Profile: Inch Chua

Published on 23 June 2015

Singapore singer/songwriter Inch Chua is passionate about promoting local music in schools

BY JO TAN

The word ‘diva’ has two meanings: it can refer to a celebrated female singer, or it can be used to describe a haughty, demanding woman. Thankfully, Inch Chua is more the former than latter. “I’ve been living on (Pulau) Ubin for inspiration these past months. The rooster wakes me at 6am everyday, I pump water from a well — there’s no running water or electricity in my house,” she says with a smile. The singer/songwriter is the latest recipient of the Pulau Ubin Artists-in-Residency Programme organised by contemporary art group The Artists Village and supported by The National Arts Council. “I then walk or cycle around the island and try to write music until night falls, when I work by candlelight, or the solar energy I’ve collected. I love roughing it out, getting out of my comfort zone.”

Chua has always been gung-ho about getting what she wants. She taught herself to play the guitar, responded to a band’s online call for a lead singer, fronted indie rock outfit Allura, then began writing, recording and distributing her original tunes independently. The sassy twentysomething was the first Singaporean solo artist invited to play at a major US festival, South by Southwest.

In 2011, faced with lukewarm support for local music, she left home for Los Angeles, where regular Stateside gigs kept her creativity flowing. She was invited to perform at the global TEDxWomen Conference in Washington DC and in 2013, she released her second album.

These days, Chua divides her time between the two countries and continues diving into unfamiliar waters. She’s starred in a Mandarin musical (Lao Jiu) here, written a book (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), and penned her new island-inspired album, Letters to Ubin, to be launched during the Singapore International Festival of the Arts. “This new album is the first time in a while I’ve been really happy with something.”

Chua feels the local music scene has blossomed, though that won’t stop her from accelerating its progress. “A lot has changed since I first left; artist development and infrastructure is great. But audiences and audience development for local music remain challenges. So I joined Scape Invasion, where local music professionals, from band managers to music photographers to artists, invade schools’ assembly periods. For many kids, it’s their first time discovering local music exists,” she says.

“This Music Appreciation 101 is the only hope for us to have a more vibrant industry. People think I left Singapore because I didn’t like it, but the only reason I felt hurt enough to leave is because I love this country and want the scene to be incredible. This education of our young people, the opportunity to develop a really solid Singapore music industry, is one main reason why I came back.”

Inch Chua performs at The O.P.E.N., a precursor to the Singapore International Festival of the Arts, on 27 June, 9.30pm at Barber Shop by Timbre.

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