Melding music and literature

From left: Poet Tan Chee Lay, Sa's Andy Chia, Natalie Tse and Cheryl Ong, and writer Hassan Hasaa'Ree Ali.
From left: Poet Tan Chee Lay, Sa's Andy Chia, Natalie Tse and Cheryl Ong, and writer Hassan Hasaa'Ree Ali.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

Writers and musicians wade hand in hand through the murky depths of fading memories in Cache, a collaborative show that unites music and literature at the Singapore Writers Festival.

Cache, which is co-presented with the Esplanade, comprises two works. One sees poet Jennifer Anne Champion and dream-pop band enec.e join forces to give voice to loss and longing.

The other piece draws from science-fiction writer Hassan Hasaa' Ree Ali's experience as a full-time registered nurse.

"I've nursed elderly patients with dementia in the wards, so it struck me: How would someone feel knowing that he's been diagnosed with dementia, that years down the road, he will lose his memories of himself and his loved ones?" says the 37-year-old.

Hassan, whose collection of stories Selamat Malam Caesar (Goodnight Caesar) was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize, is working with poet Tan Chee Lay and music collective Sa, which combines traditional elements of Chinese music with modern techniques.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Nov 12, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $25 from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)

He read up on how dementia progresses and wrote Warkah Kepada Diriku (Letter To Myself), while Chee worked on a Chinese-language poem, whose title in English is Farewell To Myself.

Bringing these written words to life in music is the collective Sa.

Its guzheng player Natalie Tse says: "We tried out and talked about different ideas together, explored concepts and the execution of sound - whether music or recitation of words.

"We wanted to go through the process of exploration together and we wanted to go through the exploratory process of each other's art forms together as well."

The two writers, she says, came on board with an open mind.

Tse, 29, quips: "Sa's music isn't exactly always 'nice' on the ears. We challenge boundaries and we create sounds that no one would expect from musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments.

"We explore discomfort, dissonance, noise, all of which we feel relates to the theme of dementia, what a patient with dementia may feel during a state of confusion. Chee Lay and Hassan took to it extremely smoothly."

Hassan says the process of collaboration opened his eyes to new possibilities for the written word.

"We are living in a world with no borders now. Gone are the days that literature is just written words on a piece of paper," he says.

"There should and must be more collaboration between writers, musicians and artists. There has to be a channel for writers, musicians and artists to come together, exchange creative ideas and complement one another."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

Other performances


Laugh and learn in this two-hour show that will bring together the who's who of the Malay literature scene and personalities from Singapore's arts and entertainment circles, from poets to television celebrities, for various kinds of comedy acts (or lawak). Pantun masters GT Lye and M. Saffri A. Manaf will also engage in a poetry battle. This session is in Malay and is co-presented with Berita Harian.

Where: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place When: Nov 5, 8pm Admission: $30 from Sistic


Poetry, music and dance come together and cultures unite - imagine the Indian classical dance forms of kathakali and bharatanatyam set to the sounds of the Chinese pipa - in this performance inspired by the Chinese legend of the star-crossed Butterfly Lovers. The piece is conceptualised and choreographed by Bhaskar's Arts Academy and co-presented with The Select Centre.

Where: Play Den, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane When: Nov 4, 8.30pm Admission: Festival Pass ($20 from Sistic)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Melding music and literature'. Subscribe