is also commonly referred to in Singapore as 大伯公 – Tua Pek Kong in Hokkien or Da Bo Gong in Mandarin, is found. It setting is very much one that is reminiscent of many of the rural Chinese villages which were common on the main island of Singapore up until the 1980s, with a village temple at its centre with a permanent Chinese Opera (referred to locally as “wayang”) stage often located across a clearing from it.

Devotees offering candles at the Pulau Ubin Tua Pek Kong Temple. The temples celebrates two festivals in a big way.

Devotees offering candles at the Pulau Ubin Tua Pek Kong Temple. The temples celebrates two festivals in a big way.

Colours painted by the setting sun - setting the tone for a colourful night of entertainment under the stars.

Colours painted by the setting sun – setting the tone for a colourful night of entertainment under the stars.

The temple plays host twice a year to a series of festivities which are held to commemorate two important Chinese festivals which the temple celebrates in a big way. The bigger of the two is the Tua Pek Kong festival, celebrated to commemorate the birthday of the Earth Deity around the 15th day of the 4th Chinese month, while the Hungry Ghost festival which is celebrated with an auction around the 15th day of the 7th month, is a relatively quieter affair.

An image of the Earth Deity, Tua Pek King at the main altar of the Pulau Ubin Tua Pek Kong Temple.

An image of the Earth Deity, Tua Pek King at the main altar of the Pulau Ubin Tua Pek Kong Temple.

It is during both the festivals that the wayang stage sees use. Wayangs in the form of Teochew opera performed by the island’s Teochew Opera Troupe  (which I photographed at last year’s Hungry Ghosts Festival – click on this link for the post) based at the temple, are staged for the entertainment of the temple’s devotees (also for the visiting spirits in the case of the Hungry Ghost Festival)  providing a wonderful opportunity for Singaporean’s to revisit an almost forgotten tradition. In keeping up with the times, the stage also plays host to what perhaps is the new-age wayang – the getai (歌台), a somewhat kitsch (some even consider it crude) form of entertainment which by and large have replaced the wayangs of old during similar celebrations around Singapore.

A brightly dressed dancer on stage - getai is often seen as kitsch and somewhat crude, but it does have a huge following in Singapore.

A brightly dressed dancer on stage – getai is often seen as kitsch and somewhat crude, but it does have a huge following in Singapore.

I had the opportunity to see the new wayang in action in the old village like setting provided by Pulau Ubin’s stage last evening. The getai was held on the last evening of the series of festivities held over six days from 23 to 28 May this year and saw a huge turnout  – boats worked like clockwork ferrying a steady stream of visitors to the temple and the festivities – which certainly made the atmosphere very festival like. Under the stars in in the comfort of the cool breeze, the audience had the seats provided already filled as the stage came alive with lights and action matched by the brilliant colours provided by the of rays of the setting sun.

The large crowd seated in front of the stage.

The large crowd seated in front of the stage.

While I would not be one to admit to being a fan of getai, I will admit that the experience of watching the gaudily dressed stars of the song stage, entertain with song many which were could well be tunes of yesteryear, as well as converse and joke in Hokkien on a stage under the stars, was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was particularly heartening to see the large crowd – many who broke out into smiles and laughter as the evening entertainment progressed, enjoy themselves. The atmosphere was such that it did also seem to free both young and old from the distractions we have to much of in the modern world (I must have been the only one not taking a photograph or a video clip with a mobile device who was seen to be fiddling with my mobile phone).

Marcus Chin (陈建彬) on stage.

Marcus Chin (陈建彬) on stage.

Members of the audience had their eyes glued to the stage throughout most of the evening.

Members of the audience had their eyes glued to the stage throughout most of the evening.

The getai show which was hosted by Xu Qiong Fang (浒琼芳) and Wang Lei (王雷) saw a string of getai stars appear on stage. Not having admitted to being a fan, there is also no need for me to pretend to know who I was being entertained by. I did however recognise one of the stars from a previous experience watching getai under the Flyer. That was veteran entertainer Marcus Chin (陈建彬). I was able to identify the Babes in the City (宝贝姐妹) pairing, only through a comment left on my instagram post  by filmaker Royston Tan (the pair featured in a video he produced, “The Happy Dragon“, to promote Safe Sex) .

Babes in the City (宝贝姐妹).

Babes in the City (宝贝姐妹).

Host Wang Lei (王雷) also entertained - standing next to him is Lee Bao En (李宝恩 ), a young getai star from Johor.

Host Wang Lei (王雷) also sang – standing next to him is Lee Bao En (李宝恩), a young getai star from Johor.

A relatively more recently introduced  form of festival entertainment, the getai does in fact have a long enough tradition, having gained in popularity during the 1970s as interest in the traditional forms of entertainment such as the Chinese Opera and Puppet Shows was waning. On the evidence of the turnout, it does seem that, love it or hate it, it does have a following and being more adaptable than the more traditional street theatre, it certainly is here to stay.  It was nice to be out under the stars in a setting one can otherwise no longer find. It felt as if it was yesterday … almost. It would have been nice to see just one thing more – the mobile food vendors (particularly the bird’s nest drink and the steamed sweet corn seller) who never were very far away whenever the wayang came to town.

The view backstage.

The view backstage.

A view through a window of the permanent wayang stage.

A view through a window of the permanent wayang stage.

More photographs of the stage and audience:








I (certainly) Don’t Want to Miss a Thing

27 05 2013

What is probably one of the biggest rock acts to perform in Singapore is Aerosmith, the legendary rock band said to be “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”, took to the stage on Saturday in the second of two Singapore Social Concerts. The concerts held as part of the inaugural Social Star Awards, the first of which featured social media stars such as Psy, Carly Rae Jepsen, CeeLo Green and Blush, took place at what is proving to be a wonderful outdoor concert venue, The Meadow at the Gardens by the Bay.

The tireless Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

The tireless Steven Tyler of Aerosmith on stage at The Meadow.

The Aerosmith concert was without a doubt the highlight of what was a great week to be a music fan in Singapore, following hot on the heels of the annual Indie music mayhem, Music Matters Live, held earlier in the week. Watching “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” must could as an huge experience for anyone, fan or not. It is live on stage where the rock band’s lead, Steven Tyler, find himself in his element. Now sixty-five years of age, the energy levels he exhibited on stage all through the performance, must have been equal to that of a hyperactive child six decades his junior. Armed with his his trademark microphone stand, – streamers and all, he left even those who weren’t moving as vigourously as some of the more youthful members of the crowd I found myself squeezed  in next to, breathless.

Steven Tyler exhibited the energy levels of a hyperactive six year old.

Steven Tyler exhibited the energy levels of a hyperactive five year old.

It was in all a mesmerising performance, which made the long wait for the group to appear on stage, well worth the while. Scheduled to start at 8 pm, things only got moving at 8.20 pm with the opening act, Euphoria Audio. The rock band from Wakefield in the UK did a wonderful job of getting the crowd in the mood with some wonderful numbers of their own. Led by Matt Shirty, with Ben Lloyd and Ben Hughes on guitar and Josh Hughes on drums,  the band entertained for some 40 minutes.

Opening act Euphoria Audio on stage.

Opening act Euphoria Audio on stage.

Matt Shirty.

Matt Shirty.

It was another 40 minutes after the initial Euphoria have left the stage before the so-called Bad Boys from Boston, made their entry with Steven Tyler, appearing at the end of catwalk-like to the stage which placed him right into the heart of the crowd. Dressed in a hat, red glasses and a sequin studded jacket (which he later threw into the screaming crowd) with scarves draped over it, he would not have looked out of place in a theatre act, wielding the microphone stand with the words “lick me” at the bottom of its base almost as if it was a part of him.

Aerosmith finally came on at around 9.40pm.

Aerosmith finally came on at around 9.40pm.

Steven Tyler.

Steven Tyler.

Joe Perry on guitars - was almost as energetic as Tyler.

Joe Perry on guitars – was almost as energetic as Tyler.

Joey Kramer on drums.

Joey Kramer on drums.

Brad Whitford on guitar.

Brad Whitford on guitar.

Tom Hamilton on guitar.

Tom Hamilton on guitar.


The band which goes back more than four decades, does on the evidence of the crowd, have a following here spanning the generations. At what probably was the highlight of the concert, the delivery of their greatest hit, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the 1998 movie Armageddon, a large portion of the 10,500 strong crowd – many who looked like they were in their teens (or just out of it), moving with the music and singing along at the top of their voices.

Joe Perry on guitar behind his back.

Joe Perry on guitar getting to work behind his back.

While it might have been the flamboyant Tyler who stole the show the rest of the band wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. Joe Perry gave a masterclass, particularly in going back to basics revisiting the Blues. There was also two guest appearances with Japanese beatboxer Hikakin and hip-hop dancer Marquese Scott making an appearance late on during a rendition of “Walk This Way”. It seemed like it only just started when Aerosmith’s first full concert, which did go on for an hour and fifty minutes, did as all good things have to – come to an end with a grand piano wheeled down the stage for the encore of “Dream On” which was followed by “Sweet Emotion”. When the end did come, many in the crowd, myself included certainly would have loved to dream the concert on. And if they do come to town ever again, borrowing from the title of their biggest hit,  I (most certainly) Don’t Want to Miss a Thing!

More of Joe Perry.

More of Joe Perry. 

Japanese Beatboxer Hikakin with Joe Perry.

Japanese Beatboxer Hikakin with Joe Perry.

Steven Tyler waving to the crowd.

Steven Tyler waving to the crowd.

The many faces of the flamboyant Steven Tyler during Saturday’s concert:







K-Pop Night Out

26 05 2013

K-Pop and Korean music fans in Singapore had a treat on Friday when six different acts performed at Clarke Quay. The acts were that of two fairly new Korean girl groups, Ace of Angels (AOA) and SPICA; a rock group, Eastern Sidekick; a hip-hop quartet, M.I.B; a pairing of Jazz guitarist Park Juwon and blind harmonica player Jeon Jeduk; as well as R&B diva Lena Park. They were performing in a K-Pop Night Out segment of Music Matters Live with HP 2013 (MML) which drew hundreds of screaming fans who packed the area around the Fountain Stage at the Central Fountain Square.

K-Pop Night Out at MML featured two Korean girl groups which included SPICA.

K-Pop Night Out at MML featured two Korean girl groups which included SPICA.

Jeon Jeduk (L) with Park Juwon at the Fountain Stage.

Jeon Jeduk (L) with Park Juwon at the Fountain Stage.

Park Juwon.

Park Juwon.

Jeon Jeduk.

Jeon Jeduk.

The Fountain Stage.

The Fountain Stage.

Ace of Angels.

Ace of Angels.

Eastern Sidekick getting the crowd moving.

Eastern Sidekick getting the crowd moving.





Oh Joo Hwan of Eastern Sidekick.

Oh Joo Hwan of Eastern Sidekick.

Guitarist from Eastern Sidekick.

Guitarist Go Han Gyul from Eastern Sidekick.







Fans were out in full force.

Fans were out in full force.







Lena Park.

Lena Park.

Music Matters Live with HP 2013

23 05 2013

Going on until tomorrow evening (24 may 2013) at Clarke Quay is the latest edition of Music Matters Live (MML), Music Matters Live with HP. Part of the award-winning Digital & Music Matters Conference 2013, the three evening event brings more than emerging 50 bands representing some 20 countries to Singapore.

Music Matters Live with HP 2013 opened at Clarke Quay last evening.

Music Matters Live with HP 2013 opened at Clarke Quay last evening.

Carlos Castaño opens the three day music festival.

Carlos Castaño opens the three day music festival.

Opening the event last evening was a great first act from Filipino soul singer, Carlos Castaño who was followed on the Fountain Stage by Indonesian YouTube sensations Gamaliel, Audrey and Cantika (GAC) and Singapore’s rap and hip-hop artist Kevin Lester. It wasn’t just the acts at the Fountain Stage which had the feet of the audiences tapping – there were performances at various other venues including Singapore singer/songwriter Sarah Cheng-De Winne – a nominee in the 12th Independent Music Awards, as well as acts from some unusual origins. One that came on at the start at China One was what is the first pop and hip-hop girl group to come out of Myanmar, the Me N Ma Girls (ex Tiger Girls).

Another shot of Carlos Castaño.

Another shot of Carlos Castaño.

The Me N Ma Girls from Myanmar.

The Me N Ma Girls from Myanmar.

Kevin Lester.

Kevin Lester.

The party continues this evening with a line-up of some 43 bands at the six venues. Judging from the crowds last year, the highlight for many would probably be on tomorrow evening at K-Pop Night Out which will feature the likes of R&B diva Lena Park, a pair of girl groups AOA and SPICA, Eastern Sidekick – an indie rock band, an idol group M.I.B and jazz artistes Park Juwon and Jeon Jeduk.

Sarah Cheng-De Winnie at Fern & Kiwi.

Sarah Cheng De-Winnie at Fern & Kiwi.

The final evening will also see a showcase of our local talent which will see a line-up of local indie bands appear. These include Electrico, Plainsunset, Kevin Lester and The Observatory, as well as the very raw The Summer State, Natalie Hiong, These Brittle Bones and The Sam Willows.  MML 2013 is supported by the National Arts Council (NAC) as well as YouTube, Singapore Tourism Board, Media Development Authority, Pacific Beverages, Fender, Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), and many others. More information can be found at www.musicmatterslive.com and https://www.facebook.com/MusicMattersLive. The event can also be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/musicmatters and at the official Youtube channel is http://www.youtube.com/user/musicmatterstome.

The crown being warmed up at the Fountain Stage.

The crown being warmed up at the Fountain Stage.

Venues and Schedules (click to enlarge)

Fountain Stage Schedule

Music Matters Live 2013 - Programme Booklet A6 closed - 2013.05.

China One

Crazy Elephant

Fern & Kiwi

Music Matters Live 2013 - Programme Booklet A6 closed - 2013.05.

The Russians have landed

4 10 2012

It is always nice to discover a rare gem. One that I had the great pleasure of finding just last week is certainly a rarity – a group of dedicated musicians who produce strains that would seem more at home in the jazz clubs of New York City, than in Russia where they ply their trade in. Here for a one evening only performance at the School of the Arts (SOTA) concert hall, ‘Jazz Encounters of the Russian Kind’, the group included the esteemed Yakov Okun on piano, Sergey Golovnya on sax, bassist Makar Novikov, Alexander Mashin on drums and with Anna Buturlina on vocals.

Jazz Encounters of the Russian Kind.

Yakov Okun being introduced – although classically trained, his father boasts of a father which was a renowned jazz pianist from the Soviet-era.

It is indeed rare to find jazz musicians in Russia, I discover from a brief chat with Yakov Okun at the end of the concert that there are only a handful of jazz practitioners in the country. Although trained in classical music, Yakov Okun can boast of a pedigree in Russian jazz – his jazz pianist father Mikhail can perhaps be seen as a pioneer in the Soviet-era Russian jazz scene. The spirit of the early Russian jazz scene during a time when the only way to learn to play jazz required trying to replicate what was heard over American radio broadcasts, does live on in Yakov and the new generation of jazz musicians represented by the talented group that he brought along on what was a first excursion to Asia. Among the group, the highly talented Alexander Mashin does perhaps embody the spirit of the Soviet-era musicians, having learned much of the amazing skills he demonstrates on drums in his late teens all on his own.

Alexander Mashin who is a member of the MosGorTrio an extremely talented self-taught drummer.

Makar Novikov on bass and Sergey Golovnya playing the saxophone.

Attending a jazz concert is always a foot-tapping encounter for me, and it was no different through the thoroughly enjoyable concert, which I am sure the thin audience it attracted must have also done. The 75 minute concert started with a repertoire of Soviet-era pieces which Okun, Novikov and Mashin – the original members of the MosGorTrio, combined to good effect with Golovnya who gave a masterly performance on saxophone. The second part of the concert brought Anna Buturlina to the stage during which she lent her delightfully smooth voice to familiar American jazz favourites.

Anna Buturlina a leading Russian jazz vocalist lent her voice to the second part of the concert.

This first fleeting encounter with Russian jazz was one that certainly deserved a much bigger audience than it attracted. It does however promise more. The two men who brought the group in, Mr Michael Tay, Executive Director of the Russia-Singapore Business Forum and Singapore’s former ambassador to Russia; and Mr Evgeny Tugolukov, Managing Director of RusSing Holdings, have a shared passion for jazz. It is also their hope that this can serve as a platform to develop Singapore’s jazz scene. With the increased visibility for a genre of music that is hard to tire of that the efforts would certainly bring, it can perhaps also be that platform that will help the two fulfill a vision of seeing a regional jazz festival take root in Singapore.

Another of Anna Buturlina and Makar Novikov.

Why, oh why, do men have nipples?

4 06 2012

Why, oh why, do men have nipples? That was a question that was being thrown to the crowd at Esplanade Park on Saturday evening. Pondering over this were five men who looked nothing like the beach boys they claimed to be – not that anyone in the crowd cared about this or about the perennial question that was left unanswered.

Joseph Wong pondering over why men have nipples.

The five – Budak Pantai, or “Beach Boys” translated from Malay, really needs no introduction – having been on the scene for some 18 years. And while much of what Budak Pantai does on stage isn’t taken too seriously, the group possesses the talent of any accomplished a cappella group. It was in a cappella that the group excels in – although of late a guitar accompanies most of what they do on stage. The guitar as is explained officially is an addition as the guitarist, Danny Lai, “did not know what to do with his hands on stage”.

A guitar was introduced to the a cappella group because the would be guitarist, Danny Lai, ‘did not know what to do with his hands on stage’.

The group’s repertoire is a great testament to the singing prowess of the group – they take on a range of familiar favourites that range from Il Divo’s Unbreak My Heart to popular Hokkien tunes – all done of course with a twist. The songs – or parodies of them (if I may call them that) are peppered with lyrics that never fail to draw a chuckle – some with local references as well in local languages or dialects. One, Plain White T’s Hey There Delilah even comes with an East London accent courtesy of Michael Loh – who more often than not doubles up as the group’s spokesperson.

Michael Loh (a projection on shipping containers which formed the back of the stage).

It was with Mike that I had a very brief chat with after a performance in November last year at the Republic Polytechnic. That was probably something I should really have prepared a blog post on – but as I was in between trips and rather short of time, and since a friend had already put up an excellent blog post on that performance, I never really got down to doing it.

The group on stage.

The group traces its origins to Rollin’ Good Times – a television talent contest in the 1990s that sought the best imitations of popular artistes (those with more than a few grey hairs like me might remember it). That also provides a clue as to the origins of the name Budak Pantai – the group aspired to be a local version of the Beach Boys, winning a Beach Boys sound-alike segment of the television contest in 1994.

Ho Kah Keh who hits the low notes.

Gordon Ng who hits the hard to reach notes and entertains with his facial expressions as much as with his voice and sound effects.

When not pondering over a redundant part of the male anatomy, the group’s members masquerade paper-pushers – there even is a banker and a lawyer among the five. I did wonder how, with full-time jobs, the five managed to stay together all these years – I was given to understand the blame for that rested with the plates of chicken rice that brings them together and over which their creative juices flow.

Another projection of Michael Loh …

Another of guitarist Danny Lai.

Talented and creative they no doubt are. What, however, does set them apart must be the sense of humour, which provides a very unique blend of humour and guitar accompanied a cappella that never fails to entertain. Entertain they did – at times to rapturous laughter, a performance at the end of which had the crowd who were most comfortably sprawled on the lawn below the stage on mats laid out for the purpose, baying for an encore. The five were pleased to oblige, observing that as the festival village’s closing act – they had the time to do so. That brought the curtains down on the wonderful array of live performances in the festival village which over the two weeks had drawn many singing and swaying members of the public to the festival village. The attempt to bring the festival to the public must certainly be seen as one that has been extremely successful and if this is what will be seen at the next edition of the Singapore Arts Festival, it would be one that we will certainly want look forward to.

Time to say goodbye …

The crowd that had gathered were enthralled throughout the hour long performance.

A slideshow that contains a few more photograph’s of the evening’s performance:

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Strings to a forgotten time

29 05 2012

Out and about an entire day and feeling irritable from that as well as from being drenched in the perspiration, I am glad that I resisted the urge to head home, have a shower and a what seemed to me like a much-needed lie-in. I headed instead down to a place I was familiar from times forgotten, to partake in the pure delight of being transported by four men armed with bows and strings, to a world not so far away from those forgotten times.

A changed view of a once familiar place.

When I got to that once familiar place, Esplanade Park, rendered somewhat unrecognisable by the obstructed view of what had once been the sea that now is a body of fresh water and the temporary structures set up for its use as a festival village for the Singapore Arts Festival, a huge crowd had already taken up temporary residence on mats provided by event organisers on a lawn by a stage. The crowd had gathered in anticipation of what was to follow – a free evening performance by the four men who form a string quartet – Singapore’s highly acclaimed T’ang Quartet, for what was titled “A Musical Snapshot of Nostalgia”.

The main stage at the festival village in front of which crowds had gathered seated on mats.

A close-up of a violinist.

I and I am sure the crowd were not disappointed by what was to follow. In the glow of the gorgeous warm lighting and on a stage set against a backdrop of shipping containers, the casually dressed but accomplished quartet played out a musical treat inspired by the once popular folk melodies, old favourites and themes of forgotten popular local television shows – in line with the festival’s theme of “Our Lost Poems”, that had the audience captivated throughout. It was easy to become immersed in the strains of much of what was familiar, and I quickly found myself back in that time I had forgotten – one piece that I found myself singing to was Burung Kakatua which also brought a tear to my eye – it was a song that my late maternal grandmother to whom I was very close to had taught me. The surroundings had once again become that Esplanade of old, fanned once again by a cool evening breeze – a breeze not out of the stillness of the air that now fills the park, but of the light and delightful interpretation of tunes, arranged by Pang Kok Jun from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, many of which I have for long not heard – certainly an enjoyable evening and one that was well spent.

The T’ang Quartet against a backdrop of shipping containers – on the Main Stage at the Festival Village.

The audience, young and old, was captivated by the strains of the once familiar melodies.

Portraits of the members of the T’ang Quartet

Ng Yu-Ying, 1st Violin.

Ang Chek Meng, 2nd Violin.

Lionel Tan, on viola.

Leslie Tan on cello.

Loved the effect of the projection of the performance on the shipping containers.

The Singapore Arts Festival is on up until 2 June 2012. Besides the ticketed events, the Festival Village at Esplanade Park also offers free fun and entertainment for the whole family including performances like that of the T’ang Quartet at the Main Stage and also lots of kids activities at the Kids Arts Village. One free performance at the Main Stage that I highly recommend is one at 10 pm on 2 June 2012 that will certainly have you in stitches – that of the a capella five-some (sort of) Budak Pantai – I had the opportunity of watching them perform last year and they were brilliant! For more information do visit http://www.singaporeartsfest.com/.

About The Singapore Arts Festival

The Singapore Arts Festival began in 1977 as a national showcase celebrating the local arts of Singapore’s diverse communities. Over the last three decades, the Festival organised by the National Arts Council, has played a symbiotic and catalytic role in the development of the artistic and cultural life of Singapore. It has influenced the work of artists and generated a growing public demand for the arts, spawning new capital platforms, events and movements that help underpin the lively cultural scene in Singapore.

The Festival saw its turning point in 2010 as it embarked on a new phase of development under the leadership of Low Kee Hong. Key changes and initiatives include turning this international arts platform into a Creation and People’s Festival with a vital year-long participation programme, continuing to sustain the Festival’s engagement with the public beyond individual shows staged during the Festival period. The commune events and activities are tailored for four groups: new audiences — people who may not have encountered the arts; arts lovers — people who buy tickets to performances; arts makers — artists and teachers who inspire their students through the arts; and arts volunteers — people who have the heart to make a difference.

The Singapore Arts Festival has now become an international showcase of ideas, art and discourse with a distinctive Asian flavour, known for its bold and innovative discussions between vernacular and contemporary art.

Singapore Arts Festival 2012: Our Lost Poems

The 2012 Festival will be held from 18 May – 2 June 2012. This edition of the Festival completes the trilogy of themes set out two editions ago – Between You and Me (2010), I Want to Remember (2011), Our Lost Poems (2012). Over these 16 days, the city comes alive with an infusion of performances at the Festival’s hub – the Festival Village @ Esplanade Park and other key venues. There is something for everyone this year, from ages 1 to 100.

Remembering the legendary P. Ramlee

4 12 2010

It might have come as a surprise to some to learn from an article in the Straits Times on 20 November this year, that the legendary, charismatic, multi-talented and much revered producer, actor, singer and songwriter, P. Ramlee, whose career spanned much of the golden age of Malay film making from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, died lonely and penniless. His untimely death at the age of 44 in 1973 had as I very well remember, brought an outpouring of grief from his fans on both sides of the causeway. I had remembered that moment when the news broke very vividly as my maternal grandmother, herself a huge fan of P. Ramlee, shed a few tears. She had, in her relatively solitude after my grandfather’s own passing at the end of the 1960s, being conversant only in Bahasa Indonesia, counted the performances of P. Ramlee which she followed whenever it was aired on Television Singapore, as as one of her main sources of amusement.

Coincidentally the article, which featured Shuhaimi Baba’s documentary about the life of P. Ramlee, was published soon after a visit I paid to No. 8 Jalan Ampas, where P. Ramlee had his best moments, rising quickly from a young and aspiring actor to become an award winning movie producer and director, being responsible for over 70 films and 200 songs at what was the very successful Malay Film Productions (MFP) studios. He left the studios in 1963 to join Merdeka Studios in Kuala Lumpur, a year where two events might very well have led to the end of the the golden age of the Malay film industry which besides the MFP also counted the likes of the Cathay Keris studios. The events were the introduction of television in Malaya, and the merger of Singapore with Malaysia (which resulted in Indonesia’s objections developing into Konfrontasi, thereby closing the huge Indonesian market).

No. 8 Jalan Ampas, the premises of the former MFP as it is today. The MFP thrived during the Golden Age of Malay film and was where the legendary P. Ramlee's career took off.

A modest memorial to P. Ramlee at the former MFP at No. 8 Jalan Ampas.

While his premature passing had robbed us of his wonderful talent, which sadly in his final years he wasn’t able to fully exploit due to the unfortunate change of circumstances, P. Ramlee has certainly left us with his rich legacy of films and music – one that certainly deserves to be commemorated in a grand way. It is a wonderful thing that it is indeed going to be in a gala event to be held in Singapore on 5 February 2011, an event that will bring together artistes from that bygone era, together with guests from both sides of the Causeway who will include Ministers such as Datuk Rais Yatim and Chief Minister of Sarawak, Diplomats, Entrepreneurs, Film Producers, Scriptwriters, Movie Lovers and Fans of the Malay Film and Entertainment. The hosts for the exciting evening will be Ogy Ahmad Daud and A. B. Shaik and the Gala Night will feature performances by artistes of today and yesterday which will include the likes of diva Anita Sarawak, as well as by Ning Baizura, Fredo of Flybaits, Sarah Aqilah, Didi Cazli, Rudy Djoharnean, Syamsul Yusof, R. Ismail and Rozita Rohaizad. Please scroll down for an overview of the event. More details will soon follow.

P. Ramlee in his premature passing, had left a wealth of works, including the last song he composed, Air Mata di Kuala Lumpur, which was composed six months before his death. The song was first presented to the public by P. Ramlee's widow Saloma at the National Musuem in Kuala Lumpur on 29 August 1973.

Event Overview:

Seri Temasek Gala Dinner is the first to be held in Singapore to commemorate films from the Golden Era. Artists from the 1940s will be honoured for their works and contribution to the film industry.

It was during the Golden Era, a famous Malay entertainer created a name in Singapore. From the Jalan Ampas studio, P. Ramlee (b. 22 March 1929, Penang- d.29 May 1973) was the quintessential Malay entertainer par excellence – actor, director, composer and singer. He accomplished the heights of a legend, with a remarkable track record of having acted in 65 films and sung 390 songs. Closely linked to the golden era of Malay movies, P. Ramlee is the one and only brand name in the Malay Film industry in Golden Era and undeniably, an icon in the Malay entertainment scene in Malaysia and Singapore.

The legend’s influence on Malay popular culture is undeniable. Today, P. Ramlee’s films and songs continue to be enjoyed by many. His films and music have been adopted by succeeding generations. Many expressions in popular Malay culture either originate or were popularised by the late P. Ramlee, with lines from his films still being quoted today.

In memory of the legend’s fine artistry works, Seri Temasek serves as the first and only platform in Singapore to bring together artists / star performers / film producers / scriptwriters from Singapore and Malaysia to honour their contributions in the arts, culture and film industry. They will unite in an opulent nostalgic setting that sets to enliven the spirit of the Golden Era and to motivate the younger generation to scale to greater heights.

This is the event and the only platform that sets, records and heightens the memorable scenes and fine works of the past and present, motivating the works of yesterday and today bringing the Malay film industry into the global scene.

The starring night of Seri Temasek 2011 will witness 32 artists honoured for their dedication and contributions to the Malay Film Industry with Seri Temasek and Seri Temasek Life Achievement Awards.

850 honourable guests from various elite backgrounds Singapore and Malaysia alike, Ministers, Diplomats, Entrepreneurs, Film Producers, Scriptwriters, Movie Lovers and Fans of the Malay Film and Entertainment industry will rejoice in the first and only Seri Temasek 2011.

The first esteemed and memorable event to be held in Singapore; will create another milestone in the history of arts, culture and film here as it celebrates success stories of the past and present.

All that Jazz: New Orleans and the Preservation Hall

28 06 2010
There is nothing that can describe sitting in the humid air of the dusty floor of a packed hall in an old Spanish colonial building set in the main square in the Vieux Carré and listening to feet tapping strains of the brass, woodwind, bass, piano, and percussion instruments that could only be associated with the fabulous sounds of the southern brand of jazz, all for a sum of two U.S. dollars. I suppose there is nothing that can aptly describe New Orleans as well, where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs every evening since 1961 to packed audiences in a setting that could only be that of the temple of southern jazz. New Orleans is a city that is unique in many ways, atypical as North American cities go, a collection of the influences of her former French and Spanish masters, before becoming coming under control of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon for a sum of $15 million. In New Orleans, we see architecture that is inherited from the Spanish, a joie de vivre inherited from the French, in a setting that perhaps feels more like the Caribbean that a city on the North American mainland should.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing to a packed hall.

The Preservation Hall on St. Peter Street (off Jackson Square) was founded in 1961 and is the temple of southern jazz.

Wandering around the streets of the French Quarter or Vieux Carré filled with buildings that date back to the era of Spanish rule in the late 18th Century with the characteristic wrought iron balconies and inner courtyards, one can’t escape from the sound of music that constantly fills the air. In and around the Vieux Carré which is centered on Jackson Square, the former Place d’Armes, one often sees a piano or two being wheeled around. Music is very much a part of street life in a city that is synonymous with hearty celebration and cuisine: the Mardi Gras and Jambalaya. It is a city that is both magical as well as being mysterious, being associated with practices such as Voodoo, where walks around the old cemetery is a must for the visitor as much as sitting on the floor of the Preservation Hall is. It is a city that continues to fascinate me and one that I would love the opportunity to visit again.

Music is everywhere in New Orleans.

The wrought iron balconies of the Spanish influenced buildings that line the streets of New Orleans.