In this series, we’re speaking to some of Visit Singapore’s expert Passion Ambassadors, to find out what they do, why they love it so much, and to get their insider tips on life in the Lion City. In this edition, we chat to talented Singaporean singer-songwriter, Nathan Hartono. Here’s what he had to say…
Can you tell us about your role as a Passion Ambassador for Visit Singapore?
I’ve had a wonderful time representing Visit Singapore both at home and overseas. As a born-and-bred Singaporean, I’ve always been brimming with pride regarding Singapore’s unique identity and one-of-a-kind culture. Whenever friends visit from overseas, I love showing them around the many faces of Singapore. Dare I say it, I’m a pretty good guide too! So to be doing it on a somewhat official capacity for STB has been quite surreal.
When did you realise you could sing? And how did you become a singer-songwriter?
I always loved singing as a child, but it was a bit of a secret I kept to myself. When I was 14, my parents learned about this talent during karaoke, and I started to realise that the sounds I was making were pleasurable to others too. A few years later, I started branching out from singing covers to trying to figure out my own musical identity and sound.
What was it like to appear on the reality TV show, ‘Sing, China!’? How did you feel?
It was an out-of-body experience. Looking back, none of it makes sense. I didn’t speak the language very well at the time, and I was extremely foreign to the Chinese music scene (even locally). Most of the time spent during the competition was confusing and alienating. But I’m glad it happened the way it did; I learnt so much.
What makes Singapore’s music scene so special?
More than any music scene in the world, I think Singapore’s is one of the most closely knit. Everybody knows each other, or is at most one degree of separation away. Because of that, collaboration with anybody is usually a text away. And for the most part, I believe every musician in Singapore is working towards the same goal: elevating the local scene to new heights. So there isn’t as much of a sense of rivalry or unhealthy competition.
How has it changed in recent years?
The scene has gotten exponentially bigger over the last few years. So now, the likelihood of everyone knowing each other is getting smaller and smaller. I’m not mad about it. It just means that the industry is expanding, more music is getting out there, more young people are getting inspired to pursue music as a viable option. It makes me so happy.
And what makes Singapore such a sociable city?
The fact that everybody knows everybody. Most days out in the town will result in you bumping into one or two friends. It’s like a big village.
Can you tell us about some exciting new Singaporean artists to watch out for?
The hip hop scene has been exploding in Singapore, with acts such as Fariz Jabba and Yung Raja making major waves. Vivien Yap is another talented young singer-songwriter. And Disco Hue has been steadily releasing amazing music.
Where do you go to hear upcoming artists perform live in the city?
For original music, there isn’t really a go-to spot anymore. Lately it’s been through underground events and launch parties.
Any other favourite music spots or festivals in Singapore?
Tons of music festivals – from EDM raves to indie garden parties. Just look them up, there are several within the year and probably a bunch of new ones coming up that I haven’t even heard of. For music spots, there’s Timbre for something more upbeat, Maduro for something jazzy, Le Noir for something in between, or my personal favorite, Friday nights at Going Om in Haji Lane, where there’s a simple live band and dancing in the streets.
Where does the music crowd hang out and have fun, when it comes to food and drink?
The Haji Lane area, Parklane area and occasionally Clarke Quay. But these days, more often than not, after an exhausting gig we just go to someone’s place to chill.
What do you do to unwind in Singapore? Do you have some favourite quiet places?
The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a personal favourite for morning runs. Night cycling along the skyline is amazing too (from Esplanade to Kallang to Gardens by the Bay).
What’s next for you?
More music, both in China and in Singapore!
Any other tips for visitors to Singapore?
Find some trustworthy food blogs.