Sing It with Love

Published on 3 August 2015

An unconventional recording project
mixing genres, generations and languages unifies different factions of Singapore’s music community.

TEXT BY PAMELA HO

When veteran singer-songwriter Jimmy Ye pulled out a huge sheet of mahjong paper to brainstorm ideas, members of The Sam Willows — one of Singapore’s hottest young bands — were both amused and charmed. “It was extremely nostalgic, and also very helpful,” says bemused band keyboardist, percussionist and vocalist, Sandra Riley Tang.

Despite the generation gap, their co-written song, ‘Come Back to You’, speaks of their shared sentiment about being rooted to Singapore because of strong friendship and kinship ties. The song is part of Sing, Love, a musical tribute to our island home, comprising five original tracks with accompanying music videos.

“I’ve gained so much from observing their approach to music-making,” says Ye, who has written hits for Cantopop icons Jackie Cheung, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung as well as Jolin Tsai. “The Sam Willows operate as a democracy, all decisions are arrived at after sometimes meandering discussions among the four of them. For someone used to working solo, this is an eye-opener.

YE FOR JIMMY Veteran singer-songwriter Jimmy Ye, who has written hits for Cantopop megastars, co-wrote a song with The Sam Willows for
Sing, Love.

“I may take four times less time to write a song, but here, I’ve definitely had four times more fun too!” Ye says with a chuckle. “Collaborating may not be as efficient but it does yield more variety of ideas. I’m convinced our song is not something I would’ve ever written on my own.”

CREATIVE SYNERGY

Sing, Love is the brainchild of Ruth Ling, a Berklee-trained music producer, arranger, composer and performer. She is also the founder of Red Roof Records and recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award.

For this project, she brought together over 30 Singapore artists to collaborate on an album that features a novel mix of genres, generations and languages: Think jazz sung in Tamil, or Mandarin meshed with Malay — like in ‘Starlight’, an upbeat piece performed by Joanna Dong
and Singapore Idol winner, Sezairi Sezali.

The collaborations were anything but intuitive: pairing Mandopop megastar Stefanie Sun with rapper ShiGGa Shay, getting rapper THELIONCITYBOY to work with jazz pianist Jeremy Monteiro.

“I believe ‘Love Sings’ is the first Singaporean English-Tamil song set in a Western genre,” says lawyer-turned-jazz singer Rani Singam of the song she co-wrote with Jeremy Monteiro, Nathan Hartono and THELIONCITYBOY. “Ruth wanted me to sing in Tamil. She had seen me perform ‘Adiye’ (an AR Rahman Tamil hit song) in blues form, so she knew I could do it.”

If singing jazz in Tamil is not novel enough, try tossing rap into the mix. Singam admits to having initial reservations about the song becoming too complicated. “But with any collaboration, it’s important to have an open mind. It certainly gave the song a more contemporary edge!” she says with a laugh. “And I learnt that the reference to ‘65’ often used by our hip-hop musicians is actually Singapore’s country code and not 1965, as I’d imagined!”

HELPING HANDS

But this non-profit project had its fair share of challenges, like coordinating the schedules of all the artists, songwriters, producers, directors and their teams. “Then there was funding,” adds Ling. “When I started, I had no budget to speak of. I was really going out on a limb to trust that people would love the project, love Singapore, and love doing something for the community. I have never done that before.”

And that love was exactly what the Singaporean artists she approached demonstrated, leaving her incredulous. “I was very touched by the community spirit of the artists coming together for this project. It takes humility to work with each other like that,” she shares.

Ling recalls approaching Stefanie Sun with “fear and trepidation”, even though she’s toured with the Mandopop megastar for a decade as her main keyboardist. “Thankfully, she loved the concept. In fact, she was the one who suggested getting ShiGGa Shay in to collaborate on her track. And when Liang Wern Fook [xinyao pioneer] agreed to come on board too, despite his busy schedule, I knew this was really going to happen.”

IT’S A RAP! ShiGGa Shay writes rap in Chinese for the first time as part of his collaboration with Mandopop megastar Stefanie Sun.

ROOTS & WINGS

‘Home’ is a common thread running through the songs. For singer-songwriters Corrinne May and Charlie Lim, living overseas was a shared experience that influenced their collaborative songwriting. “We explored that whole tension, that whole push-pull between being in Singapore and being overseas,” shares May. “We wanted to personify Singapore as someone you love and leave, but ultimately always return to.”

The result? ‘Kite’ – a soulful ballad with hints of The Civil Wars, an American indie folk duo from Nashville, and Glen Hansard’s movie soundtrack for Once.

“Sometimes, you need to get away from the familiar in order to discover yourself and to push yourself creatively. Yet you know you’re anchored to family and friends in Singapore,” explains May. “That’s why the image of a kite is so appropriate. One needs to be tethered, anchored down to something solid and secure in order to fly and soar.”

Lim, 26, was unabashed in expressing his respect for May, 42, whom he credits for paving the way for his generation to make original English music in Singapore. “In the case of Charlie and Corrinne, I wanted to encourage mentoring between them,” discloses Ling. “But ultimately, for everyone, it’s more the joining of hands than passing on the torch.”

PIPES OF GOLD The mellow voices of singer-songwriters Corrinne May and Charlie Lim make ‘Kite’ one of the most mesmerising duets of the year.

The full album Sing, Love is downloadable for free at www.imclive-group.com.

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