UpFront with Lee Wei Fen

Comments (7)
  1. ldf says:

    The Shophouse Beat Salon was truly a magical event. While I was able to contribute the shophouse, it was exceptionally creative and talented young folks like Wei Fen, Shiva, recent Singapore arrival cultural whirlwind Miriam Nash, Chengdu's first jazz bandleader now Bellini sax player Ma Laoban Melissa Carroll – and too many more to name – that made it all happen.

    I don't think I've ever seen as concentrated a group of talented young people as I encountered at the launch of Ceriph. That night, local singer Michelle Chua invited me to see her Bossa Nova group perform several days later. Her band was terrific – Michelle has an impressive stage presence, and her band found a fabulous groove. Singapore tap dance pioneer Alexandra Hsieh tore up the stage. I was amazed to discover such an incredible display of raw talent in a small local pub at Bukit Timah. At the same time, I was shocked to find maybe eight people there to watch – perhaps seven musicians and the drunk at the bar.

  2. ldf says:

    Michelle made a comment during her performance that really struck me: "Thank you all for turning out to support local jazz." It occurred to me that there are many people who support local culture – they just don't know each other. This realization was the genesis of the event we called the Shophouse Beat Salon.

    Twenty years ago, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew remarked, "Singapore can't afford the luxury of poetry." While that might have been true at the time, the Island Nation developed at such a rapid pace that ten years later, the Powers that Be realized that without poetry, Singapore would be unable to attract the foreign talent it craved, or even retain its most talented citizens. The result was a brief flood of state investment in creative infrastructure, and a monumental shift in local culture.

  3. ldf says:

    These extraordinary people are the first-generation product of this fundamental shift in mindset. There's a clear cultural demarcation between those who grew up in the "old' system, designed to produce production-oriented technocrats, and the "new", spewing poets, musicians and philosophers chaotically into the 21st century knowledge economy.

    Unlike their older siblings who found their way paved largely risk-free into foreign-owned enterprises or the state and quasi-state sectors, this new generation finds precious few institutional structures prepared to accommodate the volume of talent just beginning to emerge.

  4. ldf says:

    People like Wei Fen, Shiva and many others at the leading edge of this New Wave of talent are stepping bravely into the gap to create forums like Ceriph, Coast, Plato's Cave and others. It's inspiring to watch them struggle bravely against the cultural tide, with limited resources and in many cases the clucking disappointment of their families, to add from scratch a new archeological layer to Singapore's continually-expanding infrastructure.

    The creative process is necessarily chaotic and disruptive in a way to which Singapre is largely unaccustomed. It's easy to become cynical – to believe that the free reign of ideas that is the root and branch of authentic creation threatens the technocratic order that seems to characterize Singapore. Indeed, the Shophouse Beat Salon was closed down at midnight when the local police most politely and efficiently informed us that if we didn't please kindly disband, they would confiscate our instruments and detain our organizers.

    My personal experience suggests that Singapore is lilely to adapt, to accommodate and integrate this new generation, if even despite itself.

  5. ldf says:

    People like Wei Fen and her extraordinarily talented circle of friends are mildly subversive to be sure, but they are thoughtful and mature cultural entrepreneurs. To the extent that they are able to create an open and connected community, to forge new networks of like-minded artists, and given unconditional free forum and yes, even (and especially!) material resources, to question and challenge, to push the bounds of the existing order, to build a new world on the foundations of the old – to that extent, Singapore is sure to have a bright future.

    As a foreigner privileged to participate in the Great Socio-Economic Project that is Singapore,
    I'm grateful for the opportunity to play my small part – one mottled oyster to help nurture this most lovely pearl.


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