What Next Singapore?

It seems almost like Singapore has come to a standstill with the passing of the Nation’s very first Prime Minister. Many Singaporeans are still processing Lee Kwan Yew’s (LKY’s) death, reflecting on who he was and what he did for our country. Many are wondering, “What next?”

This is a watershed in the political climate of Singapore, as LKY has long championed a specific and rather controversial way of running the country. LKY has become iconic to the point that his name has become to many, synonymous with the idea of a modern and developed Singapore. However, I think the control of media in Singapore has a very large part to play in the disproportionate extent to which he looms in our minds and our conversations, regardless of how we view him, whether or not we see him as a good, bad or merely mediocre leader.

Let’s not kid ourselves, LKY’s heavy-handed and authoritarian rule doesn’t come close to that of Kim Jong-il, Hugo Chavez or many other despots, clearly he was a lot smarter than most of them and did enough to maintain international legitimacy and garner the respect of many people from all walks of life, unlike those other despots who have undeniably plundered their own countries to the ground.

However, and this is a big ‘however,’ there are some striking parallels in terms of how they have all influenced the thinking of their nations’ people through media: ever since LKY came into power, mainstream media became very tightly controlled and has been reduced to little more than the PAP government’s mouthpiece. It very obviously remains so, even up till now; this culture of repression and indoctrination has had extensive repercussions on not just Singapore’s mainstream press and media, but also on the country’s local universities, schools and to a lesser but still critical extent, the internet. There is significant self-censorship amongst academics and among Singaporeans on social media. There is plenty of intellectual dishonesty going around, both amongst people for LKY and to a more limited extent, amongst those against him. LKY did an excellent job of silencing dissent and breeding a spirit of intellectual laziness among the masses while he held the reins, his successors have well-continued this trend.

The biggest contradiction is that Singapore is a first world country and also a ‘democracy,’ but in terms of political discourse and maturity, this is so very far from the case, as is evidenced by the shaming of people who would speak negatively of LKY in his passing. Much of the negative ‘press,’ however has come about as a response to the onslaught of blind adulation and gushing sentimentality that we the ‘nay-sayers’ have had to deal with on a continual basis whether on social media or on mainstream news sources. Yes, I don’t mind admitting that some of us ‘nay-sayers’ have not been entirely faultless: The Real Singapore has had some issues with journalistic quality and integrity and has become less credible in the eyes of many Singaporeans for understandable reasons. However, that does not change the fact that there are very many stark realities reminding us that LKY’s legacy was not all good or even mostly good. Even those amongst us who have been more nuanced and fair-handed in our assessment of LKY and his legacy have been deemed ‘inappropriate’ and ‘insensitive’ for pointing this out at this time.

However I think at a rare time of reflection and introspection like this in Singapore, it is even more important that the truth is spoken and that inconvenient truths are not glossed over or easily dismissed: the economic prosperity that this country has enjoyed has been turning on it’s own head for years as the climate of repression and blind pursuit of material success are poor foundations on which to build a nation. As Singaporeans, no matter how divided we are about LKY, let us at least be united in acknowledging real and pressing issues. If Singapore is to progress as a nation and weather the storms ahead, we need to boldly face the truth and deal with it instead being like the proverbial ostrich, who stuck its head in the sand.

Now we have serious problems of a huge Gini coefficient, overcrowding, ironically coupled with the lowest birth rate in the world, unaffordable cost of living (most expensive city in the world for two years running), a weak business class in Singapore, an economy that is overly dependent on foreign capital and foreign labor, almost no checks and balances in political and judicial laws, an entire class of leadership that seems to value money much more than service to their nation and finally (the icing on the cake), a whole host of Singaporeans who have been sold on the idea that you need to ‘buy’ talent in order to run a country.

That’s not to say that Singapore isn’t still a really nice place to live: it has lovely tree-lined streets and avenues, is considered relatively ‘safe’ compared to most countries, has good infrastructure and mostly affordable health-care, delicious and cheap meals at food-courts, an international award-winning airport with 3 going on 4 terminals, fresh-air, striking bureaucratic efficiency, shining malls and clean streets and low-corruption etc. Singapore has really done well for itself. As a Singaporean who has been living abroad for the last 5 years, I will be the first person to say that Singapore is really quite a comfortable and easy place to live in if you can afford it, or if you are a beneficiary of the system, and/ or if you’re willing and able to shut your eyes to real issues of social-justice and human-rights that exist in our country.

Let our nation weep and grieve for her first (and longest-reigning) PM’s passing, but hopefully we will be able to recognize that Singapore, for good or for bad, was not built solely on LKY’s back but also on the tired and bent backs of the unsung heroes, like that wizened old hunched-back Aunty that’s is still clearing plates at the Ion food court in Orchard Road today or that extremely underpaid and overworked and sleep-deprived Bangladeshi worker who helped to build your HDB flat.

Inspired by a New Artist

I feel like I’ve been numb to new music for a long time…. I used to get really excited about new songs and artists that I would discover; I would listen again and again to their songs and sometimes, just even one song from their album, in particular, would be on repeat for up to a hundred times or so.

I am happy (and relieved) to share that I’ve very recently been INSPIRED by an artist. The feeling of music making your soul come alive is like nothing that I know and I am glad that it’s coming back to me again.

The last post I made in March was also about an artist. I was inspired more by what he was doing with his music than his music itself. This is says nothing about the quality and nature of his music, rather, it says more about my heart and what was happening to me at that time, something inside of me was dying and the embers couldn’t be revived.

Since then, things have started to changed and I am starting to re-experience that feeling of intensity and excitement that I used to have when discovering artists in the past. This new artist I’m talking about is Emma Louise. She’s an Australian singer-songwriter, perhaps best known for her song “Jungle” which was featured on Grey’s Anatomy and which became a no. 1 best-selling song in Australia song. Incidentally, you can download this song for free on her bandcamp website. It’s a great song.

Her music wasn’t available on Spotify, so I ended up going to her youtube channel to listen to her songs. I love her voice, there’s something so sincere and vulnerable about it. A quality that is not very common among singer-songwriters nowadays. Not to mention that she’s also got beautiful tone. I really like her unofficial acoustic video recordings, some of them looked like they were recorded on a laptop  in her bedroom. (not something that I would expect for an artist with 27,000 likes on her FB page). I ended up getting her four track EP on itunes, “Full Hearts and Empty Rooms”

I am now in the midst of editing my guitar tracks in preparation for the drum tracking session next weekend where we will be recording the drums in a studio. This is a significant step in my debut album production, but I’ve been inspired by Emma Louise to put up videos of myself playing my original songs and maybe some other covers; perhaps that could be an even more significant part of the journey in producing my album.

I am going to try to do that once a week. We’ll see how that goes! 

 

A new artist, his free music and the sad situation in the DRC

I discovered a new artist! He’s not “new” per se, he’s been around the block and has had a very illustrious career as a singer-songwriter for over a decade, I have only just recently found out about him on Noisetrade. Noisetrade is a music “exchange” platform whereby artists put their music out for free for a period of time and people can choose to tip them (or not) for their music.

What’s different about Josh Garrels‘s offering is that all of the proceeds that come from tips on his albums during these two weeks on Noisetrade will go to support the work of World relief  – an organization that works with local churches in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) to provide hope and healing to the Congolese people.

I had previously heard stories and seen videos of civil war that continues to engulf the Democratic Republic of Congo, but is is so easy to overlook because there is so little news coverage on it. Through this artist, I was recently reminded of the situation in the DRC: countless number of Congolese have died in this war and hundreds and thousands more Congolese lives continue to be subject to war and its attendent problems of starvation and malnutrition, homelessness as well as to unspeakable acts of violence and torture committed by the rebel troops.

The “2nd Congo war”  as it is called, started in 1998 and is the deadliest war in the world since WWII, having claimed over 5.4 million lives. In spite of  these staggering numbers, there is virtually little or no news coverage about it on the major news channels. As such the cries of the people in the DRC go unheard, while the rest of the world remains oblivious to the incredible suffering of the people in the DRC and the rampant evil committed with impunity by military groups.

Today after finding out about Josh Garrels noisetrade, I clicked on the World relief in Congo site and from there, I read more articles about the country that deeply shocked and saddened me:

“[the] wars in that country have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — all combined and then doubled.”

– “Why the World Is Ignoring Congo” – Vava Tampa, founder of Save the Congo

The DRC is also called the “Rape Capital of The World” because of how rape is used as a weapon of war there. Women who go to the fields to collect food or those who go to the woods to collect firewood are systematically raped and tortured on a daily basis .

The daily choice these women face is either, to stay at home and face starvation. Or, go out to the fields for food and be raped. Most women chose the latter.

It has become a generational norm, and thousands of women and girls are raped daily because of this impasse. The nightmare does not end there, the same women and girls who were brutally raped and tortured are later on stigmatized and made outcasts by their society, leaving with them with little recourse but to be exposed to the same senseless violence again and again.

The depth of their suffering is so far removed from what any of us know, or will ever know. But here is what we can do to help these women in the DRC: we can tip Josh Garrels for his music on noisetrade or we can just choose to give directly to the World Relief fund, which works with local churches to offer shelter, healing and support to these women

You can each out to give hope to the people of the DRC through this simple act of giving. It will only take a few minutes of your life, but can change the course of many lives in the DRC if you would give and help to spread the word.

PS

The words in red are active links that you can click on to go to the sites and articles that I have mentioned.

Pets

Time flies! It’s already March of 2013. The last time I made a blogpost seems like eons ago, apologies for my long absence. I am currently putting the finishing touches on producing an animal/doggy song for one of my pledgers, who had specially requested to have a song written for his wife’s upcoming birthday. His wife is a real animal lover and he asked that I write a song about their five dogs. I finished recording and producing the song last week and Esteban has been hard at work mixing this song. We should be done by the end of today. Thank you Esteban!

In writing this song I adopted a more simple, direct approach, especially with respect to the melodies, chords and lyrics I used, it’s a departure from my usual writing style but one that allows me to embrace a child-like simplicity in song-writing as well as to engage the animal lover in me. Admittedly, I am not a dog lover and writing this song has thus been a challenge as well as an eye-opener for me: I have had to put myself in the shoes of someone who really loves dogs.

In order to aid my imaginative process, I read up on articles written by pet and dog owners and tried to recall what the many dogs we used to have in my childhood and early teenage years used to be like. Some thoughts and insights have stayed on with me. One insight, in particular that stuck out to me  is that to open yourself up to loving and truly caring for a dog is to expose yourself  to heartache and grief, because their life-span rarely exceeds 10 years.

In spite of us having dogs when I was younger, sadly, I have never known what it is to truly love and care for a dog. And while I have always gravitated more towards cats, I am unfortunately, allergic to them: within a few minutes of being exposed to cat hair, I get red and itchy and I start to sneeze.

Apart from dogs, we also had cats at home when I was younger. The only reason why keeping cats wasn’t a serious health-risk for me back then was because they rarely spent time at home, preferring to roam the streets instead from morning till night, only to return for dinner and a warm place to sleep. Like my father put it, they treated our home like, “a hotel.” Still, I often ended up with red eyes and rashes after each time I played with our cats.

I don’t know if I will ever keep pets again, but instead of pets, I am now keeping plants: I have developed a fondness for succulents or ‘fat plants’ as they are sometimes called. They are easy to look after, very affordable and to top it off, they’re quiet and very pretty. Here’s a picture of my fatties. They certainly bring a smile to my face whenever I see them. 🙂

I love my fatties!

aahhhhhhhhhhhhh…….

You know that feeling you get when you finally finish something that had been hanging over your head for the longest time?  Now you can finally sit back and relax, without that niggling sense of discomfort that eats away at your soul.

Now you finally have license to chill.

That is exactly how I am feeling because I have finished putting together my Kickstarter project. It is now pending approval by the Kickstarter team, but once it is approved, I will launch the project.

It took a while for me to think up  the rewards for the Kickstarter, to write the backstory behind the project and most of all to make the video for it. But thanks to Esteban Proaño and Kalister Harmon, the video is finally done and my Kickstarter is now ready to take off!

This Kickstarter project also took a while to get together I wanted to finish two outstanding projects before embarking on raising funds for my album. These two projects are now all done and available for listening to. The first one is a gospel R&B type song called “Without You” which a friend, Keji Sojobi, and I wrote together.

You can check it out here

http://soundcloud.com/meowmeowproject/without-you

The other song is a rock/indie song that was written by Thomas Wu, my favorite guitarist and a long-time friend.

http://soundcloud.com/meowmeowproject/the-enemy

I love both of these songs and am excited to be able to put them out there. I hope that you will enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed producing them!

Embarking on The Ship of No Return

I am all done with the outstanding projects that I had set out to clear up before starting on my debut album. It feels good to get all that stuff out of the way.

Right now, as I consider all that I need to do to produce my album, I feel like I am staring out to the vast blue unknown sea, about to board the ship of my dreams, that will take me to… who knows where?

I do know that producing this album will be a major milestone in my life, and that once I have produced it, there is no going back again to the life I knew before.

At least, not in the same way. It will be akin to emptying a wineskin that has been holding new wine for quite a while. The wine has finally matured and is ready to be poured out and enjoyed. The old wineskin needs to be emptied, and abandoned.  The old self has to die to make way for new growth.

It’s been about five years since I’ve written the first song that will be included in the upcoming album. In between that first song that I wrote, and the many more that came later, I went through many ups and down in my journey as a musician. In 2006, when I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Southeast Asian Studies from The National University of Singapore, I knew that I wanted to study music in earnest.

“What? A little late in life to discover THAT…” you may think, but the old adage “somethings in life are better late than never” has never rung truer in my life.

All through my teenage days and my early twenties, I had wanted to study music, but I never did it, because I never figured out how to approach learning music. I knew I loved music, my first Paul Simon record “Negotiations and Love Songs” that I had borrowed from my brother, was played so many times that all of the lyrics were singularly etched into my mind. I lived for the achingly beautiful lyrics and the intricate guitar arrangements that Paul Simon masterfully crafted. I wanted to learn his songs, but many of them were out of my reach. But where my musical abilities failed me, my “Happy Feet” took over: I spent many sun-baked afternoons indoors, jiving to “Kodachrome” and “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” “Mother and Child Reunion” and not least, “You can call me Al.”

Whatever I had learned of piano and music theory in my childhood and early teenage years were based on rote and repetition, not on understanding and creativity. The thousands of dollars that my parents had poured into my piano lessons and the many painful hours that I had spent banging out the piano examination pieces on the Yamaha upright, day after day, added up to a grand total of diddly-squat. This is an indictment of the old approach to learning the piano which has suffocated many a budding musician.

All through my teenage years I would wish that I could play the guitar better, and in vain I’d try. Finally in a fit of stress and exuberance before a major math exam when I was 17, I figured out how to strum the guitar with grace and ease. It was exhilarating to say the least. But that was the extent of my guitar playing.

When I finally went to University, I had no idea what I wanted to do, well, except to study music. Unfortunately, at that point, I still couldn’t tell my C major from my G, so if I talked about music school I knew that I would get laughed out of town. However, I knew that I loved Thai people and their culture and language and so I followed my heart and majored in Southeast Asian Studies, which afforded me the opportunity to take many classes in the Thai language, and gave me ample excuse to travel to Thailand for “research.”

For my final honors thesis, I was going to write about “Urban Poverty in Thailand” but in my four years in college, I had grown deeper in love with music, and also become more intimately acquainted with the foibles and peccadilloes of Singapore. I was intrigued by the fact that not many Singaporeans knew about their own homegrown indie bands and singer-songwriters. So I thus embarked on a journey to find out more about indie music in Singapore.

This resulted in my Honors Thesis, which examined why the homegrown indie bands in Singapore were known only to a miniscule percentage of Singaporeans and also why these bands even existed in a culture that was averse to artistic exploration and expression.

Carrying out the fieldwork prior to writing the thesis put me in touch with many musicians and artists in Singapore. Finally I got to meet people who gave me a vision of who I could be, of how I could choose to persist in following my heart (and music) even in an environment that constantly pressurized me to do otherwise, in a culture that cried out to me to settle for the well-trodden path. These musicians that I met, their music and passion for it, and indeed, their courage to pursue music, inspired me and gave me a foolhardy determination to finally be able to study music.

At that time, just by listening over again and again to  my favorite songs and figuring out how to play them, I was starting to make significant advances in my guitar playing. I was also starting to compose my own songs and had played one of them on a Live! Session on National Radio! ( thanks to abit of luck, and a very kind friend of mine who believed in me) I really was starting to think that it was possible to think of myself as a musician, and that it was viable to work towards building a career in music. I was dead-set on giving myself a fighting chance at this dream. I had some time and savings, so after I graduated, I took a year out to practice guitar and try for a music scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The year ended in burn-out and depression, I got accepted into Berklee but without a scholarship. I was bitterly disappointed and in a fit of frenzy and nights without sleep, I smashed up my acoustic and electric guitar. In case you were wondering how it feels to smash up your guitar, it sucks. So unless you’re a metal-head on stage with a flaming guitar, I do not recommend it.

Looking back, I probably should have gotten a part-time job and a guitar teacher to steer me along.

Yet, even in this final broken act, I found grace: a friend of mine who found out about what had happened loaned me his beautiful Crafter guitar indefinitely. I finally managed to buy it from him much later on. I was also able to salvage and restore my electric guitar with some help from a highly skilled guitar-smith.

In the aftermath of my breakdown, I fell into deep depression. For over a year, I tried getting over the disappointment of not being able to go to study music in a college. I knew that I still wanted to study music in spite of the setback, I thought perhaps if I had some time, I could figure out the rudiments with some help from a teacher.

Another door opened to me in the form of a research scholarship to study my Masters in Southeast Asian studies. I would get a small stipend and plenty of time to work on my musical skills outside of my responsibilities as a research student. I took what I could get, and signed on with the scholarship.

Those two years as a Master’s student in the National University of Singapore were the most healing years of my life. It was the chrysalis where I could grow and heal from one of the most heart-rending bitter disappoints of my life.

Still, as I gradually emerged from depression, there was a long hiatus where I did not touch my guitar. I didn’t know when I would play the guitar again, if ever. But almost a year later, when I finally dusted off the guitar again and played it with no agenda except to enjoy and discover it, many more songs came as a gift: “Lullaby!” is one of the first songs I wrote after that time and it practically wrote itself. I had to go through insomnia to write that song though, it was the best pay off ever from my chronic sleep deprivation.

In those two years, I research extensively on film-music and Thai culture. I finally wrote my Master’s Thesis on Thai Film Music and how this was inextricably linked to Thai identities. Outside of academia, I also took private lessons in piano and music theory. This opened up a whole new world to me in music, giving me a much more sophisticated set of tools for my craft.

Another door opened for me when I graduated, I was given the chance to study film music composition in UCLA Extension. The money left over from my college fund was just enough to put me through a year and a half of the certificate film-scoring program in UCLA, this was my huge break at last, 10 years later from when I had first started dreaming about studying music in school!

I packed my bags, said my fond farewells to all at home and headed off to Los Angeles with my acoustic and electric guitar and two large suitcases, not knowing what lay before me, except the chance to finally study and write music for orchestral film-scores. I was stoked. In the ensuing 1.5 years of relentlessly churning out score after score each week, and programing reel after reel, I put my singer-songwriting life in the back-burner to focus fully on acquiring the skills needed to write and produce orchestral scores for movies. I got very little sleep.

Towards the end of my studies in 2011, I got hit by a trailer (the kind that carries movie sets) whilst cycling, and was out of commission for a few months. I graduated in March 2012 instead of December 2011.

The trauma from my lower back injury is finally gone and I am all done with medical treatments. Now that I am also done with Extension school, and have all the chops necessary to produce my own album, I can finally pour myself into producing my debut sing-songwriter album. It’s been  a long time coming for a bunch of songs to make its way into an album. But I guess the time is right.

We’ll see what mischief Esteban and I get up to with this upcoming album.

searching for: inspiration for work

This is where i head to everyday for work. It's my office.

I decided to make a post today as I’m running out of inspiration for music. Somehow it’s difficult to get down to music when at the back of your mind you’re worrying about money, about whether or not you’re worth your salt as a musician and wondering about whether or not you’ve got what it takes to build a successful career in music.

So… as a pleasant diversion I thought I would write about my workspace today and explain to you all how and where I work. See this picture? This is my studio. Esteban and I set up the moving blankets which acts as insulation and helps create a good environment for recording music. They hang from the ceiling and help prevent sound waves from bouncing off the walls and wreaking havoc on the mix.  It works! We’ve got a professional recording room for a grand total of $50! (price includes moving blankets, eyelets and hooks for hanging the blanket)

Also,  recently we sent in our NT-1 Rode microphone to get it modified so that it comes back sounding like a Neumann U-87, very sexy, very slick and very good for folk and acoustic recordings. It’ll come back fully modded May 5th, all ready for making sweet music for my debut album.

In the meantime, I’m helping a good friend and my favorite electric guitarist, Thomas,  from back home in Singapore,  to produce his song, titled “The Enemy.” This is a long overdue project that I promised him I’d do. It’s a slow acoustic number, rather raw sounding. I’m hoping to go for something Ryan Adam-ish for this song, reminiscent of his cover of “Wonderwall.”

I’ve also recently finished producing a song I co-wrote with another friend, and wonderful musician, Keji. The song is titled “Without You” and is a R&B christian inspirational song. Keji wrote the verses and chorus and sang on it, I wrote the bridge, played acoustic guitar and produced it and Esteban’s going to mix it down. I can’t wait for the final product.

Well, that’s all for now. Till the next flash of inspiration comes, here I am, signing off… meeowwrrrrrrr!

Confession & Consolation: Getting Down and Dirty

Ennui, lack of motivation, depression, self-loathing and stagnation has led me to writing my first blog entry in a long time. They say catharsis is good, hopefully this will be the first of many more to come.

Confession:I’ve been sitting on my ass for too long and letting the songs that I’ve written the past few years stew and go unproduced for way too long, while I have focused on learning music theory and writing fancy orchestral film-scores with orchestral music.

Consolation: I’m finally starting to get my act together as a singer-songwriter: I’m coming out of a 1.5 year long hiatus that I took to focus on my certificate program in film-scoring in UCLA Extension. Now that I’ve finally finished the intensive film-scoring course I finally have some time to get down and dirty and produce that kick-ass album I’ve been wanting to create in forever. With all the skills I have gained in the film scoring course, I’m confident that I can produce a truly kick-ass, “so good that it hurts so bad,” album.

My debut album will be called “Home” to capture the constant homesickness that I have for a “home” that I never had and perhaps will never have, except for brief moments when I’m completely lost in music. As Paul Simon says, “we’re homeless.”

To all you folks who love my music, I promise you, an album will be out this year, by September or October. Stay tuned and give me a shout, I’d love to hear from you.