Ask any Singaporean about his or her music scene and they will certainly attest to its vibrancy, telling you about performers ranging from the buskers strumming at Orchard Road or Boat Quay, to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, to the live bands spanning an array of genres from rock to blues to folk. Singapore’s music scene has indeed grown exponentially over the past decade.
One of the catalysts for such development of has been Mr Danny Loong, co-founder and chief creative director of Timbre Restaurant Group. But how can Singapore’s music scene continue to grow, with an eye on reaching the global stage? How can the island-states develop as a cultural capital? Danny sat down to discuss this with SIIA members and friends at Ta Ké in the first Thinkers & Drinkers event of 2011.
To answer these questions, the evening's discussion tabled suggestions which could perhaps be separated broadly into two categories: bottom-up and top-down. The bottom-up approach is perhaps best embodied in Singapore by Danny. He is an ex-bandleader and founder of one of Singapore’s most traveled and critically acclaimed bands, Ublues (Universal Blues Band). In 2005, he and his partner Edward Chia, set up Timbre Music Restaurant & Bar as a new platform to help raise the profile of the Singapore music scene. The Timbre Group has since expanded to include six F&B locations as well as events promotion and a music academy.
Drawing from his experiences as both a restaurateur and performer, Danny offered insights on how to continue to develop Singapore’s music scene from both the bottom-up and the top-down.
Could a local musician playing at one of the Timbre locations eventually become the next Bob Dylan or John Lennon?
Danny challenges the notion that local Singapore music is "not good enough". Take the Singapore band whose song once reached #1 on a pop music chart… in Brazil. In Danny’s travels, he has seen firsthand how well Singaporean bands are received. Perhaps Singapore must gain greater appreciation of its own music, he said, to further support its place on the global scene.
The relevance of Singapore music is also important. He cited a pervasive mentality in Singapore to support classical music training, contrasting that with the fact that for the past 100 years, most relevant music has been created by someone with a guitar. Perceptions can and should be opened to not only different styles of music, but also to the suitability of music itself as a career.
Perhaps the government could have a hand in spurring such cultural development. In 1999, the Singapore government embarked on a project to transform itself into a "Renaissance City", where arts and culture would make Singapore an attractive place to work, live and play. Since then, it has invested in academies and venues, fostering Singapore’s cultural development.
However, there is more that can be done. For example, Singapore one of the few developed countries without a minimum percentage radio airplay allocated for local musicians. And although music endeavors should still be self-sustaining through their audiences, government support for local non-classical music could still be increased.
The talk concluded on an optimistic note: one of the key themes for the evening was the role of education in nurturing appreciation for the arts among youth. Music education in Singapore should be both more global and more multi-disciplinary (e.g. more guitars and vocal training in folk, pop and rock genres in the classroom).
As for the future of Singapore on the global music scene, it is important to remember the old saying that Rome was not built in a day. Neither were the cultural capitals of New Orleans, Nashville or Vienna. Singapore's cultural development will take time. There is hope however that Singapore, backed by grassroots efforts from Danny and others, and with further official backing, can one day be a cultural capital itself.