Serenading Tiong Bahru

SINGAPORE -While doing research for her poem based on the air raid shelter in Tiong Bahru, home-grown poet Jennifer Champion discovered a nugget of family history - her step-aunt was born in the shelter at 78 Moh Guan Terrace on the same day the step-aunt's father died in the bombings during World War II in 1942.

Champion, 26, is one of the eight artists taking part in Musicity Singapore 2014, which opens tonight at Tiong Bahru. It will feature a panel discussion and shows by home-grown band Seyra, Champion and another Singapore poet Marc Nair.

This is the second edition of the global music programme, which debuted here in 2012. Founded in London in 2011, it celebrates a city's music and urban design through music and architecture. The event has been held in cities such as Oslo and Tokyo.

Recalling how she stumbled upon the family connection while watching a Channel 5 news segment on the air-raid shelter on YouTube, Champion says: "I didn't recognise my step-aunt from the video because we hardly meet and I know her only by her nickname. My dad told me we were related."

She adds: "Finding out something like this gives a personal connection to the place. Before that, I was writing the poem, Let It Shine, as a member of the public. Knowing that there was family involved gave me a certain responsibility to convey the story sensitively."

While the first edition of Musicity Singapore was held in places such as the ArtScience Museum and Gardens by the Bay, the artists will perform in various locations around Tiong Bahru this year.

Ms Carolyn Oei, festival director and organiser of Musicity Singapore 2014, says: "Tiong Bahru as a festival location fits perfectly with the overall objective of Musicity. Tiong Bahru is rich in heritage and stories and, at the same time, is so contemporary."

The event challenges the idea of performance by selecting, she says, "atypical spaces while still retaining the essence of experiencing a show".

She adds: "The intimate and interesting venues invite the audience to go closer to the performers and take in both words and music at a deeper level."

The eight artists have written 12 original music and poetry tracks based on different locations in Tiong Bahru. These tracks can be streamed through a mobile app when the user is at the site the tracks are tagged to. Ms Oei says this is to encourage people to enjoy the spaces the city has to offer.

Besides connecting with her step-aunt, who is her father's step-cousin, Champion also made another surprise discovery while working on Musicity. She is related to fellow artist Marcel Lee Pereira, whose grandmother married Champion's granduncle after her husband died.

Champion and Pereira will perform on May 9 at Bincho, a modern Japanese yakitori open-concept bar in Moh Guan Terrace.

The track that Pereira has composed for the event, titled The Place Where We Met, is based on the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre in Seng Poh Road. The song tells a love story in which a woman looks out to the sea every day as she awaits her lover's return.

Pereira, 33, a singer-songwriter who is also a sub-editor with The Straits Times' digital team, says: "I found out from my research that businessmen used to house their mistress in the flats in Tiong Bahru. It was likely that some of them would have been forgotten over the years, as a businessman would have to travel.

"I didn't want to write a song just about the food and vegetables in the market. I wanted to bring a human element to it, so I imagined who would be there at the market."

He will also perform in a fringe activity on May 4 with a busker who visits the food centre in his wheelchair on weekends singing Hokkien and Mandarin ballads.

Also performing with Champion at Bincho on May 2 are Monster Cat. The three-man band composed a track, The Rich Dream, for the event. The song was inspired by Qi Tian Gong Temple in Eng Hoon Street, which is dedicated to the monkey god.

The band's 28-year-old singer and co-songwriter, who goes by the name Hentai Cat, says: "This was a very interesting way to approach creation. I think all art is dependent on circumstances and location. It's surprising to me sometimes how much our songs are about Singapore and living here," he says.

Tiong Bahru resident Jane Teo welcomes the event. The 21-year old student says: "My neighbourhood would be more lively and I get to see these performances up close."


Musicity Singapore 2014 will present 10 ticketed performances, including today's opening night hosted by presenting sponsor Keppel Land. The other shows pair a singer or band with a poet.

All the show venues, except for TBB Tiong Bahru Bar, do not usually host live performances.

Who: A panel discussion on the topic of sonic architecture, as well as performances by home-grown band Seyra and poets Marc Nair (left) and Jennifer Champion. Where: 1 Kim Tian Road When: Today, 7.30 to 10pm Admission: $40 (sales have ended)

Who: Marcel Lee Pereira and Marc Nair Where: The French Bookshop, 55 Tiong Bahru Road When: Tomorrow, 7.30 to 8.30pm Admission: $20

Who: Seyra and Nabilah Husna (right) Where: The Fab Lab (73 Eng Watt Street at 8.45pm) When: Tomorrow, 9 to 10pm Admission: $25

Who: Monster Cat and Jennifer Champion Where: Bincho, 78 Moh Guan Terrace When: May 2, 6.30 to 7.30pm Admission: $30

Who: The Sam Willows (below) and Gideon + Allee Where: Tiong Bahru Community Centre Music Room 2, 67A Eu Chin Street When: May 2, 6.30 to 7.30pm Admission: $20 Who: The Sam Willows and Nabilah Husna Where: The French Bookshop, 55 Tiong Bahru Road When: May 3, 6.30 to 7.30pm Admission: $20

Who: Seyra and Gideon + Allee Where: Tiong Bahru Community Centre Music Room 2, 67A Eu Chin Street When: May 3, 9 to 10pm Admission: $20

Who: Marcel Lee Pereira and Jennifer Champion Where: Bincho, 78 Moh Guan Terrace When: May 9, 6.30 to 7.30pm Admission: $30

Who: Monster Cat and Marc Nair Where: The Fab Lab (73 Eng Watt Street at 7.45pm) When: May 9, 8 to 9pm Admission: $25 (sales have ended)

Who: The Sam Willows, Gideon + Allee and Nabilah Husna Where: TBB Tiong Bahru Bar, 3 Seng Poh Road When: May 10, 7.30 to 10pm Admission: $20

To book tickets, go to For more information, go to

This article was published on April 25 in The Straits Times.

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