INTERVIEW: Charlie Lim, Joanna Dong join The Great Singapore Replay Season 2

Sheila Chiang
Lifestyle contributor
(PHOTO: TGSR)

SINGAPORE – Following a successful first season in 2017, Temasek-backed The Great Singapore Replay returns with Charlie Lim and also introduces Joanna Dong, Kelly Pan, Sezairi and Shabir to the line-up.

Season 2 offers ten music talents the opportunity to be guided by Charlie Lim, Joanna Dong, Kelly Pan, Sezairi and Shabir in creating ten new original songs. These songs will be inspired by mashups of distinct tunes from five iconic eras of Singapore’s history and five modern music genres.

This is different from Season 1 which brought back popular Singapore classic hits from the 1960s to the early 2000s and allowed participants to remake and re-imagine these hits. 

TSGR is an initiative to encourage the discovery of Singapore’s rich musical heritage and supports a diversity of local music talents. The biennial programme nurtures and inspires emerging young music talents in Singapore by collaborating with established artists and the wider music industry in creating original Made-in-Singapore songs.

Yahoo Lifestyle SEA speaks to Charlie Lim and Joanna Dong to find out what attracted them to take on TGSR and what they are hoping to bring to the table. 

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(PHOTO: TGSR)

Charlie Lim

Singer-songwriter Charlie Lim used to be under-the-radar before he catapulted to nation-wide fame after he re-imagined the classic National Day tune from 1987 “We Are Singapore” for 2018’s National Day Parade. 

What attracted you to take on The Great Singapore Replay as a mentor?

“TGSR is a great platform, not just for upcoming musicians but for the mentors as well – I'd love to help in any way I can. I'm excited to see how this season unfolds with the format now focusing on making original content. TGSR has got a good team behind it, and I really appreciate that Temasek is continuing to champion local music and raise awareness of both old and new generations of artists through a collaborative manner. 

When you first joined TGSR in 2017 and recreated a classic, was there a lot of pressure to recreate it into something better or were you just going to go with the flow?

“We were happy to go with the flow, in this case that was to kind of turn the song on its head. We were asked to reimagine “The Girl From Katong” by Serenaide, which was actually one of the more modern tunes out of the lot, so we decided to put a barbershop quartet-style spin on it instead.”

What's got you most excited about being a part of the second edition of TGSR? What are you hoping to bring to the table?

“I’m always inspired by this younger generation of musicians and artists, and I think this new format of TGSR will be interesting as well. I hope to be a good mentor for these emerging talents, not just on the songwriting and production aspect of things, but also be able to share some tips on how to approach music as a career.”

What projects are you currently working on? 

“I've got a bunch of collaborations in the works, as well as some live stuff we’ve recorded. I'm planning to take a bit of a sabbatical next year in London, to go back to school and work on new music.”

What's your creative process like?

“I always start by looking inward, and observing my environment. I keep a lot of melodic and lyric ideas on my phone and notebooks, like most songwriters tend to do, and then I try to expand on those ideas either with an instrument like the guitar or piano, or even on the computer. The creative part is not as glamorous as one might think though – there’s a lot of trial and error involved. The work is often in the editing.”

Do you have a special relationship with Japan? You’ve performed there as well as filmed one of your music videos there.

“Definitely, we really love playing in Japan. I’d love to go back to play every year if I could afford to.”

Personally, do you think you have helped raised the bar for Singaporean music?

“It’s nice to be part of a movement, sure, but we’re also standing on the shoulders of many bands and artists before us. I don’t consciously think about raising the bar “for Singapore” per se, I just try to make the best of what opportunities I’ve been given.”

What are some of the things Singaporeans have said to you? Has anyone come up to you and said they are proud to have you as a local talent?

“Well, there have been quite a few occasions where that has happened, especially with the NDP prelude I was involved with last year. It’s definitely a nice feeling to know what you’ve done resonates with people on a deeper level.”

Your big break didn’t come until 2015. What kind of advice would you give to other under-the-radar singers if you could?

“Success is self-defined, relevance is relative, fame is fleeting – the work is the reward.”

Lastly, when can we anticipate your new music to be released?

“I have some collaborations coming up soon, but it’ll be a while before you hear anything from the next record.”

(PHOTO: TGSR)

Joanna Dong

Joanna Dong is widely known as the Singaporean talent who sang her way to a podium finish on top-rated reality show Sing!

What attracted you to take on TGSR?

“I was very impressed with the talent in the first season of TGSR team, and how they eventually went on to perform on bigger stages. The overall high production values, as well as the promise of support from the other mentors and a professional team, made me feel confident that I could contribute meaningfully to this project.”

How do you feel about being a part of the second edition of TGSR?

“To be honest, when they first approached me, I was hesitant, because I wasn’t sure if I had the right skillsets to mentor another musician. The organisers later convinced me that this wasn’t a competition between mentors, and that my primary role is to be a supporter and advocate to these rising music makers; I look forward to picking the brains of fellow mentors Charlie and Sezairi for songwriting support for example, and I am happy to share tips on handling the stress of live stage performance, which is where I feel most comfortable.”

What’s got you most excited about this? What are you hoping to bring to the table?

“I was really impressed with the first season of TGSR - they unearthed a really amazing selection of talents who have since gone on to play on much larger stages, and even land major record deals. There’s Jasmine Sokko for example, whose recent releases and music videos have really blown me away; and the very soulful and understated Shak’thiya, whom I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with, in London, for Singapore Day, as well as the National Day Parade in 2018. I also fell in love with the clarity and expression in Joie Tan’s voice when she performed at the Mediacorp NYE celebrations last year.”

Does your ability to sing in both English and Chinese give you an edge? Which language do you prefer singing in?

“I suppose the more languages you can perform in, the wider your potential audience pool is, and there are more opportunities when it comes to finding work. I think the exposure to music from different cultural backgrounds does play a part in honing one’s musicality too - this is an advantage that most Singaporean performers have. Most of us grew up listening to a diverse range of music in various languages even if it is within the same genre. Mandopop, has a very different vibe from Brit Pop or American Pop, or even Cantopop, for example.

I used to be quite the anglophile, conversing almost exclusively in English when I was at school. However, because my mother was a Mandarin language teacher before she retired, I spoke to her in Mandarin at home. I suppose that is why even though I speak and write better in English, I find it easier to connect emotionally when I am performing in Mandarin.”

Do you agree that Singaporeans lack confidence and need validation from others in order to think that we are good? How do you think we can have less of such thinking?

“It does appear so, though I suspect this stems from the fact that we are a very small and relatively young nation. There is a sense that much of our growth and development has happened because we have been outward-looking. Whether it is trade, or diplomatic relations, we are constantly reminded that we must be mindful of what others think of us, and that we need to prove our worth on the international stage by performing over and beyond, in order to be “taken seriously” vis-a-vis the global super powers that be. Over time I think this has been so deeply internalised in our national psyche, that we have become a little too insecure to evaluate ourselves independently. I also wonder if this phenomenon is an extension of Asian cultural values that prefer modesty over self-praise.

I don’t have answers on how to be more self-assured – perhaps it just takes time, and self-awareness. I have personally struggled all my life with insecurity and trying to shake the need to please or impress others. As I mature and come into my own, I have learnt to see my own value and worth, and I do hope that’s where we are headed as a nation too.”

What are some of the things Singaporeans have said to you? Has anyone come up to you and said they are proud that you put yourself out there and participated in Sing! China?

“Yes, even now two years after the competition, I still regularly have strangers who come up to me and tell me how I’ve done them and the country proud. I am very flattered and grateful, but mostly I feel quite paiseh, because I didn’t have “representing the nation" on my mind when I first signed up – it was really just me trying my luck at turning my singing career around!”

What advice would you give to people who want to become singers but are not confident to?

“Most performers experience a lot anxiety and insecurity – it’s very common. I suffer from lack of confidence all the time – the only difference is that I have developed some skills to appear confident even when I am not. That’s also something I hope to share with participants in TGSR. Most of these feelings come from a fear of failing. They have to learn to embrace failure, but they should also know that when people come to watch a show, they want to see a good one, and the audience is always rooting for you to succeed, not to fail – It’s important to find strength from that!”

Can you tell us about your latest song, A Good Goodbye?

“I wrote the lyrics for this, and as the title suggests, it is a song that contemplates what a good parting would be. The composer, Ruth Ling, was also my boss at Red Roof Records, and we were coming to a crossroad in our respective careers. We then decided to part ways for the best reasons possible (she has relocated to Beijing to be Head of Artiste and Repertoire at Universal Music China). Also, because we knew each other from our days at Raffles Girls’ Secondary School, we shared this song at the alumni gathering held to bid farewell to our old school campus. It was a meaningful song we have written together for these reasons.”

Lastly, why should anyone listen to it?

“All of us will have to say goodbye so many times in our lives to people, to places, to memories, perhaps even to a part of ourselves - and it’s rarely easy. I believe that music can be profoundly healing and strengthening. I hoped to write a song that was universal and relevant to any type of goodbye, so that people could sing them together, and find comfort.”

TGSR Season 2 will culminate in a Showcase Concert to be held at Gardens by the Bay on 18 January 2020