RECORD of a pandemic

With travel and gigs put mostly on hold, local musicians have seized the downtime to write new songs and release albums, offering an uplifting note in this pandemic

With the pandemic affecting their live shows and projects overseas, Singapore musicians have turned to writing new songs and recording albums in the past year.

Veteran singer-songwriter Ramli Sarip's new album is his first to be made in Singapore since the mid-1980s, while indie pioneers The Oddfellows' latest full-length release is their first since 1992.

By the end of the year, pop singer Gentle Bones, one of the local English music scene's most popular acts, will release his first album since he made his debut eight years ago.

For Ramli, 69, his 23rd album Rasa (Feel) would not have materialised if not for the pandemic.

Since the mid-1980s, he has spent most of his time staging concerts and working on music projects in Malaysia and Indonesia. Unable to travel since February last year and with gigs few and far between, he focused on working on new songs with Singaporean musicians such as guitarist Addy Cradle, percussionist Riduan Zalani and bassist Din Safari.

Gentle Bones, whose real name is Joel Tan, says he has been more productive with new music since he had to cut down on live shows and travel. He previously released only EPs and singles.

"To be honest, the album would not have existed if not for this whole situation right now, because it forced me to focus on what I could do, which was to make music in a confined space," adds the 27-year-old.

A firm believer in musical collaborations, he not only worked with fellow home-grown artistes such as Benjamin Kheng, but also worked online with regional ones such as Taiwanese singer Karencici and Filipino singer Clara Benin.

For members of The Oddfellows, music became a solace in these trying times. Many of the songs in their new album, What's Yours And Mine, were inspired by life in the pandemic.

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Kelvin Tan, 57, says: "The whole idea behind it is that during Covid-19, everyone's suffering, it is everyone's experience. We have this connection, we're going through this together."

Singer-songwriter lewloh, who is based in the United States and recorded his album in Nashville, had to adjust promotion strategies for his second album, michigan/missinghim, which was released in August.

Not being able to play the new songs live in front of an audience has been a challenge, the 25-year-old says.

"Usually, live shows help me promote my new projects and better connect with my listeners, but the new normal became live-stream shows. That was definitely a hard adjustment. There was no longer anyone in the audience to laugh at my bad jokes and give me cues as to whether I was doing a good job or not."

Singer-songwriter Gareth Fernandez, who started work on the songs on his debut album Lost In You before the pandemic, was forced to innovate. Instead of a live concert to launch the album, which dropped in August, the 31-year-old filmed and produced an online docuseries.

"To be able to produce a quality product while keeping the team safe, we had to do lots of planning, late-night after-work meetings, full days of recording and filming, DIY (do-it-yourself) transportation and setting up of props, sets and lights. And the list goes on."

At the end of the day, musicians have their roles to play in a world beset by the pandemic.

Joel Tan says: "We shouldn't cancel out the fact that we, as artistes, can contribute to the collective struggle that is going on right now. That is what I think my fellow artistes, producers and I have been trying to do as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2021, with the headline ' RECORD of a pandemic'. Subscribe