A testament to power of music in a pandemic



Dick Lee

KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT

Last Tuesday

To write down the many talents of composer Dick Lee would require a book, not just one article. To fully appreciate his musical journey, which dates back to the 1970s, would definitely take watching more than just one concert.

This was my fifth Dick Lee show, but the 64-year-old still surprised with stories from his illustrious past, during which he has written hits for the biggest Cantopop stars, been conferred a Cultural Medallion award and penned several National Day Parade songs, including the ever-popular Home.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, his intimate 90-minute solo recital - with just him and a Steinway grand piano - was testament to the power of music to connect and comfort, especially in uncertain times.

A Peranakan Singaporean who studied Malay in school, Lee's journey of finding his identity has been fundamental to his songwriting. His iconic works - Life Story, Fried Rice Paradise and Bunga Sayang - which I have come to expect at every one of his concerts, did not disappoint.

What was new was when Lee shared stories and songs from his time living in Japan and Hong Kong in the 1990s. During the show, he sang his version of the Japanese song Sukiyaki, as well as Paradise In My Heart, which Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam sang in Cantonese in 1990.

Another highlight was when he played a rare clip of himself performing his Cantonese classic Chase with the late Hong Kong singer Leslie Cheung during a 1999 concert in Hiroshima. As the clip played, Lee launched into a live performance of the number, bridging past and present.

It is hard to avoid name-dropping when recounting Lee's distinguished career. Singaporean stars Jimmy Ye and Tanya Chua have sung back-up for him at some point. Hong Kong Heavenly King Aaron Kwok once taught him to dance. Lee would make mee siam for the late singer Anita Mui when she visited his apartment.

Lee's interest in songwriting waned at the end of the 1990s. He said, however, that in 2020, owing to the isolation and introspection brought on by the pandemic, he found himself sitting at the piano and writing songs once more.

Towards the show's end, he played a new love song, Strong, the joyful lyrics of which were - like many of his earlier works - heartfelt and highly diaristic.

Evidently, a pandemic is not going to halt Lee's starry, adventure-filled journey. May it never end.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2021, with the headline 'A testament to power of music in a pandemic'. Subscribe