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If rojak could sing, it’ll only sing local music

It’s absolutely mind-boggling how much local music has transcended over the years that it’s difficult to form opinions surrounding it since any conclusion gathered becomes obsolete quickly. I’ve been a fan for 15 years now, but *pfft*, it’s still not enough to scratch the surface of our music.

So anyway, danamic. kick-jolted me from my slumber, hypnic jerk-style – requesting a write-up out of the Spotify playlist they created called Local Delights (which sounds like a canteen tuckshop from your primary school days). However, a confession before I get into the meat of the article though: danamic. didn’t really specify what I was supposed to write about. That basically meant I’m going to make a day out of this write-up. Stacey (Madam Editor) is probably gonna kill me for this but oh well, haha.

While 15 years aren’t enough to fully comprehend local music’s journey, those years have, however, seen a drastic change in quality, quantity, and acceptance. We are at the point in time where new local songs are released every single week. All of them are commercial quality. This fact might not surprise you now, but musicians back in 2005 would kill just to live in 2019 due to the accessibility of local music, both consumption and production-wise.

Niine: Rojak

In light of our 200th year of officially occupying this land, I propose we relook at music released recently and ask ourselves these two questions:

  1. How have we shaped our music? 
  2. How would your Spotify playlist look like if you were to create one to introduce Singapore’s music to a foreigner?

Let’s acknowledge this fact for question 1: it is impossible for us to develop a genre resembling ethnic or traditional music. Unlike the Japanese, Korean, Indian, Thai, and many other citizens of other countries, the term ‘Singaporean’ isn’t an ethnicity. It’s merely an identity all of us assume while we live inside our borders. We don’t have a deep-seated tradition as Singaporeans. Our culture is cross-stitched across various ethnicities, borrowing from one community and superimposing it into another without losing any of their essences. What we have as Singaporeans isn’t tradition, but stories, histories, and shared experience and culture.

The Japanese have Enka, the Koreans have Trot, the Indonesians and Malays have Gamelan, Kroncong, Dangdut, and a whole host of other ethnic genres. 

We have none – that’s what I’m saying. 

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because let’s face it: not many of us are actually up in arms and in a constant battle to rekindle our love for ethnic music. In 2019, if you can’t describe music by saying “doom ss tak ss doom ss tak ss”, then it’s not music. We love our EDM/House-infused pop.

Instead of cultural songs, what we do have in abundance, however, are songs that speak of culture and the story of Singapore and Singaporeans. Subhas’ UTOPIA speaks about the invisible labour that slogs away to build our successful city. THELIONCITYBOY’s 2 The Max rapping “550142 it in the map, Anchorvale and back” (boy, I hope I got the lyrics right). Estelle Fly and Benjamin Kheng’s Dandelion speaks about overachieving and the plasticity of a Singaporean’s life that eventually affects mental health. 

The best and only opportunity we have to create music that is distinctively Singaporean is to reimagine Singapore’s colloquialism, pop culture, and social artefacts into narratives to fit into our songs. The beat may be Trap, EDM, Hip-Hop, Alternative Pop or R&B, Progressive Metal, Hardcore, Jazz, Chillwave or whatever it is, but if the lyrics tell our story, then it’s uniquely us. We have shaped our music through our lyrics that tell a story of ourselves while assimilating to pre-existing music genres.

Strangely, just like the corporate world, local musicians are riding on every meme and pop culture coattail to get ahead (although musicians are creatively and tastefully better at it, of course). Unlike our corporate counterparts who are full of humourless zombies of yesteryears, however, local music is constantly being self-regulated and refreshed, requiring no guidance to reach stellar statuses. It’s like our musicians are machine-learning themselves to learn the ingredients for international success! Song-writing and production have been QC’ed intensely that these gems rose to the surface:

Coincidentally (not really), these six tunes are my favourite ones! And they are part of the Spotify playlist I mentioned earlier too.

“How would your Spotify playlist look like if you were to create one to introduce Singapore’s music to a foreigner, Niine?

It’ll look like Frankenstein’s monster, encompassing every genre and it’ll probably have at least 1000 songs in it. The person I’m introducing it to will probably have to spend three months listening to this single playlist and might possibly learn some Singlish along the way. 

In all seriousness, just like the multicultural us, the playlist I would create will definitely be one with a melting pot of genres, artists, and stories. It’ll be as rojak as it possibly could. So when danamic. showed their Local Delights Spotify playlist, I was elated. It was everything in one.

Feeling like rocking out? Sun Eater.
Partying? Myrne, The Sam Willows, Disco Hue, Lockshire.
Pensive? Joie Tan, MARICELLE, Falling Feathers.
Something different? M1LDL1FE, Sobs, Astreal.
Feeling weirdly nationalistic? Subhas, Estelle Fly and Benjamin Kheng. Exhausted? Jasmine Sokko.
Feeling happy because of free money from the government? Dru Chen

Singapore’s local music is constantly innovating and our story gets rewritten with every new hit that surfaces on New Music Friday Singapore. To be honest, if you’re ever creating a playlist to introduce our music, do yourself a favour and don’t think too much into it. It’s like buying rojak.

Photos by Soloman Soh of the DANAMIC team.


Tom Johari, better known as his moniker "Niine", is a passionate singer-producer who has been active in the local music scene since 2005. As Niine journeys through life, he hopes that fans and listeners alike can find happiness and solace in his music.

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