Local performers rally around Blu Jaz as deadline for appeal on public entertainment licence looms

Jazz singer Joanna Dong and DJ Koflow have rallied around live entertainment venue Blu Jaz Cafe.
Jazz singer Joanna Dong and DJ Koflow have rallied around live entertainment venue Blu Jaz Cafe.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Performers like jazz singer Joanna Dong and DJ Koflow are among local celebrities rallying around live entertainment venue Blu Jaz Cafe, which faces having its public entertainment licence revoked next Monday (Oct 22).

The longstanding venue has been a proving ground for many singers, bands and DJs in the local scene.

Ms Dong said that Blu Jaz losing its entertainment licence "will undoubtedly stunt the growth of local music".

In an impassioned status update posted on Facebook on Oct 16, Ms Dong said that Blu Jaz Cafe was "pivotal" to her journey on Chinese reality singing contest Sing China last year, where the 36-year-old placed third.

"I don't know if we will be able to build another scene at another venue. I don't know if the community is strong enough to withstand this closure. I don't know if the vibe can be recreated in another place, I don't know if anybody else cares at all that this will undoubtedly stunt the growth of local music."

"Silence the music at Blu Jaz, and Singapore silences the potentials of countless others like myself," she wrote.

The three-storey venue has played host to everything from jazz bands to hip-hop DJs and spoken word and comedy performances, and is a stalwart of the Kampong Glam area, having been around for 13 years.

However, the venue received a notice saying its public entertainment licence would be terminated having exceeded the limit of demerit points because of two previous offences.

These included failing to ensure its windows and doors were closed in July 2016 and November last year, and two offences of overcrowding and holding over 20 per cent of the allowed capacity in April and May this year.

The cafe can continue to operate but it can no longer hold live performances.

"All the finest musicians we have in Singapore came from the influence of Blu Jaz," said DJ Koflow.

The 37-year-old, whose real name is Wayne Liu, started playing at the venue when it first opened and even started many of its popular hip-hop nights like Solid Gold, which spun off to mega clubs like Zouk.

"It's the place where many musicians I know go to look for inspiration, because everywhere else all you get is cover music," noted Mr Liu. "But here, younger musicians get to see more experienced ones free form and improvise."

He recalls taking his DJ set-up from the second to the first floor, where the live bands typically play and jamming with them.

"There are not a lot of owners around who will let you improvise and jam but they understood that improvisation is the key to creativity and growth as a musician," he added.

 

While jazz-centric venues such as Jazz@Southbridge and Sultan Jazz have closed, there is a smattering of other jazz venues such as Cool Cats at The NCO club in South Beach.

But Singapore jazz veteran Jeremy Monteiro, 58, feels that Blu Jaz is the "last bastion of the live music scene here".

"There are no venues that does what Blu Jaz does, where it's inclusive to both the musicians and the audience," said Mr Monteiro. "It allows young and upcoming musicians the platform to perform, and secondly the accessibility to people who are more middle class and who may not be able to afford an expensive cover charge."

However, he added that Blu Jaz "has to see what they can do to comply both with the noise issues and overcrowding".

"At the end of the day, everyone will be in an uproar about a club closing, but what happens if there's a fire or the floor collapses and people are injured or killed - then the furore will be of a worse kind," he said.

According to Mr Monteiro, the National Arts Council (NAC) and Blu Jaz Cafe have been in discussions "to investigate and try to bring the parties together to discuss the matter and see if a compromise and a solution can be reached".

"We are ready to help facilitate conversations, where necessary," said NAC's Ms Elaine Ng, senior director of sector development (performing arts).

In response to queries from The Straits Times, she said: "NAC believes that performing arts venues need to ensure the safety of patrons and musicians. Blu Jaz Café is well-regarded by the music community and patrons as a venue that supports home-grown music talent, and NAC has reached out to their owners and the relevant authorities for more information."

Blu Jaz has also set up a petition on Oct 14 to garner support for an appeal to the Public Entertainment Appeal Board. As of Oct 17 at 3pm, the petition had over 3,500 signatures, short of its 5,000 goal.