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.