Singapore’s “shocked” music fraternity pays tribute to David Bowie

By Vernon Lee

Singer-songwriter Kevin Mathews burst into tears when he found out about the death of David Bowie while he was lecturing at Republic Polytechnic on Monday (11 January).

“I was teaching a class so I couldn’t react. The moment I got a break, I went to the toilet for a good cry,” the 54-year-old adjunct lecturer revealed.

His shocked reaction summed up how musicians and DJs in Singapore felt about the 69-year-old music legend’s passing from cancer on Sunday (10 January), which has led to an outpouring of tributes from celebrities around the world ranging from politicians, musicians, movie directors to even football managers.

They acknowledged the huge influence that Bowie has had on them not just in music but also in other fields such as fashion and theatre.

Kelvin Tan, a 51-year-old singer-songwriter and part-time lecturer, said Bowie had shown musicians that they can stretch the boundaries of music and fuse eclectic genres ranging from rock, reggae to jazz to create a coherent work of art.

“In his earlier works like ‘Hunky Dory’ (1971), he taught me that you don’t have to write lyrics linearly. You could actually cut out words and create something abstract. He was always embracing different ideas and change,” Tan said.

Chris Ho, a radio and club DJ, admitted that he cried as well when he heard about Bowie’s death.

Ho was so enamoured with Bowie’s visual style that he once staged a flamboyant performance of “The Secret Life of Arabia” from the “Heroes” album (1977) during his reservist days.

Bowie was the first ever rock musician to incorporate theatrics into music and had a “chameleon” personality to “change colour and skin” to suit each performance, Ho said.

“He was the first to use visual elements in a super big way. Without David Bowie, there would not be Madonna. Bowie was MTV before the arrival of MTV and MTV culture,” Ho added. Madonna said she was “devastated” and that Bowie had changed her life in a post on Twitter.

Bowie’s penchant for melding diverse musical and fashion elements also appealed to Sulaiman Supian, bassist of indie bands Obedient Wives Club and Riot !n Magenta. The 41-year-old civil servant even used the moniker “Bowielectric” on his now defunct Instagram account, which had thousands of followers.

Part-time DJ Robin Chua, 43, said Bowie’s great gift to the world was to embolden musicians and others in the creative fields to embrace a “sense of adventure” and not be tied down to any style. Chua has over the years played many of Bowie’s classics such as “Golden Years”, “Fashion”, “Rebel Rebel” and “Let’s Dance”.

Fans in Singapore were twice treated to Bowie’s performances, during his “Serious Moonlight Tour” in 1983 and “A Reality Tour” in 2004.

Tan recalled rushing down to the old National Stadium to catch the 1983 gig after sitting for the last paper of his A-level examinations, and said it was a “mind-blowing experience”. Mathews caught both performances and said the 2004 gig was one of his favourite of all time.

It was just on Friday (8 January) that Bowie celebrated the release of his new album “Blackstar” on his 69th birthday, and critics lavished praise on it over the weekend. As it turned out, “Blackstar” was the last of Bowie’s 25 albums that spanned almost five decades, and music observers are predicting a surge in sales of his back catalogue.

Mathews said “Blackstar was “really good”, and the creative depth of the album was not what he had expected at Bowie’s age.

“It is kind of experimental, jazzy and avant-garde. That’s the shock of it because he had just celebrated his birthday. The impact was even harder to take,” Mathews lamented.

List of favourite album and song by David Bowie:

Kelvin Tan – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980) / Let’s Dance (1983)

Kevin Mathews - Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)  / Teenage Wildlife (1980)

Chris Ho – Diamond Dogs (1974) / Sweet Thing (1974)

Robin Chua – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars (1972) / Ziggy Stardust (1972)

Sulaiman Supian – Aladdin Sane (1973) / Ashes to Ashes (1980)