S’pore jazz singer remembers her roots

Yahoo! Singapore speaks to the versatile and dynamic local jazz singer, Michelle. (Photo courtesy of Michelle)
Yahoo! Singapore speaks to the versatile and dynamic local jazz singer, Michelle. (Photo courtesy of Michelle)

Every first and third Wednesday of the month, Yahoo! MusicScene shines the spotlight on talented, up-and-coming Singaporean bands or musicians. This week, we catch up with jazz singer Michelle, who believes that it is good to remember where her roots lie.

Singapore jazz singer Michelle wants to retain her local characteristics while aiming to conquer global markets.

Already making her mark in Europe, the 35-year-old has performed with Grammy-nominated pianist Kenny Werner at the North Sea Jazz Festival, and was chosen by Michelle Weir (author of Vocal Improvisation) and Grammy-nominated Phil Mattson to demonstrate scat singing at the 2004 International Vocal Festival, Tilburg.

"There is a struggle to maintain who you are as a person, as a musician," Michelle told Yahoo! Singapore.

She also prides herself as a musician who does not follow trends and believes that she should stay true to how she wants to grow as a musician.

"It's very easy to get the record label to help shape me and mold me. I don't have to explore music on my own. Life would have been easier that way," she said.

Having started singing at the age of 5, Michelle is now a 'gig veteran' of about 20 years.

When performing both originals and covers with her band as Michelle and the Stuff Toys at BarStop along Devonshire Road, Lamborghini owners and successful entrepreneurs made up the profile of her audience who would specially make their way down to watch her performance.

"There was a guy who even rescheduled his business flight just to be back on time to see Michelle's performance," said her Dutch husband and manager, Theo, 41.

Even though she has done many gigs, Michelle confessed that she is extremely selective about the venue and type of audience she performs to.

"There are a lot of places where you don't even have to prepare for a performance, because the audience is not there for the music. That's the kind of place we don't want to perform," said Theo, who is also a filmmaker.

Her target audience are people who like the artiste to do things in an original way.

"Who are you as an original artiste?" and "Can I hear your own version of this song?" are the questions Michelle wants to hear from her audience, as opposed to "Can you please do that song by so-and-so?".

"I also require the venue to provide a grand piano," she added.

Playing music that contains a hint of jazz and soul, it also draws elements from various other genres like blues and pop.

"Actually, I never liked the jazz description because of the image it will give Singaporeans," said the vocal instructor, who currently teaches vocals in Raffles Music College.

"Here, the type of jazz most people refer to is swing jazz, but what I do is more dynamic."

Currently making a comeback from a one-year hiatus, Michelle has chosen to gig less these days as she explains that by gigging too much, her artistic growth would be hampered.

"A lot of bands remain stagnant artistically because they gig too much. However they are caught in this money issue, and if it comes solely from singing gigs, then they're caught in a bind.

Having taught vocals for at around 10 years now, Michelle trained as a teacher for three years and was formerly plying her trade in the Lasalle College of the Arts.

She considers her role as a vocal instructor to be on par as her career as an artiste, and takes pride in her area of specialisation.

"If you're just an artiste, you cannot just come out and 'teach' people how to sing. You need to understand how the body functions and to press which buttons," she said.

The jazz siren is set to release a new album later in the year and to start gigging again in a yet-to-be-announced venue.

In the meantime, watch the video release of a song for her upcoming album:

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