The singer who never left

BACK: Local singer Lisa Wong, who was bedridden for 11 years due to a stress-related illness, has been performing at concerts in Canada, Hong Kong and here.

Lisa Wong may be 64 but her schedule is as packed as ever.

She is gearing up to do a concert at Casino Rama in Ontario, Canada, on March 29.

She said excitedly: "Oh, I enjoy it very much. The bigger the crowd, the better."

The casino's Entertainment Centre has a seating capacity of about 5,000and her manager told Wong that tickets are going fast. Her series of six concerts last year at Hong Kong's Sunbeam Theatre and Tuen Mun Town Hall, each with a capacity of about 1,300, were always sold out. Not bad for a singer who was famous in the 70s for her hit Cantonese song, Lovesick Tears.

Lisa started singing in 1968 and by the 1970s, had cut more than 57 records in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

In comparison, pop star Britney Spears has 24 albums.

It wasn't all good for Lisa.

A few years after leaving the music industry in 1982, she was struck with a stress-induced illness that left her bedridden for almost 11 years.

"I constantly felt weak and nauseous. I had difficulty opening my eyes, even when I went to the doctor," she said.

When she woke up in late 1999, she discovered mobile phones and karaoke.

She said with a laugh: "It was like Back To The Future.

"My friend passed me the phone and I didn't know which buttons to press. She asked me to answer the phone for her and I was thinking, 'Can you remember I was bedridden? I don't know what this is, and you asked me to answer it for you'," she said.

Now she even has a Facebook page which connects her to her friends and fans.

"During our time, we didn't accept the older singers. That's why I was very surprised before I went back to singing. (Fellow 70s Singaporean singer) Ling Seow asked me to go back. I said no, I'm old," she said, explaining her initial hesitation.

"I thought he was making fun of me. Then he said, 'No, I'm also singing' and he is one year older than me. He encouraged me to go back to my singing.".

And she is not easing up on her passion anytime soon.

"I want to make Singapore proud. I'm not being boastful, I find that to be able to do my country proud makes me happy."

The accidental Mandopop star

Maggie Teng, 53, was the first Singapore Mandopop export to Taiwan in the 1980s.

Fans still remember her as the sweet-young-thing in the 1983 local Mandarin TV drama, The Flying Fish, opposite Wang Yuqing.

Although she has recorded more than 50 albums, including many hit songs,Teng described herself as an accidental star.

"My sister Judy was already a recording star and being kaypoh (curious in Hokkien), I went into the studio with her. That was when I was asked to sing and the next thing I knew, I was offered a recording contract," Teng told The New Paper.

"I was only 15 and I wanted to fly with Cathay Pacific and see the world. My father was against it and encouraged me to sign the recording contract. I was not ready then, but I signed," she recalled.

Teng, who is not with any label and manages herself now, said it was not a walk in the park trying to break into the Taiwanese music industry, "even after I had four years as a recording artiste in Singapore and Malaysia".

"Also Mandarin was my second language and breaking into that market would mean I have to 'sell' my talent. How do I market myself when I am not fluent in the language," she says.

"There were times I wanted to give up and go home but that would make me a failure, so I persevered," she added.

She studied Mandarin and tried to be more open and vocal while on many of the TV programmes there.

Teng even made friends who had her interests at heart and they include record producer Liu Ya Wen and the late singer Pan An-pang.

Tired of the lifestyle, Teng left but made a comeback with the release of an album, A New Journey, in 2005. She also tried acting in movies, first appearing as a gambler in a local DVD production, Heng Or Huat, in 2008 and in a Malaysian-made movie, The Wedding Diary, alongside Malaysian singer Ah Niu and Hong Kong actress Elaine Kwong, in 2011.

The late bloomer

Singapore crooner Robert Fernando, 66, says his friends during his teenage years never hung out at his home for more than five minutes.

"They were into rock and would take a look at my music album collection and run a mile," he recalled, laughing.

Fernando developed a love for ballads at the age of 10 and would save up to buy albums in that genre.

"The song that totally captivated me was Andy Williams' Love Story. I would sing it over and over, even in the bus on the way to school. You can say it actually got me started."

He said it still gives him goosebumps whenever it plays.

Fernando, who never took formal music lessons, said: "Going for national service helped strengthen my lungs and diaphragm. I'm able to hold a note longer than usual."

His rich, velvety smooth voice earned him the moniker of Singapore's James Ingram in the 1980s and 1990s.

"But breaking into the English music industry was difficult. I couldn't do it full time, so I kept my day job. I worked as a mechanic and later in the food and beverage industry," he added.

Yet, Fernando performed on TV variety programmes and "would say yes to just about any shows".

He even performed a couple of duets with Taiwanese singer Tracy Huang.

It was only in recent years that Fernando finally made singing his "full-time job", accepting gigs here, and overseas. Despite having a heart attack last October, never once did Fernando cancel.

In January, he paid tribute to Elvis Presley and late local composer Iskandar Ismail, and sang at Hope50 Concert, a charity concert to raise money for cancer patients.

Shy girl who became the lead singer

Ann Hussein, 52, thought she would be fronting local band Gingerbread for only two weeks.

"But I got stuck, stuck for life," said the band's lead singer and keyboardist.

Hussein was asked to help out when the original singer was sacked in 1982. That was when she fell in love with band leader and drummer Jason Shahul Hameed, 60.

They were married in 1987 and are still happily married. Ann, a self-professed shy girl, said she never wanted to be a singer. "All I wanted to do was teach music," she added.

Ann was only 15 and studying pop piano when her teacher at Yamaha Music School discovered she could sing.

"He got Larry Lai, who was the host of The Rado Show on TV, to come. He liked what he heard and put me on his show. Being shy, I just stood rooted and sang. I was really stiff," she recalled.

The producer of The Rado Show later got Ann to audition for Talentime in 1980 and she won.

Ann then represented Singapore in many overseas festivals. She also sang with Gingerbread until 2001, when the group stopped performing at its last residency at Orchard Towers.

Ann turned to teaching vocals at Yamaha, while her husband ran their home-based music studio, Gingerbread Studios, during the eight-year hiatus.

"In 2009, I was asked to be the resident coach for Singapore Idol 3. That same year, I was invited by a former colleague to help out as show director at Universal Studios Singapore," she said.

"It was something I love doing - discovering and nurturing raw talent, nothing that is electronically corrected or Photoshopped."

She has been at Universal Studios Singapore for five years and was recently promoted to become its music director.

This article was first published on March 16, 2015.
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