Radio DJs who are singers and musicians in their own right

Local DJs who double as singers and songwriters say there is no conflict of interest between their dual roles

You hear her voice on the radio, reading out traffic reports, introducing your favourite tunes and, if she wanted to, Claressa Monteiro could also entertain you by breaking out into song in a spontaneous live performance.

The Kiss92 DJ is also an award-winning jazz artist with a music career spanning three decades. In 2006, she turned DJ with Gold 905FM, a station which was also playing her songs at that time.

Monteiro, 46, says: "Of course, the music director had to make sure none of my songs was played while I was on air. It would be weird to go, 'Hi, this is Claressa Monteiro, now this is Claressa Monteiro.'"

She is among a handful of radio personalities here who perform their own music when they are not presenting the music of other artists on the airwaves.

Monteiro's Kiss92 colleagues John Klass and Joshua Simon, as well as Vanessa Fernandez of Lush 99.5FM, are also singers, musicians and songwriters in their own right.

All of them say there is no conflict of interest between their dual roles, to promote music and to make music, although Klass and Simon admit their DJ jobs have helped them as musicians.

Vanessa Fernandez of Lush 99.5FM has performed at high-profile local music events, including indie music festival Laneway and the Singapore Grand Prix. PHOTO: COURTESY OF VANESSA FERNANDEZ

In the local radio industry, it is usually the music director's job to decide the songs that get aired on the stations, so the DJ-cum-artists themselves do not end up playing their own tunes on their shows.

In the early 1990s, Klass was a singer and bass player in local pop trio Kick!, which had hit songs such as Jane and Freedom (In Me) on local and Malaysian radio stations. The band picked up two awards, Best Group and Best Song, for Jane at the 1993 Radio Music Awards.

What got them to that level of success was Klass' job at Rediffusion, Singapore's first subscription- based radio station, as a DJ from 1991 to 1996.

His boss at the station, the late radio veteran Juanita Melson, introduced him to the head of the Singapore arm of Japanese record label Pony Canyon, which eventually signed Kick!.

Klass, 47, says: "It's who you know in the end that gets you somewhere, it's not what you have or what you can do.

"If I had not gone to Rediffusion, I wouldn't have that connection because I would just be some guy from the outside trying to get in."

Besides going on air for Kiss92 on weekdays from 4 to 8pm, Klass is still actively involved in making music, just not with Kick!, which disbanded in 1997.

His upcoming project is The Suits Brothers Show, a music-driven online talk-show series that will see him sing and host in each episode.

In 2015, he released a single and music video, The Point, featuring Nadirah Zaidi, a guest singer, which has clocked more than 140,000 YouTube views.

Simon, who has been a DJ with Kiss92 since last year, is also keen to leverage his experience as a radio DJ for his music career.

Last year, he released his debut single, Murda, a collaboration with club DJ duo Bounce Squad, and he is working on more songs for a fulllength release.

"I joined radio just so I could understand the climate of the music scene here. I wanted to meet more musicians, I wanted to understand how the music industry works and work with the record labels," says Simon, 26.

When you're up on stage as a singer, you have to interact  with the crowd, you have to find  a way to connect with it. Radio  is the same way, even if you  don't see your listeners, you  still get to make a connection.


He meets many industry insiders in his radio job, including other home-grown musicians, such as Jonathan Chua from The Sam Willows and singer-songwriter Inch Chua, two of the guest artists who ended up playing on his songs.

Lush 99.5FM's Fernandez has a bigger picture in mind for her dual roles as DJ and musician."I genuinely feel that my personal purpose is to contribute to Singapore's music culture," says the 34-year-old.

She made her music debut in the early 2000s as a singer in hip-hop/pop/rock acts Urban Xchange and Parking Lot Pimp before joining 987 in 2006 as a DJ. She left the station in 2010 to become a full-time artist and later moved to Los Angeles to pursue music.

In 2013, she returned to Singapore and joined Lush 99.5FM as a presenter. She was later made the station's assistant programme director. She manages a team that includes fellow DJ-cum-singer Chris Ho and also comes up with partnership strategies.

She says: "I want to help the culture in whatever ways I can, by having more Singapore artists on the radio, working with people to do more shows for artists or highlighting the many different awesome shows that are happening in Singapore. That's very important to me."

Also known by the nom de guerre Vandetta, she has performed at high-profile music events here, including indie music festival Laneway (she was one of the first homegrown acts to play at the event in 2014), a headlining show at the Esplanade Recital Studio and sets at the Singapore Grand Prix.

She is working on an EP titled Mindkiller, which features collaborations with other Singapore acts, including electronic artist Kiat and producer Fauxe.

For Monteiro, who says that she has always loved radio, "being on radio and being a music artist leads to the same goal". She says: "When you're up on stage as a singer, you have to interact with the crowd, you have to find a way to connect with it. Radio is the same way, even if you don't see your listeners, you still get to make a connection."

She is on air three hours a day on weekdays, from 10am to 1pm, which leaves her with time for other activities. Her most recent album, On The Other Side Of Me, was released in 2015 and she performs gigs three to four times a month.

The mother of two sons, aged 22 and 19, also runs a music consultancy, which writes and arranges music for clients such as the Asian Civilisations Museum and technology giant IBM.

"As a singer, in between songs, you're interacting with people on a very personal, very one-on-one level, so going on to radio was very natural for me. Radio and singing are very similar disciplines and are very complementary."

A songwriter's journey

If you see Joshua Simon on the train or bus, chances are he is polishing up his lyrics or coming up with fresh melodies.

The radio DJ, who hosts the evening slots on Kiss92, is also a budding pop artist who is working on songs for his debut album.

"I spend a lot of time travelling on the train or bus," says the 26-year-old. "I'll listen to music and a couple of phrases come to mind, and then I'll start penning everything down.

"I listen to everything, from Philip Glass piano music to something heavy, like Marilyn Manson. I just soak in all the music I'm listening to and start writing based on that."

Last year, he released a hip-hop/dance track, Murda, a collaboration with home-grown duo Bounce Squad.

"The album is a genre-shifting record. I'm going through all the things that inspire me. Murda is a horror-dance song about a guy fighting his demons and it's got a very cinematic feel to it. But the next single, Paradise, will be a stripped-down ballad with violins and guitars."

Simon studied film at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and did his national service in the Singapore Armed Forces Film Unit, but says that music is his first love.

His entry into radio in 2012 was accidental. "I joined SPH Radio to shoot videos and edit them, but the people there told me they liked how I sound and how opinionated I am, and next thing I knew, I was on air."

He started hosting on SPH Radio's Hot FM 91.3, which later became One FM 91.3, and switched to sister station Kiss92 last year.

And while he plays contemporary pop tunes on the air, he does not see himself playing his own songs on his radio shows.

"I don't make music for radio, I've never made music for mainstream audiences that will go next to music by Britney Spears or Bruno Mars, although I love their music. A lot of the things I go through and want to write about are heavy things and are not songs to party to."

Eddino Abdul Hadi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'DJs mixing it up'. Print Edition | Subscribe