The May 23 weekend will be a significant one for the home-grown a cappella scene - a veteran act are reuniting, while a prominent group are playing farewell shows.
On May 23, members of In-A-Chord are going tutti after a decade-long hiatus. The pioneer sextet will perform at the Esplanade Recital Studio, to coincide with the release of their fourth and new album, Elements Of Cool.
Also on the same night, popular quintet Budak Pantai will stage the first of their final pair of gigs before calling it a day. The swansongs - the other show is on May 24 - will be held at the Esplanade Concert Hall.
Tickets for In-A-Chord's reunion gig at the 245-capacity recital studio are sold out. Similarly, Budak Pantai's May 24 show at the 1,600-seat concert hall is also sold out. The May 23 gig was later added to cater to the overwhelming demand.
The gigs are on the same night by sheer coincidence, say both groups.
"Budak's kind of music is very different from ours," says In-A-Chord co-founder Jason Ong, 47. "They have their own fans and we have our own."
He adds that his group has always maintained cordial relationships with Budak Pantai, along with others in the local a cappella scene, such as Key Elements, MICappella and Vocaluptuous.
He adds: "The scene is really small, everybody knows everybody."
Similarly downplaying talk of inter-group competition, Budak Pantai member Ho Kah Keh, 54, says: "We're good friends with all the other a cappella groups here."
His group-mate Gordon Ng, 41, adds that Budak Pantai is not a "pure" a cappella group, unlike In-A-Chord, because they have guitars in their music. Traditional a cappella singing features only the singer's voice sans musical instruments. Ng adds: "Budak Pantai have never liked labels."
For the guys in Budak Pantai, the Esplanade shows are their way of going out with a bang before they retire the group. Joseph Wong, 56, says the members decided that the time is right to call it quits. He says: "20 years is a long time for any group to be together and the journey has been wonderful. We've grown up with our fans."
True to the comical nature of their music, Michael Loh, 50, jokes: "When we found out the first show was sold out so fast, I felt partly inspired and partly sad. Inspired that so many people wanted to see us, sad because so many people wanted to see us die."
The group first came into prominence in 1994 when they emerged champions in a Beach Boy-themed contest (their name is a literal Malay translation for "Beach Boy") conducted by local television entertainment show Rollin' Good Times.
Their humorous and tongue-in-cheek renditions of pop hits, including a square dance version of the Titanic theme, My Heart Will Go On, and originals that use local colloquialisms, such as Abuden, made them firm favourites in the gig scene.
With an average of two shows a month, including major events like the 2012 Singapore Arts Festival, as well as regular gigs at Blue Moo Cafe, the group have also taken their act overseas with performances in Mumbai and Tokyo.
The group also have six releases in their discography, including 2009 album Nothing Also Happy, which won them the Best Local Indie Album award at the 2010 SPH e-awards.
While the band's original plan was to play all "100 plus" songs in their repertoire at the two Esplanade gigs, timing and logistical restrictions meant that the set list has been trimmed to 30 songs a night.
The group are expecting fans to participate in their show when they play Abuden and have released an instructional dance video on their Facebook page.
Says Danny Lai, 44: "We want everyone in the audience to get off their seats and dance."
Meanwhile, In-A-Chord mark their 27th anniversary with a get-together, albeit one that is temporary.
Formed in 1987 while the members were serving national service, In-A-Chord first gained prominence when they became group champions in a talent contest organised by the National University of Singapore.
The gigs started pouring on and in the next few years, the group were selling out venues, including Victoria Theatre and Jubilee Hall.
Besides Ong, In-A-Chord include fellow tenors Chua Kim Beng and Patrick Wong, baritones Dominic Teo and Cecil Wilson, and bass Vaughan Tan. All are 47 years old this year, except Wong, who is 46.
Besides providing backing vocals for local artists Dick Lee, Culture Vulture and Douglas Oliveiro, the group also sang for Taiwanese acts such as pop duo Ukulele and veteran singer Ouyang Feifei. They also performed with Hong Kong pop diva Sandy Lam at her 1996 gig in Singapore.
Signed to Taiwanese label Forward Music, they released their eponymous debut in 1996, and a follow-up, Too Much Heaven, in 1998.
The group took an extended break after Wilson moved to Britain for a career in information technology, playing their last show in 2004 at the A Cappella Fest at ACS Barker Arts Centre. Ong says the group have always wanted to reunite, but the plan only solidified when he approached the gig's co-presenters, the Esplanade, last year.
Ong says this reunion is short-lived though. "We're flying Cecil in just for this show," he says, highlighting how difficult it is for the group to get together.
While their next gig might not be any time soon, fans can listen to the group's long-awaited fourth album, Elements Of Cool, which features songs and recordings that were shelved in the last decade, such as Ice Kacang and Mosquito Song.
"This album is 12 years in the making," says Ong. "With the reunion concert happening, we decided to wrap things up."
Tickets to Late Nite @ Esplanade: ENCORE!: In-A-Chord Reunites at the Esplanade Recital Studio on May 23 are sold out.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN BY BUDAK PANTAI
Where: Esplanade Concert Hall
When: May 23 and 24, 7.30pm
Admission: $38 and $48, only tickets for the May 23 show left, from Sistic. Go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555
This article was published on May 8 in The Straits Times.
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