S'porean singer-songwriter Hanjin Tan proves critics wrong with sell-out tour

Hundreds of fans turned up to see him, packed like sardines into a venue with space for only 100.

And they belted out his songs by heart, forming a backup choir to his one-man show.

That was the reception that Singaporean singer-songwriter-producer Hanjin Tan got during his first tour in China, which ended last week. It was a dream come true ever since the 40-year-old decided to pursue music full-time almost 16 years ago.

Tan is a household name in Hong Kong, where he has been based since 2009, earning accolades for his songwriting and production work with stars such as Eason Chan and Sammi Cheng. He has also garnered awards for acting on television.

But of all the hats he wears, Tan loves performing best, something he has had to fight for.

"No matter how good my productions were, the response (from music industry people) was always the same - 'Your face doesn't match your voice', 'You're not a handsome boy, we don't think you can sell, we can't market you'.

"So I'm going to do it myself. I'm going to try," the now independent artist told The New Paper from his newly-completed 2,000 sq ft private recording studio in Hong Kong.

Over 13 days this month, he performed in 10 cities in China, an experience that was "gruelling" and "punishing", yet rewarding.

At standing room-only venues in cities like Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, Tan brought in record numbers.

The set-up was minimal - "just me and my guitar, everything was live". With the use of a looper, he put together layers of sounds such that the effect was as if a band was playing different instruments on stage.

With such a strong following in China and Hong Kong, it may strike some as odd that Tan is not as well-known in Singapore as in Hong Kong.

"I've never had enough demand in Singapore to stay there," he said.

"At certain points in my career, I have envied (local singing stars) Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin and Tanya Chua, but I wish them well.

"I'm very happy for their success... because I'm Singaporean too. I'm also very happy with where I am right now."

This means the freedom to perform, the "ability to provide a housewife-type life" for his Hong Kong-born wife Prima and the time to work on charity projects.

In August, he will be part of a youth concert and he plans to visit schools to do sharing sessions with students.

"In Hong Kong... there have been more youth suicides (in the news) this year... and I think it starts at home, it starts with the children themselves, their sense of self-worth and their concept of motivation," he said.

He suffered from depression in his teens when he was bullied in school, so Tan feels he is "better equipped to help" suicidal youngsters.

"I sort of know how it feels like to break down over things that are not worth breaking down over, for instance, rejection," he said.


Charity is also his way of giving back to Hong Kong, where he is a permanent resident.

"When I go out on the street, people take photographs… Old uncles and aunties talk to me like I'm their neighbour...

"When I buy stuff in the market, I get freebies, they give me a pound of pork for free. They should not, but they do, and I thank them... and I want to keep doing things for the people of Hong Kong," he said.

Tan - whose new album will be out in September and has already finished recording material for another - added: "My dream is to put out an album a year and do a big-a** tour every two years."

Sounds tough? To which he said: "If it's not painful, then you can't call it a dream."

This article was first published on April 29, 2016.
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