Heritage goes hip at Singapore HeritageFest

A group of dancers from Soul Shakers Singapura (above) bust out moves to hits from the 1960s on Bussorah Street over the weekend during A-Go-Go Night @ Kampong Gelam.
A group of dancers from Soul Shakers Singapura (above) bust out moves to hits from the 1960s on Bussorah Street over the weekend during A-Go-Go Night @ Kampong Gelam.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Participants checking out the former Shaw Malay Film Studios (above) at Jalan Ampas.
Participants checking out the former Shaw Malay Film Studios (above) at Jalan Ampas.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

With more than 130 activities, the Singapore HeritageFest drew more than 100,000 people over its first weekend

Hips swayed and arms windmilled when the 1960s came calling in Kampong Glam last weekend.

As the afternoon light faded into evening, dancers and musicians had the crowd gathered in Bussorah Street moving along to pop yeh yeh classics from bands that ruled that era, such as The Siglap Five and The Swallows.

A man carried his son onto the street, pacing around with him in a whimsical waltz. Steaming cups of teh sarabat (milky tea with ginger) from the nameless but legendary hole-in-the-wall little stall nearby went cold as diners clapped along.

As local indie band The Pinholes took on 1960s Malay pop star A. Halim's instantly recognisable Salam Mesra, Mr Mohamad Salim, just starting on a plate of nasi goreng at the Kampong Glam Cafe, set his utensils down to snap his fingers to the beat.

The 60-year-old, who has a bad hip, says in Malay: "I can't dance anymore. Last time, I would have gotten up and danced. But my favourite music is from the 1960s and 1970s, so every time I hear a song from then, I just want to move."

The special mini-concert, A-Go-Go Night@Kampong Gelam, was part of the ongoing Singapore HeritageFest, which runs for three weekends ending this Sunday.

  • Festival highlights

  • The Singapore HeritageFest draws to a close this weekend with a jam-packed array of events. The Straits Times picks three worth checking out.

    Movies Under The Ubin Stars

    Unwind under the night sky with two films. One is the world premiere of Singapore film-maker Royston Tan's new documentary Homecoming, which features the stories of former Ubin residents.

    Another is fellow Singapore director Kirsten Tan's award- winning film Dahdi (Granny), about an elderly widow living on Pulau Ubin who comes across a young girl seeking asylum. It won Best South-east Asian Short Film at the Silver Screen Awards 2014.

    Where: Wayang Stage, Pulau Ubin When:Saturday, 7.30pm Admission: Free. The public is advised to buy an SHF - Ubin Access Pass ($10), which includes access to the designated seating area for the screening plus two-way boat and bus rides. Info: heritagefest.sg/events/movies-under-the-ubin-stars

    Art Day Out! x Singapore HeritageFest At Gillman Barracks

    Highlights include screenings of films based on the theme of memory, as well as guided tours.

    Where: Gillman Barracks When: Saturday, 2 to 8pm Admission: Free Info: www.gillmanbarracks.com/others/Gillman-Barracks/1044

    Eurasian Heritage Bus Tour

    The Eurasian Association's bus tour will drop by places such as Saint Joseph's Church and Popo & Nana's Delight, a stall in Maxwell Food Centre that sells Eurasian and Peranakan food.

    Where: Eurasian Heritage Centre, 139 Ceylon Road When: Saturday and Sunday, 5pm Admission: $5 Info: eurasianheritagebustour.peatix.com

Though the festival organised by the National Heritage Board is now in its 13th edition, it was Mr Salim's first time attending any of its programmes. The retired salesman, who was with a group of friends, says: "I like that it's out in the open and entertaining. You can stop and watch even if you're just walking by.

"I think when we talk about heritage, we always think, so boring. But actually, it's everything, right? Entertainment such as movies and music are also heritage. If you can make people see that, they'll be interested."

This year's festival boasts a rich spread of more than 130 activities, including neighbourhood tours, talks and concerts. It drew more than 100,000 people in the first weekend.

While Bussorah Street offered a glimpse into the well-loved tunes of the 1960s, other parts of Singapore had stories of their own to share last weekend too.

There were 75 programmes taking place, among them the Before Dawn @Tanglin Halt Tour. Participants met at 4am last weekend in Tanglin Halt for a glimpse of the neighbourhood's early-morning routines as they followed a veteran hawker setting up shop and delivery men sorting out the daily newspapers.

Over in Balestier, some got to whet their appetite for history. Many are familiar with the tastes and smells of Balestier Road - but they are barely acquainted with its past.

For sales assistant Alicia Tan, 45, the area is defined by its gastronomical offerings: flaky tau sar piah from the Loong Fatt Eating House & Confectionery, the strong aroma of coffee wafting from the Lam Yeo Coffee Powder Factory and pillowy loaves of bread from Ghee Leong.

"I usually come to Balestier to makan (Malay for eat) and go home. I've never really thought about why it's called Balestier Road or what the area used to be... I knew Ghee Leong, Loong Fatt and Lam Yeo have all been here for more than 50 years - older than me. But that's all I knew."

During the two-hour-long food and heritage trail around Balestier Road led by volunteer guide Belinda Mok, 55, Ms Tan got to know a little more about the area.

For instance, it was named after American merchant Joseph Balestier, owner of a sugarcane plantation there in the 19th century. Loong Fatt, a Balestier Road stalwart of close to 70 years, had its start selling Western cakes and not the bean- paste filled Teochew pastry it is known for today.

The tour also took the group to historical spots such as the former Shaw Malay Film Studios at Jalan Ampas and to long-standing food stores such as the Ghee Leong traditional bakery.

Ms Jan Gibson, a retired pharmacist from Australia, was in Singapore for a holiday when a friend suggested they sign up for the trail.

The 66-year-old says with a laugh: "Learning about the history of food stores? That's amazing. Shows how seriously Singaporeans take their food."

The festival ends this weekend with a slew of programmes unfolding around the island and even on Pulau Ubin. Most of the Ubin programmes - including cooking classes set in a century-old kampung house - are fully booked.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Heritage goes hip'. Print Edition | Subscribe