Home-grown acts add soul to Getai gigs

Artists Dru Chen (above) and Charlie Lim at Getai Soul.
Artists Dru Chen (above) and Charlie Lim at Getai Soul.PHOTO: JENSEN CHING
Artists Dru Chen and Charlie Lim (above) at Getai Soul.
Artists Dru Chen and Charlie Lim (above) at Getai Soul.PHOTO: JENSEN CHING

REVIEW / CONCERT

GETAI SOUL 2016

Pearl's Hill City Park Last Saturday and Sunday

Getai Soul, the latest in a series of multi-act gigs by Singapore organisers Getai Group, was not only its most ambitious edition to date, but also the one that was most true to the spirit of getai shows.

After all, what is a getai show if it is not within earshot of residents in several apartment complexes?

In fact, second-night headliner Charlie Lim joked about police coming to shut down the show.

In another nod to getai, a heartland attraction for many older Singaporeans, entry was free for those aged above 55 (as well as for those younger than seven). So curious onlookers, including elderly members of the public from around the neighbourhood, were seen wandering in to catch a glimpse of this music event in Chinatown.

About 700 concertgoers turned up for both nights, half the number the organisers expected. This was probably due to the relatively high prices - $48 a night for a mostly home-grown line-up.

While the crowd was small, it added to the intimate vibe of this festival, which was held in a park that felt more like a clearing in the middle of the forest, complete with mosquitoes and 90 per cent humidity.

The quality of the 16 acts on the line-up pretty much made all the physical discomforts worth it, though.

With headliners such as Lim, The Steve McQueens and Dru Chen, as well as sets by the hybrid R&B/ jazz/electronic/indie sounds of TAJ, Raghajazz, bittymacbeth and Vandetta, the festival was the most prominent gathering of the local scene's vibrant neo-soul community.

The first night's headliner Chen, who played the 45-minute last set at 9.15pm, brought the house down with an effortless soul-pop playlist that drew most of the crowd to the front of the stage, something earlier performers had not managed to do.

With soul running through his veins, it was only fitting that he was the closing act that night.

It was almost as if the stage was too small to contain the pint-sized performer, who transitioned between the electric guitar and keys like a seasoned performer, tearing up the stage with his indubitable energy.

His set-up included a minimal horn section - one trumpeter and one saxophonist, both of whom were stars in their own right - as well as drums and bass. All he was missing was a bevy of back-up singers to add lush layers to his vocals.

Channelling his inner Prince, he sported a head wrap and printed dhoti pants while shredding it on the guitar, showing off his falsetto and flirting with the crowd on the R&B-influenced track You Got It Babe and funk-laced You Bring Out The Best In Me.

While Chen's set was celebratory, Lim's closing set on the second day was more contemplative, but no less stunning.

With a vocal delivery that ranged from low, bluesy tones to a stirring falsetto, he was matched in his affective singing only by the adroitness of his band, The Mothership.

Bitter, a heartbreaking tune off his recent Time/Space album, dipped, soared and glided effortlessly among seemingly disparate parts and time signatures, while many in the audience stood transfixed. "I have only so many non-depressive songs," Lim joked at one point.

It was not all local indie flavours.

There was regional representation at the festival as well, with Malaysian singer Najwa Mahiaddin preceding Chen's set. Her honeyed vocals and flawless delivery, especially on the ghazal (lyric poem) Seri Mersing, were a heady respite on a particularly warm Singapore evening.

Seeming to fit in less well were the performances by nanyin musicians from Siong Leng Musical Association and Sin Ee Lye Heng Teochew Opera Troupe.

But having cultural performances among the modern, contemporary acts reinforces the Singapore vibes of the festival and adds to the authentic getai feel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Home-grown acts add soul to Getai gigs'. Print Edition | Subscribe