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Local Music Makers

By Joie Goh

From left: Inch Chua, Ong Jin Jie, Sam Rui, Teashhur Dekan
 
Tung Pham
From left: Inch Chua, Ong Jin Jie, Sam Rui, Teashhur Dekan

“There’s nothing about R&B I don’t love,” gushes 21-year-old Samantha Wong Sze Rui, better known by her musician handle Sam Rui. “It’s versa- tile. It’s technical and methodical but effortless; it’s empowering but contemplative. It birthed most of the greatest vocalists and hits of all time. R&B is without a doubt the best feel-good genre of music, and I feel it ticks all the boxes: great, confessional lyrics, catchy melodies, groovy instrumentals and beautiful voices all in one.”

Tung PhamR&B crooner Sam Rui turned heartbreak and young adult angst into a manifesto of emotional maturity via a collection of sultry, breathy tracks.
R&B crooner Sam Rui turned heartbreak and young adult angst into a manifesto of emotional maturity via a collection of sultry, breathy tracks.

Wong holds the genre in such high regard that she doesn’t consider herself an R&B artist, despite the fact that she has released a full-length R&B album. “At the most, I would label my music contemporary R&B, which is very different,” she says. “When my producer and I started working on the album, we didn’t intend to make an R&B record... the genre it ended up being is just a product of the chemistry we had, the honesty of his production, my writing and singing, and the fact that we both love the genre and are undoubtedly influenced by it.”

As a child, Wong dabbled in various art forms, but it was only after a bout of teenage depression that she found her footing in music. “Art is a very solitary activity, and while it was cathartic, more often it compounded whatever I was feeling,” explains the bubbly youth. “Music, on the other hand, gave me catharsis through being able to communicate what I was feeling, and in a way, ‘conduct’ it out of myself.”

That pretty much sums up “Season 2”, Wong’s debut album, a collection of sultry slow-burners that includes two collaborations with Malaysian electronica musician Fauxe and local rapper Omar Kenobi. Dubbed “a journal of the last year of [Wong’s] life compiled into a mixtape”, the album was conceived following the demise of a three-year romantic relationship, when Wong needed an outlet to process how much she missed her ex-boyfriend. According to her, it organically evolved into an observation of the emotional changes she was experiencing as she moved on.

“At the end of everything, when I look back on the person I was when I started, I barely recognise myself,” she says. “I really feel like an entirely new person after finishing this album, and the variety of experiences I encapsulated in here is so wide, I couldn’t pick a title track. So I called it ‘Season 2’, since I really feel like this version of me signifies a whole new chapter in life that I’m about to take on and that I’ve come full circle to where I am now.”

Tung PhamOng Jin Jie's solo act Falling Feathers' upbeat tunes have been climbing local music charts .
Ong Jin Jie's solo act Falling Feathers' upbeat tunes have been climbing local music charts .

With a boyish face not unlike that of a K-pop boyband member, as well as a voice that can be best described as Shawn Mendes-meets-Neil Tennant, 21-year-old Ong Jin Jie has come a long way from the emo kid he was five years ago, when he first picked up guitar in a bid to be “cool”. That soon led to the formation of a pop punk band, which introduced him to the local music scene and the discovery that writing and making music was his calling. After that band disbanded, Ong launched his solo act Falling Feathers in November last year, with his first single “Perfect” debuting at No. 5 on the iTunes Singapore Pop charts and No. 6 on the Spotify Singapore Viral 50 charts. The song has also been featured in a South Korean variety show.

Since then, the upbeat and energetic Ong has joined the likes of Sing! China first runner-up Nathan Hartono and internationally-acclaimed jazz singer Corrine May as one of Warner Music Singapore’s homegrown artists, and released his third single “Hush”, a disco-funk collaboration with local synth-pop musician Thievves.

While his rise has been rapid, not everything has come easy for Ong, who is currently enlisted in National Service and splits his time between his pop career and his military duties. One incident in particular stands out for him: when he opened for American rock band Mayday Parade during their concert in Singapore.

“The band’s flight got delayed and basically, anything that could’ve went wrong, went wrong,” Ong recalls. “The concert-goers were really angry because not all the band members caught the delayed flight into Singapore, and they ended up announcing they would play an acoustic set instead, which made the concert-goers even more annoyed.”

Being the opening act — the “first person [the audience] would see when they enter the venue” — was “really nerve-wracking” for Ong, but it turned out that his fears were unfounded. Once he started playing, the disgruntled crowd turned supportive and ended up singing along with him. “[It was] definitely one of those nights where you feel like, all the hard work and hustling was worth it!”

Speaking of hard work and hustle, Ong’s upcoming EP, to be released next year, is titled “Pipe Dreams”, in reference to his goal of being a mainstream pop singer. The genre, he says, is particularly challenging for local musicians to carve a space for themselves in, no thanks to competition from the “big American and British stars”. But he’s working towards it with his trademark cheeriness — in fact, his moniker is a constant reminder to himself to learn and improve. Says the nascent pop star: “You know how birds shed feathers to grow stronger ones? Falling Feathers represents that constant cycle of growth.”

Tung PhamiNCH is exploring her artistry through stage performances and art.
iNCH is exploring her artistry through stage performances and art.

Rocker-turned-Indie singer-songwriter Inch Chua (stylised as iNCH) has had quite a decade. After heading a now-defunct band called Allura in 2007, a 2010 solo set at artist-driven music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, and a short stint in Los Angeles in 2011, Chua really came into her own in 2015. She holed up in Pulau Ubin (Singapore’s version of “living in the country”) for four months, following which the 28-year-old released “Letters to Ubin”, a contemplative seven-track EP juxtaposing her sweet, jazzy vocals with the sounds of nature recorded on the island.

Since then, Chua has been slowly and steadily working on fleshing out each single on the EP. Most recently, she released a music video for “Simple Kind of Life”. Shot in Manila and directed by Filipino YouTuber Gerard Lopez (GeloYellow), the ’80s-themed vignette is an expression of Chua’s “curious fascination with robots”, and took only two days of prop-making and preparation to shoot.

Although Chua will be dropping another two singles soon (“one of which will be released with a graphic novel, so I’m quite excited about that,” she teases), the stage is where you’ll see more of the petite artiste in the near future. She will be appearing alongside fellow singers Nathan Hartono and Benjamin Kheng (of The Sam Willows fame) and theatre Wunderkind Andrew Marko in Pangdemonium’s up-coming annual fundraising concert The Jam, as well as several stage productions including an experimental piece at the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival, a musical workshop and an opera with L’arietta, a local chamber opera company.

Tung PhamTeashhur Dekan turned to music in her time of grief, which eventually led to healing and self-expression.
Teashhur Dekan turned to music in her time of grief, which eventually led to healing and self-expression.

Her music and voice have been likened to Adele’s, and for good reason, too — 40-year-old Teashhur Dekan’s work is an expression of the tumultuous whirlwind that has been the last two decades of her life.

Born in Australia as one of seven children, Dekan studied classical piano and was actively involved in Sydney’s vibrant music scene. “My three brothers and I used to be in a band together,” she recalls. “Even my small flat in Bondi had two pianos in it — hardly any space for the bed!”

In 1998, the then-21-year-old embarked on what she called her “overseas experience”, moving across the globe to London. Music fell by the wayside for several years as she focused on her career in professional services, but after starting to really miss it, Dekan attended vocal college to study singing techniques and performance practice, developing her unique soulful sound.

She met her first husband in Spain and after getting married, the newlyweds settled in Dubai, where Dekan worked in banking. Once again, music fell behind on her list of priorities and did not resurface until tragedy struck: diagnosed with cancer in 2007, Dekan’s husband passed away four years later.

“It was after this difficult period of my life that I turned to music as a way of coping with everything we went through,” Dekan says. Several months after her husband’s passing, she wrote her first song, “Over Now”, a raw, heartbreaking ballad detailing the struggles the couple went through during his battle with cancer.

“Many nights I would sit playing the piano in the dark, mainly songs I used to know,” she says of the process. “But one night I sat at the piano and the music and words just flowed out. It really was a dialogue between my husband and me, and there were so many things I didn’t get to say to him before he passed away. It was only later that when I listened to the words I realised it was like a com- forting mantra... a way of self-healing and self-soothing.”

Dekan first kept the song to herself and continued to write other music, eventually releasing her first three-song EP “Dreams” in November 2016, five years after her return to her piano and three years after relocating to Singapore. She only released “Over Now” in July after working together with a music producer to re- cord it.

“It’s a very personal song and holds so many memories, so I didn’t want to release something so personal as a first song,” she explains. “It has taken a lot of courage to talk about it all so openly, but I realise that some people will find comfort in my story and what I have been through.”

Today, the mother of two has remarried and is working on an another EP, which she describes as “songs for a healing heart”. Says Dekan: “I am in such a good place now, having found happiness again. [But] my music is always very emotional, so that won’t change.”