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Musical boost for Singa-Pop
The homecoming queen: Olivia Ong
ONLY 29, Olivia Ong is already a veteran in the music business, having spent almost half her life performing and writing music. Based in Japan and Taiwan for a decade, she returned to Singapore last year and is set to stage her biggest-ever solo show here next month.
It's a timely homecoming, given she's become a household name after scoring a hit with Ru Yan, the theme song for the popular Chinese drama series The Little Nonya; winning the Top Local English Pop Song prize at the COMPASS Awards in 2012 for her self-penned You and Me (hence the concert's name); and performing the National Day Parade theme song, Love at First Light, the same year.
Plus with the SG50 celebrations just around the corner, Ong says she has her work cut out for her and is also using this chance "to get to know Singapore a little better" after being away for so long. "Coming back will also allow me to integrate myself into the local scene," shares the multilingual songbird who has recorded in English, Mandarin and Japanese. "Just working with the musicians in this concert has helped me realise the amount of opportunities and talent we now have in Singapore."
The venue she's playing is also a special one because it was at the Esplanade that the soft-spoken and girlish pop star was talent-spotted by the Taiwanese label she's currently signed to when she returned briefly from Japan around the age of 22 to form the Olivia Ong Quintet here.
That period also marked her transformation from jazz diva - which she suddenly found herself turning into while in Japan after her initial foray into J-pop didn't work out as well as an accidental bossa nova side project - to Mando-pop idol.
Ong says the switch in musical direction is one way for her to expand her own repertoire though she claims the approach is similar because even when dabbling in bossa nova, she felt she was singing them as pop covers rather than jazz.
Her advice for aspiring local singers is to take the plunge and get out of their comfort zones, like she did, to gain more experience. "The market here is too small to just stay in Singapore . . . whether you're a singer or a writer, it's better to venture out there and learn your craft and then come back and share it," she says.
And despite the success she's enjoyed both here and abroad, she's not taking things for granted. "I think I still need to improve and get better; I still have a lot to learn," she adds.
"You and Me: Olivia" is part of the line-up of Esplanade's Huayi - Chinese Festival of the Arts. The show will take place at the Concert Hall on Feb 22 at 8pm. Tickets at S$38 and S$58 available from Sistic and at the venue's box office
The hitmaker: Hanjin Tan
REALITY TV sometimes makes it look like pop stars are born overnight, but the road to fame is usually much longer - just ask Singapore-born singer-songwriter- producer-actor Hanjin Tan.
Through sheer grit and determination, the 38-year-old is now a household name in Hong Kong and one of the region's most sought-after songwriter-producers, having penned hits and produced albums for Cantopop legends like Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Eason Chan, Sammi Cheng, Karen Mok, and more. He has also collaborated with American pop diva Christina Aguilera; Taiwanese King of Pop Jay Chou; and K-pop idol Rain.
That's not all; the bespectacled hit-machine is a bona fide pop star in his own right, with five hit solo albums. He sold out the Hong Kong Coliseum in 2012 and, suffice to say, has come a long way since he started out playing The Fat Frog Cafe at The Substation as a student in the 1990s.
Hanjin, as he's better know, will revisit his humble beginnings when he returns to Singapore next month to play two intimate shows here.
He attributes his success to the fact that he managed his own expectations after making up his mind to enter the music business. "When I was 23, I told myself that if I was broke or bankrupt by 33, then I would know that I've made the wrong choice," he shares. "It's a tough industry; it's hard for a pop star to make it - and even harder for a singer-songwriter."
But it helped that Hanjin realised early on, while playing music to put himself through school, which side of the business he wanted to be on. "I got paid less performing in a pub than I would as a producer of a record . . . so I had to choose whether I wanted to do this or that; and it seemed like making records had better career prospects," he admits.
He relocated to Hong Kong, where he built his studio 11 years ago for practical reasons - because jobs were coming in from there and then Taiwan, followed by Japan, Korea and China. Away from home, he's starting to see his fellow Singaporeans like Kit Chan and Tanya Chua also making a name for themselves overseas.
"I've read that Stefanie Sun is the second most popular singer in China; and we also have producers like Ken Lim," he says of the current state of our music scene. "Singaporeans are extremely talented and doing very well. There's nothing to worry about."
"Hanjin: Happiness Can Be Simple" is part of the line-up of Esplanade's Huayi - Chinese Festival of the Arts. Two shows will take place at the Recital Studio on Feb 22 at 5pm and 8pm. Tickets at S$30 available from Sistic and at the venue's box office
The indie darlings: Hanging Up The Moon and Pleasantry
THE local indie music scene might be growing stronger over the years but the reality is it still only has a niche following. Veteran singer-songwriter Sean Lam, frontman and founder of Hanging Up The Moon, reveals his band usually plays for a crowd of 20 to 50 at private or casual gigs; though at their last album launch in 2013, it peaked at 250.
Come Saturday, they will be braving themselves to face their largest audience to date when Hanging Up The Moon performs before a sold-out crowd of 13,000 at this year's St Jerome's Laneway Festival.
The band's inclusion on the bill is an encouraging and positive sign that promoters are making an effort to help the local music scene to grow.
In the 2014 edition, Laneway featured one band - experimental indie rockers The Observatory, playing on the main stage, no less. That number has doubled this year with electronic duo, .GIF, joining Hanging Up The Moon in the line-up. That's not all; next month, dream-pops five-piece, Pleasantry, and singer-songwriter, Charlie Lim, are also on the bill alongside a list of established overseas names, including Belle and Sebastian, at a new music fest, The Gathering.
"A lot of local bands and artistes have proved over the last few years that they deserve to be seen in the same light alongside international acts and it's good to to finally see them getting the recognition they deserve . . . I think it's vital for the growth of our music community," notes Pleasantry's drummer, Daniaal Adam. He adds the band is already tailoring their show to suit the bigger crowd and atmosphere of a festival - "We're very used to playing in a small and intimate setting where there's a sense of closeness to the audience (so) we'll need to increase the intensity of our set and have a better balance between our slow and heavier songs," says Adam, who jokes Pleasantry are also looking forward to having more space to run on-stage.
Likewise, the members of Hanging Up The Moon, who often play their brand of introspective folk-pop in cosy living-room-styled settings are planning something different for the occasion. "For once, we'll not be playing seated (and) from where we will be standing, it's going to be a whole new perspective literally," jests Lam.
But on a serious note, he's grateful for the opportunity and hopes more promoters will make it a habit to penciling local acts into festival bills.
Lam says, "Through more exposure to locally-made music, there's a chance of eroding that prejudice; I mean, we have to start appreciating ourselves sooner or later, right?
Hanging Up The Moon plays at St Jermone's Laneway Festival at Gardens by the Bay on Saturday. Tickets are sold out. Pleasantry plays at The Gathering at Fort Canning Green on 14 Feb. For tickets and full line-up, check The Gathering Asia on Facebook