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A HEART FOR OTHER ARTS

Juz-B sang Mandopop before Shila Amzah did

Meet some Singaporeans who are keen on the cultures of other ethnic groups

Malay a cappella group Juz-B like to remind people that they sang in Mandarin long before popular Malaysian singer Shila Amzah did.

Shila became well-known in China in 2012 when she won Asian Wave, a Chinese reality singing show. In 2014, she came in third in I Am A Singer 2, another Chinese singing competiton.

But Juz-B - comprising seven members in their 20s and 30s from different professions - had already wowed Chinese audiences with their performances of Chinese songs, beginning in 2004 when they went to Taiwan for an Asian collegiate a cappella competition.

 

"We sang a Chinese song because we hoped to score more points," says "Dee" Hamza Mohamed, 34, a vocal coach and one of the group's founding members.

Their rendition of the song, Qing Fei De Yi, from the 2001 Taiwanese hit drama, Meteor Garden, drew loud cheers from the largely Chinese crowd.

He says: "We could literally see jaws drop. We felt really connected with the Chinese audience."

They came in second and won four out of seven awards in the competition.

But what sealed their reputation as a Malay group who could sing in Mandarin was after they took part in a Chinese reality singing show here in 2007 - Channel U's SuperBand competition. They had to sing in Mandarin week after week for a few months.

Though they did not take formal lessons, the group picked up the language by interacting with their Chinese friends.

The girlfriend of one of the group members, who is Chinese, taught them to pronounce the words and explained the meaning of the lyrics so that they understood what they were singing.

Hamza says: "It was stressful. We had to memorise the lyrics in hanyu pinyin and remember the correct diction. A couple of times, some of us forgot the lyrics while on stage."

Nonetheless, they made it to the top 10. Since then, the group have continued to sing in Mandarin at various local events and venues. They also sing in English and sometimes in Malay.

Next year, they hope to release a Chinese single and are looking for someone who can help them write the lyrics and arrange the song.

Hamza adds: "As Singaporeans, we should try to go beyond speaking just our mother tongue. We are a multi-racial country after all."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Juz-B sang Mandopop before Shila Amzah did'. Print Edition | Subscribe