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SINGAPORE, Sept 25 — The singer-songwriter has been an integral part of the music industry since the rise of Bob Dylan in the early sixties, followed by the likes of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Paul Simon.
In the context of the Singapore music scene, its two most important music phases — the 1960s and 1990s — placed the emphasis on bands, not individual solo singer-songwriters.
Sure, we have had Dick Lee, Ramli Sarip and perhaps Art Fazil too, but they too got their start by performing in bands or music groups before branching out as solo artistes.
In recent years, though, the number of singer-songwriter soloists has grown exponentially. It may even be argued that these singer-songwriters have managed to hit paydirt better than some bands, as evidenced by the success of Charlie Lim, Gentle Bones (aka Joel Tan) and Inch Chua.
But more pertinent is that, under the radar of the mainstream, there are many singer-songwriters doing good work, and they are primed for discovery by an audience now clued-in to the value and worth of these musicians.
Take Jonathan Meur.
He was born in France, grew up on the tropical island of Mauritius, but has been living and making music in Singapore for the past 10 years.
Since then, he has been appearing at several gigs all over the island; and he recently released his album, "How To Build A Kite", on Bandcamp which is a pleasing melange of sophisticated folk-inflected pop songs.
His entry into the local music scene began in 2009 by participating at open mic sessions, starting with sets at the Originals Only Open Mic session run by Jonathan How and then the open mic nights at one at the now-defunct Pigeonhole cafe.
The responses at these gigs may have varied, but this allowed Meur to discover like-minded talented musicians.
“I went on to work with many of them,” he said, adding that some of these musicians ended up on "How To Build A Kite".
Meur highlighted the themes of relationships and his childhood that are reflected in the songs, though he clarified that the album did not have an overall concept. He is actively promoting the album with live performances both in Singapore and overseas (he was recently in Melbourne) and hopes that “the songs can find many ‘homes’ with both listeners and within other projects and on various platforms.”
“Various platforms” is where up-and-coming singer-songwriter Daphne Tan has managed to find herself.
The serious-minded artiste recently released her debut EP, "Where No One Is". Dabbling in traditional folk structures, the four tracks tell the story of “a city dweller who bravely turns nomadic to try and confront the uncertainties one must face in life”.
It may seem like a high concept perhaps, but it’s not surprising for someone who was the first runner-up at the Singapore Writers Festival’s Poetry Of Song back in 2011. Intriguingly, she felt that her EP was too special to put a price tag on it, so she has offered it for free online at Noisetrade.
“I can always earn back the money I spent making it!” she explained.
Typically, Tan has big plans — and rather atypical ones — for her music.
“In particular, I’d like to do this — bring my songs into people’s homes, where they feel the most comfortable in their own skin — in cities and villages across South-east Asia (because) "Where No One Is" is about the common human experience of searching — and finding.”
Meanwhile, Nick Tan has found himself back in the mill of things with a new recording. He was a National Arts Council Noise Singapore apprentice back in 2008 and released his debut EP that year. However, he somewhat disappeared from the local music scene in the following years, and it wasn’t until this year that he finished working on his new EP.
Called The New Normal, it’s a mixed bag of re-recorded songs and new tracks.
Available at Starbucks and online at platforms such as iTunes, Spotify and Amazon, Nick Tan’s music is more pop-oriented than most but his competent grasp of good melodies certainly makes songs like You and Homebound memorable.
Like most singer-songwriters, Nick Tan is a deep thinker and uses his songs to express his thoughts and feelings about the world around him. Of his new EP, he said: “It’s a coming-of-age album about the ‘new normals’, massive shifts in the daily rituals and lifestyles of a young person transitioning into adulthood, and the ironic or oxymoronic conflicts of it all.”
Nick Tan has also seen a conscious shift in the public perception of local music since his last EP. “I think the local audience has begun to actively embrace homegrown talent. Nowadays, local folk actually come up to you after the show to talk.”
Shifting perceptions is what Dwight Pereira knows a lot about.
He released his first two albums in Singapore before leaving in 2003 to pursue further education in Liverpool and is now residing in London. The musician continues to pursue his craft in the United Kingdom, with his latest album, Straw, receiving airplay there.
While he admitted that he was not hands-on familiar with the Singapore music scene, Pereira is encouraged by its progress, emphasising that “a vibrant arts scene is a healthy symptom of an open society”.
Pereira describes UK audiences as “receptive” with “a culture of respect for artistes”. “Not only singer-songwriters, but anyone who dares to come on stage and perform their original work,” he explained. “Being receptive does not necessarily mean the absence of competition. The opposite is actually true, especially in London — where the whole world convenes.”
Pereira’s new album, Straw, which is available on all digital music platforms, is a collection of 13 acoustic folk-based songs that has resonated with enough people for the singer-songwriter to be invited for a radio interview at the BBC. Pereira recounted how this opportunity came about.
“It was a result of me submitting my album to and getting in touch with a radio presenter I had met a few years back at a Christmas do when I was volunteering at a homeless centre in Sheffield — while I was on the dole!”
Pereira intends to tour to promote Straw, and trips to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are pretty much in his plans.
“These cities are where I grew up and where I still have family and friends. It would mean a lot to me to play again back home.” — TODAY