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Taking centre stage
Turning her fans into friends
By Sue-Ann Tan
FOR Tay Kewei, the Esplanade resonates strongly with her as the hallowed stage on which her musical idols would perform, while she harboured her own dreams of performing up there herself. In two weeks' time, she will be doing just that as the bilingual singer-songwriter headlines her first full-fledged solo concert.
The show, Chi or number seven in Mandarin, also refers to the number of years she has been performing, beginning with her debut EP in 2009, titled Keep!.
More than a number, Chi also refers to the Mandarin term for energy or life force. Tay, who came to prominence through reality TV singing show Project Superstar, explains that the concert's name totally captures her passion for singing. "Music is my life," says the 32-year-old.
When she was a child, her father - who plays traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu and dizi - took her to music lessons and introduced her to Chinese orchestra music. "I grew up classically trained," she notes. As a tribute to his influence, Tay has invited her father to perform at the concert.
But all that grounding didn't stop Tay from branching into pop music. "My parents were quite taken aback," she laughs. She started off by singing in school. "Everyone has their own rock-star dreams," she quips.
While not quite a rock star yet, she certainly got a taste of it when she was one of several singers picked to perform in the 2014 National Day parade. They sang a medley of songs including the classic, Home, an emotional number which, combined with the size of the crowd and the mass display of dancers, left her "overwhelmed", she recalls. Of all the highlights of her career, this has been the most special memory for her.
Tay also enjoys taking her music overseas, performing at the 2015 China-Asean friendship concert in Beijing and at Singapore Day in Shanghai. "I love how I can travel and work at the same time," she explains. "I feel like I am representing Singapore's music abroad."
While other celebrities maintain a one-way relationship with their fans by posting photos on social media, Tay wants to get to know them up close and personal. She sets aside half an hour every Monday to interact with them on Facebook Live. People can request songs and Tay will play them on the spot.
"It's very raw and spontaneous. We consume music in different ways and I just want to make mine more accessible," she points out. It has also made her practise more, especially for popular songs that are continually requested. "It is a way for me to just play what I want, hang out and jam in a pressure-free, casual environment."
Besides Facebook Live, ticket buyers can send her a message with their names and they will receive a personalised gift from her on the day of the concert.
"It lends a personal touch to the show," she says. "When people message me, they tell me a little about themselves and how they came to follow my music. It is heartwarming to know who my fans are. They are so supportive and sweet to me."
Her idea of personalised gifts also means that Tay is playing to a group of friends rather than to a crowd of strangers. "Having read their messages, I actually know who I am playing to during the concert. I feel that I get to know them a little - their names and their stories," she adds.
- Tay Kewei's Chi takes place at the Esplanade Concert Hall at 7.30pm on June 17. Tickets from S$35 to S$55 are available at Sistic
ChildAid alumni ready to bare all
By Sue-Ann Tan
NATHAN Hartono has come a long way from the cute 14-year-old in 2005 who won over the judges of a teen talent competition and started performing at youth-oriented concerts.
Now 25 years old, the singer-actor is marking his 11th year in the business with a solo concert at the Esplanade - a clear sign that he's now playing with the big boys.
While he has performed on big stages before, this is his first time as a solo artist in a major venue like this. But he's unfazed by the challenge - "I needed a good kick in the butt to get things going," he says with a laugh. "This opportunity will help me to move towards new material and music."
With ticket buyers there just to see him, Hartono says his show "will be more personal, almost like a story-telling session". He adds: "I can't wait to lay myself bare, in a sense."
Taking music seriously
Despite winning the Teenage Icon contest in 2005 and going on to perform at charity concert ChildAid - organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times - in the same year, music was "just a hobby then", he shares.
But he takes it much more seriously now. "Sometimes I listen to my old performances and cringe at how rough they sounded. I'm glad to see a progression in ability and musicality."
Starting young has also been a boon to Hartono.
"Performances don't faze me anymore," he says. "I also think that we learn a lot in our formative years."
Even so, he acknowledges the downside of growing up in the public eye when he was still a raw talent. "I do wish I hadn't had to learn my lessons in public, facing the critics," he quips.
His upcoming concert will feature both cover songs and originals. "It is more difficult to be creative with your own work. You are so attached to your own lyrics."
Yet, this vulnerability in performing original work also comes with greater satisfaction when the crowd reacts well to them. "I do feel a lot more pleasure from performing my own work. It's really exciting," he adds.
Despite having performed at large-scale events such as the National Day Parade and the Asian Youth Games, Hartono says that his most memorable concert was one at a school music festival.
"I just felt the audience being so connected to my performance even though I was doing completely new songs of my own," he says. "I knew that somewhere in the audience, a young person wanted to do it too."
Hartono felt the same way as a child, watching performers and wanting to be just like them. "It is good for the young to see for themselves that they can do what they love, without caring about criticism," he enthuses. "I stand before them as a human that walks and breathes the same air that they do, and they see that they can do what I am doing too."
- Nathan Hartono'sNew Tricks takes place at the Esplanade Concert Hall on July 9 at 7.30pm. Tickets from S$38 to S$48 are available at Sistic
Making no bones about his passion for local music
By Avanti Nim
FOR someone with the stage name of Gentle Bones, Joel Tan's ascent in the music industry has been anything but gentle. His first public performance was at his secondary school's assembly back in 2010, but the 22-year-old has always had much bigger ambitions, and not just for himself. He says, during a phone interview: "Look at Korea's music industry. They've established a niche for themselves globally, and I see no reason why we in Singapore can't do the same."
The business studies undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University is certainly playing his part. Apart from being the first homegrown artist to be signed onto Universal Music's label last year, he's also the first to be featured on Forbes' 30 Under 30 Asia List for Entertainment and Sports.
He notes: "I believe everyone can help grow our local music ecosystem, and honestly, it can be through furthering your own career. Once one local act reaches a new benchmark, it makes that same goal more achievable for all the others."
Fulfilling career path
"It's not about being out to get on lists like Forbes'," adds Tan. "There are definitely easier paths to financial stability or success, but when people see that a Singaporean artist has been recognised, it lets the younger generation know that the industry is vibrant and, though non-traditional, that it can be a fulfilling career path."
His first solo concert, which sold out in a month, was due to be held in December last year, but had to be cancelled when Tan was detained in Indonesia for performing without a valid permit through no fault of his own. He rescheduled it to June 10 this year, but the 1,500 allotted tickets at the Esplanade Concert Hall were snatched up within 10 days of their release. A second performance on June 11 was quickly announced, and tickets for that are close to selling out too.
He points out: "I've never played a private ticketed show before, so to be performing for people who've come to watch me specifically is pretty crazy. I'm nervous, but I'm hoping to put on a show that people remember."
A different approach
The concerts will comprise a mix of his debut self-titled EP as well as his new seven-track EP Geniuses & Thieves, which comes out on June 3. Fans of his earlier work might be surprised, because the singer-songwriter decided to focus on making the backing and preparation to the music a lot more detailed than before.
Tan explains: "When my first album came out, I was in the right place at the right time to push my songs out there and get that visibility. This second EP is about more than just churning out music that people liked before. Overseas acts have a long history and that means that they're making high-quality music with complex melodies and songwriting. I wanted to bring my product to a level where it could compete with that."
- Gentle Bones Live In Concert will be held at the Esplanade Concert Hall on June 10 (sold out) and June 11. Tickets start at S$35 and are available to purchase from Sistic