Let the Music Play

Live Music Is Back, And Jon Chua Wants You To Support Local Artists At His Upcoming Gig

The founder of Zendyll Music, which is co-organising Majulah Live x It’s A Rap, gets vocal about Singapore’s music industry.

Live Music Is Back, And Jon Chua Wants You To Support Local Artists At His Upcoming Gig
Jon Chua JX

The time has come for concert-goers to rejoice – large-scale events are back. Almost two years have passed since many of us set foot at a concert venue, and we might have found the perfect occasion to rekindle the excitement of live entertainment.

Majulah Live x It’s A Rap is a celebration of local entertainment for an audience of 1,000, presented by Base Entertainment Asia and Red Spade Entertainment in association with Zendyll Music and DRINK Entertainment, and in partnership with National Youth Council. Featuring a diverse group of both established and up-and-coming artists, the show – hosted by funnymen Fakkah Fuzz, Jacky Ng and Qamarul Haziq – promises live music performances by the likes of RRILEY, Rangga Jones, Jon Chua JX and rappers Yung Raja and ShiGGa Shay.

Majulah Live x It’s A Rap

Pivotal to the event is The Sam Willows’ Jon Chua JX, who founded independent music and culture company Zendyll to help grow the regional music scene. “We want to show the world that Singapore is more than Marina Bay Sands, cleanliness and Jewel – there is substance here,” says Chua.

Bringing together such a unique mix of talents was not the original plan. Kelvin Goh, director of Red Spade Entertainment, had an idea for a show called It’s A Rap to showcase Singapore’s growing pool of hip-hop artists. This led him to approach Zendyll to book artists for the event. Coincidentally, Chua was in the process of planning music performances in March, thus sparking the conception of Majulah Live x It’s A Rap.

Jon Chua JX

It’s a marked departure from the virtual concerts that have proliferated during the pandemic – from local events such as 987 Live to BLACKPINK’s first online performance.

Chua dislikes the prospect of these replacing live gigs. “For us, it’s important to bring live music back. When you ban live music, you don’t want people to feel connected to one another. Connectivity doesn’t happen through Spotify or social media.”

“A mentor of mine once said that when someone pays for a ticket, invites a friend, gets excited and makes the time to come to our show, our job is as important as saving a life. You never know which person in the audience is feeling broken – connecting with our music might just put them in a different headspace,” he adds.

You can’t support something you don’t know enough about. Singapore doesn’t have (an established) structure when it comes to entertainment.

Jon Chua

Ambitions aside, Chua is familiar with the challenges faced by artists in Singapore. “In every first-world country, there are people from different social groups who don’t have the same opportunities as others. Everyone is looking for social mobility.”

He compares the ostensibly narrow paths to success in Singapore’s small music scene with that of other parts of the world, where creative industries are celebrated as avenues to fulfilling lives. Through Zendyll, he hopes to highlight the value of community and challenge the societal focus on economics driving industries. “Half of the artists in this line-up are not going to be on Channel 5 or work with Mediacorp. Most of the time, it’s difficult to do and express what we want. We want to take the power back.”

The perennial question has to be asked – why does local music not receive more widespread support? Given the enhanced access to indie music via streaming platforms, it might seem natural that Singaporeans would develop an interest in homegrown talent.

“You can’t support something you don’t know enough about. Singapore doesn’t have (an established) structure when it comes to entertainment. We don’t have a lot of creative freedom, and we don’t have enough people believing that the entertainment that’s made and produced here is of quality.” He also discredits the argument positing a lack of talent, as many Singaporean music directors and producers have established careers overseas, including local artists finding success in Mandopop.

A voice for the overlooked

Jon Chua JX

For the upcoming event, Chua is delighted to have veteran hip-hop performer Sheikh Haikel onboard. As part of rap duo Construction Sight with Ashidiq Ghazali in the 1990s, Haikel has influenced the genre of Malay hip-hop across Singapore and Malaysia – proving the Lion City’s cultural cachet.

Hip-hop has always been about telling stories. Born out of the struggles of oppressed black youth in America, the genre has since become a global medium, shaping the social consciousness of generations. One would argue that on an island full of organised residential buildings and shopping malls, local hip-hop music appears to be little more than derivative of an existing popular genre. After all, the entertainment we consume is predominantly from overseas.

Nevertheless, hip-hop gives artists the space to be authentic without following a formula. It is an accessible genre – anyone can tell their stories through poetic and rhythmic talent. AE$OP CA$H, one of the show’s performers who has spoken about his incarcerated brother, is viewed by Chua as someone whose music reminds us of the struggles of a forgotten social group. “He comes from a life that many Singaporeans don’t understand or don’t think exists.”

The hip-hop scene in Singapore is certainly growing, with many young rappers expressing their unapologetic selves through rhymes about life in the hyper modern city. Their verses are inimitable – often bilingual and teeming with Singlish. ‘Masa’, Fariz Jabba’s biggest hit, boasts almost 4 million streams on Spotify and Yung Raja’s iconic ‘Mustafa’ notches almost 3 million.

“When you think of Chicago, you think of Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. Even with Thailand and Malaysia, you can do the same. A lot of young people out there are making music at a fast rate and a high quality. I think that will happen in Singapore.”

Chua foresees a fresh wave of young people using music and art as avenues for self-expression. Is Majulah Live x It’s A Rap the start of a cultural movement? It might be – given the assortment of talent and individuals involved in the show.

Chua’s hope for the event is simple – people will be pleasantly surprised. “I want everyone to leave the show thinking, ‘wow, I didn’t know that Singapore’s music was at such a standard’”.

Majulah Live x It’s A Rap will be taking place on 19 March 2022 at the Sands Theatre.

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