Young Singaporean musicians pursue their passion for music against all odds

SINGAPORE: A career in the music industry may not offer the most stable source of income, but that’s not putting off some Singaporeans who are determined to carve a niche for themselves in this area. Here’s a closer look at three musicians who are pursuing their passion against all odds.

One of them is Kevin Lester, also known as Lion City Boy, who has performed at international festivals. He dabbles in urban music, which is usually associated with street culture far removed from Singapore’s shores.

Mr Lester has managed to gain recognition both locally and overseas. He recently landed his biggest prize to date – signing on with BMBX Entertainment, a recording label run by of The Black Eyed Peas.

“It’s part of a story for the next person. Because if it’s not me, I’m opening up the door for somebody else. And that’s the way I see it. Because every step I take outside Singapore, or anything that I do, I feel that it’s not just for me, I represent the city, I represent the scene,” said Mr Lester.

Joel Nah is also making inroads overseas. The self-taught musician and educator is going to Spain to pursue a Master’s degree in film scoring, with the help of a scholarship offered by the National Arts Council. A household name in the local theatre scene, he believes in the importance of improvisation.

“Music is about communicating feelings and emotions across the centuries. Sometimes we place it so high on a pedestal that we make it rigid and don’t allow music to evolve with the times, and we don’t allow taste to evolve as well,” he believes. 

Improvisation is just what Eileen Chai does. A former child gymnast, she’s now a live-looping violinist who discovered her real passion for music after experimenting with a few gadgets and instruments. She connects with her listeners by bringing her sounds to the streets.

“For the past few years I’ve been performing in places where people come to see you. But I wanted to do a better job by really reaching out to people and engaging the audience. So I took it as a challenge to start busking and try to find ways to see how I could reach out to passersby.”

So what drives these musicians? Mr Nah says that musicians must be willing to adapt as opportunities decrease within an increasingly saturated industry.

“As the industry progresses, opportunities get limited because more people enter the scene. We are limited by our landscape and population and also taste. So as musicians, the biggest challenge is learning to adapt and also having the willingness to adapt,” he said.

Mr Lester thinks that musicians should take advantage of Singapore’s budding music scene to “create their own journey”.

“The rules are not there in Singapore yet, it’s still a scene. So take advantage of it. That is not so much a bad thing sometimes. It’s for you to create your own journey. And usually when we do things like that, the biggest stories come from it,” he said.