My Bag

Singer Sachiyo Nakagaki: born Japanese, thoroughly Singaporean

Japanese singer-songwriter Sachiyo Nakagaki uses Singlish and ethnic instruments in her songs and performs in various languages here and in Japan

Asked to describe her music, Japanese singer-songwriter Sachiyo Nakagaki refers to the name of a popular Singapore dish: rojak.

Born in Tokyo, Japan, but raised in Singapore, the 40something celebrates the cultures of both countries in her music.

Nakagaki says: "It is difficult to classify my music in a single genre. It is a mix of jazz, pop, bossa nova and traditional sounds.

"Growing up in Singapore, I've gotten used to the mixed cultures here and I want to reflect that multiracial element in my music."

Rojak, which means mix in Malay, is also the name of her 2006 sophomore album.

She will be celebrating her 20th anniversary in the music industry on July 29 with a concert at the Esplanade Recital Studio.

She came to Singapore at the age of four when her parents moved here to work. She studied at the Singapore Japanese School. At 15, she went back to Japan for high school and university. She is now based in Singapore.


Sachiyo Nakagaki sees herself as a music ambassador for Singapore and Japan. PHOTOS: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The warm and affable singer performs in English, Japanese, Mandarin and Malay at jazz clubs and concert venues here and in Japan.

She uses ethnic instruments in her compositions, including the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument; the erhu, a Chinese string instrument; and the sheng, a Chinese reed instrument.

She also incorporates Singlish in her songs, such as Lah Lah Lah Singapura and Makan Paradise Singapore.

"Many of my songs are inspired by my life, so of course, Singlish is included."

The local slang was even the subject of her English Literature thesis at Hosei University in Tokyo - the first time it had been written about at the school, Nakagaki says.

"I wanted to be different from others and be original. I wrote a 60-page thesis on the past, present and future of Singlish. It included research on Singlish grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and influences."

She says her experience living in two countries also allows her to bridge the gap between the two cultures, which she actively does by producing and participating in cultural exchange events and projects.

"I want people to enjoy the differences. Having lived in both countries, I think it is easier for me to be an interpreter of sorts for both sides and help people from Japan and Singapore to understand one another better."

In 2009 and 2012, the Embassy of Japan here invited her to sing the Singapore and Japan national anthems at the Japan National Day event. She was the first Japanese singer to sing both anthems.

  • ON HER BAG 

    I bought this bag from a Jim Thompson store in Cameron Highlands. I love the combination of red and black. This brand is a favourite of mine because of the Asian influences in the fabric and patterns. This is probably my sixth or seventh bag from the label.

Nakagaki has always wanted to be a singer since she was a child. In 1995, she left her job as an accounts executive in the advertising industry in Japan to pursue her dream of making music full-time and enrolled in a vocal training school.

In 2003, she released her debut album, Sachiyo Sings Singapore.

In 2011, her third album, My Life, My Songs, was launched with a sold-out gig at the Esplanade Recital Studio, her first solo concert in Singapore. The album featured input from both Singaporean and Japanese musicians and producers, including local composer Dick Lee.

Asked what she loves about singing and performing, she says: "I can be myself on stage and it is very freeing. Performing and singing is also the best way for me to communicate with others."

She hopes to continue in her role as a music ambassador for Singapore and Japan.

"I will continue to produce new music and concerts that can bring together Singaporean and Japanese musicians and singers. I want to continue to bridge the gap between both cultures."


Things in her bag

FILES

I keep my concert notes and various documents in these. I prefer files with interesting designs because plain ones are boring. I sometimes give them to friends as gifts because they are so useful.

WATER BOTTLE

I need to stay hydrated, so I carry this everywhere. The bottle has a Japanese-influenced design while the pouch has a batik print. A lot of my things have cultural prints from both Singapore and Japan.

FUROSHIKI

This is a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth, which is used to transport items such as clothes and books. I have this so that I won’t have to use a plastic bag when I have more things to carry or if I buy anything.

SNACKS

I have organic dried ginger to warm up my body. I also have this sweet called Voice Candy. It works to soothe my throat and I use it just before I need to sing.

STICKERS AND TAPE

I love stationery. I also like writing letters to express my appreciation to friends and people whom I work with. So I use these to decorate the thank-you notes that I write. I have stickers in both Japanese and English.

PERFUME

This is a refillable perfume bottle. I’m using an Orchid scent from Shiseido. I like the orchid because it is the national flower of Singapore and it smells sweet and soothing.

Correction note: This story has been edited to clarify that Sachiyo Nakagaki is not a Singapore permanent resident.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline 'Culture chameleon'. Print Edition | Subscribe