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Singapore's soul sista goes East

May 8, 2015 5:50 AM

DESPITE studying Higher Chinese in secondary school, Sarah Cheng De-Winne never realised there was a Mando-pop star inside her until a friend told the R&B-soul-jazz diva, who broke into the scene in 2010 with her critically acclaimed debut English EP Let's Pretend, that she had a voice that would be really unique in the Chinese music industry.

Even then, she didn't pursue that idea until two years later when she was recording her first full-length album Brand New, where one of the songs Make Me Love You Less, was also re-recorded in Mandarin as Yan Xu Dao Yong Yuan.

The "decent response" she got on Chinese radio stations sparked interest also from television and eventually led to her representing Singapore on reality singing show The Voice in Mainland China two years ago.

Though she didn't make the final cut, the encouragement she received from her fellow contestants and their parents was enough to convince her she had something special to offer to the Mandopop scene.

"I never imagined that my voice would be something that ordinary Chinese would want to hear more of till that moment," says the 27-year-old who, upon returning to Singapore, re-recorded four more songs from Brand New with powerhouse Chinese lyricist Zhang Si'er (JJ Lin, Harlem Yu) for her debut Chinese EP Yao Ni De Ai (I Want Your Love), which she used to tour Taiwan and China with last year.

Unsurprisingly, her new EP Candle, which was released digitally last month and would be available on CD at her launch show this weekend, is a bilingual four-track effort featuring her distinctively deep and velvety vocals. The two Mandarin tracks Ai De En Dian (The Grace of Love) and Wo Xu Yao Ni (I Need You) are already playing on a Chinese radio station.

It's all hard work as Cheng-De Winne reveals recording in Chinese is way more gruelling than doing it in English. Recalling her collaboration with Taiwan's most sought-after vocal producer Paula Ma Yu Fen, the former DJ shares, "With Xiao Fen Jie (Ma's nickname), she spent a great deal of time emphasising aspects of Chinese diction that I was not used to, and on the first day we were in the studio for almost 12 hours, and just on one song!"

But it's not just the Mandarin tracks from Candle - which was made through crowd-funding and grants; and recorded and mixed in Los Angeles, Taiwan and Singapore - that are performing well; the groovy English dance tune To Where You Are is also playing on UK's 365Soul Radio.

"The song has a pretty international sound I think because of Kavin Hoo's (Cheng-De Winne's regular producer who has also worked with Corrinne May and Tanya Chua) production, the Los Angeles musicians who bring their musicality to the recording, and really amazing mix work by Bob Horn (Ne-Yo, Usher, Ashanti)," she says. "I'm just blown away that my track is playing alongside other international R&B-Soul (hits) - it's really an encouragement for me to keep making music that really speaks to the soul!"

Candle is available for listening and for buying from sarahchengdewinne.bandcamp.com.

To purchase a physical copy, catch Sarah Cheng-De Winne at her CD launch show at Hood Bar & Cafe at Bugis+ on May 9, 2015 at 8pm. Tickets available from http://sarahcdw.peatix.com. For more info, check www.sarahchengdewinne.com

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