Friday, May 21, 2021

Singapore Original Music Compositions - Wen Hing

A recording for a classroom project with my diploma instructor and course mates.

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Let’s Make Music – Singapore Style

By Chow Wen Hing


I recently commented on Andy’s blog about the band leader of a local band – the Dukes; Daniel Abidin, as follows:


“Sounds like an amazing guy, wonder what he thinks about the music and original Singapore songs of recent year? Would be interesting to hear his thoughts 🙂. I was watching a documentary about local musicians and a name cropped up a few times - Jimmy Wee. He took a chance on local acts when he was told again and again that there’s no profit in it!


I think the cost of such endeavors have gone way down, as technology has closed the gap on the process. What is needed is a “moral-boosting” Jimmy Wee, no deep pockets needed but a deep appreciation of the Singapore music scene is crucial. Of course, good contacts and entrepreneurial spirit is a big plus!


Many musicians are turning to home studios - affordable and accessible gear, technology and know-how (YouTube) has sprouted tons of “artiste”. So we would need a modern day Jimmy Wee to sieve out those who have potential and put resources behind them to support them as far as they can go.”


This prompted Andy to suggest that I share further thoughts on the local music situation – seeing how I am now a self-proclaimed “song-writer”. Thanks for the vote of confidence Andy! I am really just a novice – a late starter, and not a historian like you who is well-informed about the music scene over the last 40 years or so. But in the spirit of our shared love for music, I will put down some of my personal thoughts. A caveat here – these are just my own observations based on anecdotal evidence, so don’t take my word for it. 


With that, let me make a call to everyone who is reading this to:


Let’s Make Music – Singapore Style!

Juice - Whatever It Takes - Wen Hing - 
An original composition. YouTube by Music MAN.

I think one of the main reasons why Singapore music – that is local compositions in English, did not really take off is probably due to a lack of a cultural identify. We Singaporeans do not know who we are, euphemistically speaking. Our social diversification and multiculturalism have been so successful that, we; as the Beatles said, “are here, there and everywhere” – in a word: nowhere. We can’t really identify ourselves with Western cultures. It just doesn’t sit right with our Asian sensibilities; but neither do we clique well with the Eastern cultures; we fall short of the richness that these cultures can offer and represent.

As such, musically we are torn, struggling artistically to find our voice, our sound, our unique genre that we can be proud of. The closest to a culture is the “beng” culture - the slightly rebellious, mostly callous and care-less attitude that supposedly at its core lie the soul of the sons and daughters of Singapore. But this is giving in to a self-perpetuated myth that a “Beng-titude” is in all Singaporeans. It neglects to embrace the more wholesome, the serious, the studious, the avant grade and the “converted” amongst us.

So although deprived of a deep history, we Singaporeans nonetheless feel that we have a special identity that has been forged over our short 50-year history, that we are a melting pot of culture, practices, behaviour and abilities. But despite this, and perhaps as it is the progenitor of the “beng” culture; we sprouted something that clearly make us stand out amongst our Asian brothers and sisters. For at the very moment we speak, we are identified straightaway as being a Singaporean! It is in our style, our accent, our mannerism and our composure. Singlish has given us an identify which make us highly recognizable. 

Singapore bands from the 60s and beyond have their own original composition.

Singapore has no natural resources, and the only way it came to be where it is today is through the sheer determination and hard work of the previous generations. Here, I salute Andy and all his compatriots for playing an important role in entertaining and delighting these founding and pioneer batches of Singaporeans. They had used what they knew, and with what was at their immediate disposal. So well-known tunes from the East and the West flooded the market, and bands like The Silver Strings, The Quest, The Dukes; and in the 80’s and the 90’s bands like Tokyo Square, The Padre, Dick Lee, Zircon Lounge, Flybaits, etc – just to name those I know of, became the proxy for the real deal. Today, these bands still have their diehard fans, and there were concerts and open-mic sessions before the pandemic. Now many of them get together to jam and reminisce on the good old days.
Cats Like Us - A Wen Hing Composition 
which has gained some leverage on YouTube.

So I believe that with willing contributors, the blessing of Singlish, and a readiness to develop and embrace our own culture – these are all necessary elements to give us another chance to a start. Our Singaporean accent and mannerism gave us a lingua franca of sorts which sets us apart from our fellow ASEANs but yet anchor us as Asians and Singaporeans. We can build on that! Let’s think about getting the same kind of recognition and identity in our songs and music. Let’s think about a genre or a musical tradition that is so Singaporean that it will be identified immediately with Singapore at the very first opening notes. Let’s think about a standard or a performance style that is so clearly Singapore that audiences can immediately appreciate the Singapore flavour and characteristics, and thereby judging its success accordingly. Indeed, let’s think about a musical and cultural heritage that the rest of the world would want to emulate!


It is my personal big-beautiful-audacious goal, but it is getting rather lonely just two years into this endeavour. But I am pressing on, with encouragement and the occasional jousting from friends like Andy, and reading about past successes and glories in our musical heritage. Matched with how music making has progressed in the 21st Century, I am discovering opportunities and uncovering new sounds. Come my friends, join this journey wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

Let’s make music – Singapore style!

Wen Hing - Singer/Composer/Author

An original song done by Shirley Nair and the Silver Strings in the 1960s. Sung by Rene. Video from YouTube by Rene.


Siva Choy's Original Singlish hit, 'Why You So Like That -https://singapore60smusic.blogspot.com/2012/07/why-you-so-like-that-uh.html

25 comments:

asmallgirl said...

Any journey would feel a little lonely if you're a trailblazer! Great insights on your take on Singapore music & how it developed through the years. I think a big part of why Singapore did not cultivate musicians would also be how our society functions & how we prioritise more "practical" pursuits over the arts. With the rise of social media, this has seemed to shift a bit & I hope there will be more opportunities in Singapore for music to thrive!

AUDIE NG [SILVER STRINGS/BAND LEADER] said...

Re New composition of songs Singlish style. I did talk to Wayne b4 n I didn't want to discourage him for writing new English songs for d Big Recording will not record it cos its not profitable n without these Recording got to promote d songs by occasionally appearance on shows to promote d songs will be a dead duck or natural death unless u do it for passion only.

U notice Silver Strings seldom play our own songs in our SS concerts all these years n even our own National Heritage Board is not keen to promote local talents n also d National Art Council totally music outcast. Only recently after SG 50 our SS songs resurfaced n d 'Spore Replay'. if not will be buried under d carpet.

Rodsh Xie,[ Music and Film Producer] said...


Tq for sharing this post, I agreed, from a solo to a band to a music culture, everyone needs identity. So I often says we need to find our identity...

I hope to see more bands with their original ( made in Singapore)... or at least a new arrangement in covers...

Hopefully, these challenging times will soon be over...
I still have more arrangements to do...
peace ✌bro

WEN HING [SINGER/HOBBYIST] said...

It’s a sad and hard reality, but I’m one who believes in ground level activities that can break such perceived high level limitations. We need a ground swell, and people need a reason to generate that ground swell. They must be a way for our work to be relatable and understood.

What Audie says proves my point - even after 40+ years we are still nowhere despite the efforts put in. That says something about our ability to connect with our audience, about our ability to be seen as representing the audiences interest. 55 years since independence and we’ll have many more 55 years to go before there’s a semblance of music acknowledged as purely Singaporean.

Nobody likes to be criticised... 😅 but I know where I stand and what I can do, so I’ve braced myself for it. I actually expected it 😅.

Thanks to all who wrote in so far. Appreciate the interest.

TAN TP said...

Not very polished. A long way to go to be like those of our singers in the 60s.

JOHN TAN said...

Wen Hing song cannot lah 😅
Shirley...‘Don’t know much about security’
Isn’t that Sam Cooke's, ‘Wonderful World’ 😅😂😅

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi TP and JOHN,
We have just posted a video by WEN HING which could help you change your mind.
As explained, the first video was just a jam.
CHEERS.

FABIAN FOO said...

Hi Andy,
Thank you for sharing this article.
I hope we will have the younger generation to make their debut known with the use of new technology in social media like Facebook, YouTube etc.

As far as I have discovered, currently there are good talents in the local music scene. Bands like Dimension5 and Band and Jerry are doing good in their own style in music. We should see more young ones wanting to create their first impact.

Let us encourage this enthusiasm.

STEPHEN HAN said...

Hope someone can write a beautiful song the all Singaporean can be proud of.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, we need more positive Singaporeans who can react to encourage more local musicians to compose songs we can call our own.

Thanks to FABIAN and STEPHEN for the good wishes.

FACEBOOK said...

THANKING ALL THESE FOLKS FOR THEIR ENCOURAGEMENT
AND FOR LIKING THIS POST

Stephen Han
Davy Chan
Yip Dick
Ng Boon Kwang
Francis Anthony Rozells
Jalani Mohamed
Gracie Teo
Rocker Lee
Irene Yap
Tin Leong Lim
Patrick Teng
Foo Jong Fook
Chow Wen Hing
Koh Sui Pang
Peter Cheong
ROOP SINGH

FREDA HANUM TEEPEES said...

So true and such amazing write-out indeed 👍.

LAURENCE LIM [GRANDPA IN 'YOU'RE THE BOY' VIDEO] said...

Wayne has spoken well n I tend to agree with his perception of our local music industry, not because of the lack of talents but more due to the lack of Govt and community support. Spore Govt has channelled more of its resources and energy towards economic goals and economic success rather than in Arts n Sports.

Why do we need to take 50 years to produce one Joseph Schooling? Why do we need to take 50 years to produce one Matthew Tan ? How come Malaysia , being as small as we are has been able to produce one world class Lee Chong Wei. ? Badminton is one sport that does not depend on the ‘size’ of the player. Therefore using the ‘physical’ aspects of a sportsman as an excuse to achieve success n fame is just lame.

Now back to my statement on the support given by our Govt and community. I remember 10 years back, George Yeo ,then minister for Arts n Cultures did put in some effort to promote awareness in the Arts n Culture arena. But when he left there was no follow up on his programmes. Do we need to be a ‘rich economy’ ( which we are incidentally ) to produce world class musicians ?

Think about it. Even our not so rich neighbours like Indonesia have world renowned musicians. They have recording companies sprouting all over the peninsula. Their music industry is one of the contributive factors that harness their people together even during bad times. They take pride in their local artistes, all these are with the strong supprt from the Central Govt.

My observations, in so far as our local talents are concerned are. 1 we need a strong ‘ Musicians association where Music enthusiasts can come together to share their ideas, their woes and their frustrations. Among the members it would be good if some of them are closely connected to the Press n Media platforms. We need to be well represented, with one voice. Sadly , many local musicians are left ‘a begging’ They have no memorable history. Many writers who are not musically inclined will not have the interest to promote Music here.

Andy’s music blog is a good platform for a start.

1. Govt participation, in the form of grants ( which I believe is already available )

2. Concert venues should be readily available with affordable rentals

As I know, to put up a 2 day show in an auditorium like the national library auditorium, can cost the producer up to $8000/ a night

3. There shud be no tax on ticket sales, which could trickle down to cheaper ticket prices.

4 . Media Corp shoud allocate a ‘ local talent ‘ slot at least on a fortnightly basis, to promote local compositions n local talents. Looking around, such activities are either not organised or are in oblivion.

My 2 cts comments.

theheartbreakkid said...

Well said, Lawrence. Support is crucial in the things we do,and this is exactly what our local musicians needed!
As the saying goes;no man is an island!

BELINDA LIM said...

Morning Wen Hing

First song is very catchy. Very country feel.

Second song Cats like You has a strong electronic keyboard so it reminds me of the 80s. Guitarist reminds me of Edge from U2.

👏🏻

WEN HING [SINGER/HOBBYIST/AUTHOR] said...

Thanks Belina!

You’re kind in your comments.. actually the studio recorded one is terrible..
I didn’t want to put it up at first.. it was never meant for public viewing yet as it was still work in progress.. but thanks for your encouragement 😊.

JOHN CHAN said...

Naomi's song (Happy, Happy Birthday Baby) was no. 1 in then Malaya on 24 Jan 1966

WEN HING [SINGER/COMPOSER/AUTHOR] said...

Hello fellow musicians and music lovers!

Thank you one and all for your comments, likes and feedback! From the number of impassioned expressions and opinions, I think I've touched a nerve of sorts - that this is a topic close to all our hearts! I see all comments and feedback as evident that we are the pioneers in this movement - if we can call it that. It is up to us to bring this conversation forward and to a wider audience - may it be the community, business owners, associations or to respective ministries or government agencies. We must make some noise about who we are and what we're trying to achieve. We are trying to make music Singapore style, and any help or support from those with the means will go a LONG way in putting this on the right track. Ultimately, it is for national unity and identity. We are known to be the best in class for many things, but we want to be known to be creative as well; in music composition and songwriting. We need to start the process of altering that perception that we are too clinical and sterile, that we are a people who lack passion and an identity.

We need to take the next few steps to bring this buried desire to the fore, to light the spark that will galvanise positive actions. I hope this article has taken those first few steps, but it will die off as quickly as it started if nothing else is done after this article. We need to be coherent and structured in how we present our cause. It is about our love for music, and this must arise from our love for our world and our lives. We are musicians at heart and we want to let our music speak for us and for our country.

Chow Wen Hing

HAMIDI [DIPLOMA CLASSMATE] said...

I do have my two cents on the topic. But not musically exposed on the scene, i can't say my input has any weight. But would you say, due to our "lack" of identity, our diversity or rich cultural history, we have less to sing about? Less to make music about?

WEN HING [SINGER/COMPOSER/AUTHOR] said...

In a way it is true Hamidi.

😀 But many songs are about the affairs of the heart too, and we certainly have lots to sing about that when it concerns our feelings.. but ya, definitely without the broader identity we are less convincing when we try to express ourselves creatively.. maybe we can’t really rush it.. perhaps our children or our children’s children will one day have something bigger and truly our own to sing about..? 😅

But I believe culture is a state of being, and this cannot be forced I guess.... It will take time, but it has to become self aware at some point in time... and I'm thinking - that time is NOW

22.5.21

ALFONSO SOOSAY [PERTH AUSTRALIA - NAOMI N BOYS] said...

Surprising Musical Moments Can Happen In A Recording Studio Session Where Their Memories Can Last Forever.

LAURENCE LIM said...

It may also help if he uses other singers.
One voice alone is monotonous
Some songs need female voices .
There must be a variety of singers for different songs.
Better if he can get a popular artist to render his compositions.

Cedric Collars said...

I have read the ongoing conversations and comments and have something to add to it. To begin with in the days gone by Singaporean parents pushed acamedic subjects and not music as a main career. Hobbies like music always took second place and at the cost of the individual person. There was no Government involved in the persuit of the musical interest. We grew up listening and playing music and were happy if our performance was accepted by our peers. From this we progressed to bigger and better things. Music is like many careers a very poor one and only pays those who make it. Struggling is all part and parcel of the musical life. Getting songs played on the airwaves is the first step of many to achieve this career or should I say Dream. There are many songs written about the struggle and as a son of a professional musician I can talk with authority as I lived what I am writing about. My father was the living example of a music man having a family and dreams that often came with a struggle. Sorry folks my father's advice to me was " Make music a hobby and study for a professional career". I have persued this advice and today I can say my father's advice has indeed been accurate and timely. Maybe you all budding musicians can take some words of comfort in knowing that it's a "long and winding road full of broken dreams and crashed songs". Hope I haven't destroyed or crushed anyone's aspirations and sorry if I have.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Cedric,

for an honest appraisal of what the music scene was and probably will be; to you it will remain static, status quo.

But Wen Hing, apparently with his music knowledge and IT knowhow believes otherwise, that with our renaissance in this digital age, INDIE music will survive and perhaps prosper and careen into a dream of hope and prosperity.

Just my take.

[INDIE - Independent music (often referred to as indie music or indie) is music produced independently from commercial record labels or their subsidiaries, a process that may include an autonomous, do-it-yourself approach to recording and publishing.]

Lifeinsing said...

Thank you, Cedric, for your insightful comments. You are absolutely right! Music as a career is certainly a hazardous route, and Singapore having such a small market base makes its many times harder! But then again, this applies to any career, and any profession. I have not heard of a profession where reaching the pinnacles of success did not require blood sweat and tears. Also, we only hear of successes. Nobody reports on or are interested in runners-up or wannabes, so we do not know about the personal stories of the possibly thousands or more who had fallen by the wayside on the highway to stardom. So, this aspect of being a musician is true – anywhere in the world. But what I am advocating for is not success per se, but the development of a unique identity. It is about time, I believe, that Singapore makes its mark with its own brand of music. Experienced and seasoned musicians like yourself (and your dad), had been involved in building up this identity unconsciously for many years now. It is time to push this over to the next phase. Support and recognition for quality local work must be present, to encourage all to experiment and explore their musical repertoire, to create their own musical ideas. It is not only important to see how the big names become successful, but it is just as important that there is a welcoming environment and market locally that can encourage and promote local work. This becomes even more meaningful and effective if this environment is support by the music veterans. But thanks Cedric, it is certainly some way more to go, but I hope what I have written is another brick paving the road to a local musical identity.