More than just Joanna Dong and Nathan Hartono: Singapore singers making their name globally

Joanna Dong and Nathan Hartono have both made it to the finals of popular singing television reality show Sing! China this year and last year. PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN, WARNER MUSIC

SINGAPORE - The success of Joanna Dong and Nathan Hartono, both of whom made it to the finals of popular singing television reality show Sing! China this year and last year, has put the spotlight on home-grown singers who are making inroads outside Singapore.

Here are some other home-grown singers and bands who have made their mark in the region and beyond, as well as upcoming talents who have the potential to make it overseas.

1. THE QUESTS (1960s)

Back in the 1960s, many local singers and bands like The Quests had ardent followings in the region, and would get mobbed when they performed in places like Hong Kong. The Quests, whose line-up included bassist Henry Chua, singer Vernon Cornelius and late guitarist Reggie Verghese, are known for original songs like Shanty, a tune that knocked the Beatles off the No. 1 spot in the local charts back in 1964.

2. RAMLI SARIP (1960s until now)

Singer and songwriter Ramli Sarip started out as the singer of Sweet Charity, a pioneer rock outfit that inspired many rock bands in Singapore and Malaysia, and later became a successful solo artist. In Malaysia, he holds the honorary title of Datuk, which the state of Malacca conferred on him in 2013.

3. ANITA SARAWAK (1970s until early 2000s)

A consummate entertainer, singer Anita Sarawak sang in several languages including English, Malay and Mandarin. She has released albums in Europe, has had hits in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and sang in Las Vegas from the mid 1980s to the early 2000s.

4. M. NASIR (1980s until now)

Singer M. Nasir has had many of his own solo hits in Singapore and Malaysia. The multi-award winner is also known as a prolific composer and producer for many other successful singers and bands in Malaysia, where he is now based.

5. DICK LEE (1970s until now)


Dick Lee gained fame in Japan, and subsequently other parts of the region, through his seminal album Mad Chinaman at a time when Japanese pop reigned supreme across Asia. "Back then, coming from Singapore was the strongest selling point for me," he said. "It was almost a novelty, the fact that someone from Singapore turned up with this type of pop music, when all they thought that we had was ethnic music."

6. IMPIETY (1990 until now)

Home-grown black metal band Impiety is popular among fans of the underground music scene in Europe and South America, and has released over 20 albums and EPs. The band also does regular tours across Asia, Europe, and North and South America.

7. KIT CHAN (1993 until now)


Singer and actress Kit Chan became Singapore's first regional Mandopop star when her 1994 album Heartache became popular in Taiwan. She saw a resurgence in her popularity after she took part in the third season of another popular China singing show, I Am A Singer, in 2015.

8. MAVIS HEE (1990s until the 2000s)

Dubbed Singapore's Faye Wong, singer-songwriter Mavis Hee became popular in the region after she released Regret (1996) in Taiwan. At the peak of her career, her albums outsold those of the heavenly kings and queens of Chinese pop such as Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng.

9. STEFANIE SUN (2000 until now)

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One of Singapore's most famous music exports, Stefanie Sun, also known as Sun Yanzi, has sold over 30 million records in the region since she made her debut in 2000 with the album Yan Zi, which earned her Taiwan's Golden Melody Award for Best New Artist. She is set to release her newest album, Stefanie Sun's 13th work: A Dancing Van Gogh, on Nov 9.

10. JJ LIN (2003 until now)


Mandopop singer-songwriter JJ Lin's debut album Music Voyager won him the Best New Artist at Taiwan's 15th Golden Melody Awards in 2004 and he has not looked back since. Lin's long list of awards and accolades include the Best Mandarin Male Singer and Best Composer Award at the 27th Golden Melody Awards in 2016.

11. HADY MIRZA (2007)

One year after he won the second Singapore Idol reality show in 2006, singer and songwriter Hady Mirza was crowned Asian Idol in Jakarta after he beat out his counterparts from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

12. LING KAI (2014)

Bilingual singer-songwriter Ng Ling Kai was the only female finalist on the first season of China's reality television singing show, Sing My Song, which also featured contestants from Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

13. SUFIE RASHID (2015)

Local singer Sufie Rashid, also known as Sufi, became the first Singaporean to win the 12th season of Akademi Fantasia, a popular Malaysia television singing competition.

14. GENTLE BONES (2016)


Singer-songwriter Joel Tan, better known as Gentle Bones, was featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for entertainment and sports personalities in Asia alongside other artists like K-pop star G-Dragon and Hollywood actor Liam Hemsworth from Australia.

In the same year, he won the Super Nova Award at the Hong Kong Asian-Pop Music Festival, beating out other singers from countries such as China, Japan and South Korea.

15. AKIF HALQI (2017)

National serviceman Akif Halqi, 21, won Best Vocal Award at a competition that is part of the major South Korean music event KBS K-pop World Festival this year. His rendition of K-pop song - Eyes, Nose, Lips by popular South Korean singer Taeyang - was streamed live on social media, with the concert's official hashtag registering over eight million tweets.

16. WORMROT (2007 until now)


Wormrot, a band that plays grindcore, a genre that fuses harsh music styles like heavy metal and punk, regularly tours the United States, Europe and the region. This year, they played their most prominent shows to date at the Glastonbury Festival in Britain, one of the biggest music festivals in the world.

Made up of vocalist Mohammad Arif Suhaimi, guitarist Mohammad Nurrasyid Juraimi and drummer Vijesh Ashok Ghariwala, the band are signed to respected British music label Earache Records. Voices, their third album released last year, received rave reviews and earned a 10/10 score on music website Metal Injection.

17. SHABIR (2013 until now)

The champion of the first edition of singing competition Vasantham Star back in 2005, Shabir Tabare Alam made his foray into Kollywood, the Tamil film industry in India, when he started singing and writing music for Tamil films in 2013. This year, Yaayum, a song that he wrote for Tamil crime drama Sagaa, became a hit in India, with its YouTube music video alone clocking over 1.4 million hits.

18. TANYA CHUA (1999 until now)

Bilingual singer Chua released her first album, Bored, in English in 1997, but it was her foray into Mandopop, starting with a self-titled release in 1999, that brought her popularity in the region. She has won three of Taiwan's Golden Melody Awards for Best Mandarin Female Singer for her albums, Amphibian (2005), Goodbye & Hello (2007), and Sing It Out of Love (2011).


K-pop girl group Skarf, who made their debut in 2012 and disbanded in 2014, included two Singaporeans, Natasha Low and Ferlyn Wong. This year, Low took part in Korean reality survival show Idol School while Wong went solo and has also dabbled in acting.

20. THE SAM WILLOWS (2015)


A popular name in the local pop scene, The Sam Willows were nominated as Best Southeast Asian Act at the MTV Europe Music Award in 2015. The same year also saw the band become the first South-east Asian act to break into its music streaming service Spotify's global viral 50 chart.

21. LINYING (2016)

Electronic music artist and singer Linying's debut single Sticky Leaves went viral on music streaming service Spotify's international charts in 2016. She is also known in the global electronic music scene for her collaborations with German DJ and music producer Felix Jaehn, Belgian DJ and producer Lost Frequencies, and French producer duo Krono.

22. MAS1A (2003)

Born in Singapore, raised in Canada and now back in Singapore, rapper and reggae artist MAS1A has made music with illustrious and popular American hip-hop names such as Pharrell Williams, RZA from Wu Tang Clan and Talib Kweli.

23. WICKED AURA (2003)


Mixing Afro-Brazilian percussion with genres such as rock, funk, pop and electronica, the 14-man band has performed globally in countries like China, Britain, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

24. AISYAH AZIZ (2017)

Singer Aisyah Aziz made headlines recently when she became the first Singaporean to win one of the major prizes, Best APM Song, at Mediacorp's Anugerah Planet Muzik (APM), a regional Malay music awards show that recognises artists from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

25. MISS LOU (2016)

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Winner of the National Arts Council's (NAC) 2016 Noise Singapore Award, singer and song-writer Miss Lou, real name Lou Peixin, mixes classic genres like doo-wop, swing, and soul, and updates them with a modern sound. She recently released her debut EP, Glamour Vintage Songbird.

26. LEW (2015)

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Folk-pop singer LEW, real name Lewis Loh, made headlines as "the singing policeman" when a video of him singing his rendition of National Day song Our Singapore while he was serving national service in the Singapore Police Force, went viral in 2015. In the same year, he won NAC's Noise Singapore Award and was also talent-spotted by the producers of the popular TV show Sing! China and also by its American counterpart, NBC's The Voice.

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