Women artists hit by pandemic contribute original songs to community initiative She Shines

(Clockwise from top left) Ken Mahanani, Lily Anna, Michelle SgP, NyaLi, Allie Soh, Christal J Kuna and Wendy Phua. PHOTO: SHE SHINES AO CHENG SU

SINGAPORE - With a five-year-old son and another baby on the way, Lily Anna Hargrove, 42, and her husband had a tough decision to make when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Hargrove, a Singaporean who had a gig singing at whisky and cigar bar The Connoisseur Divan, was left with no income and no gigs when drinking establishments were closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Her husband, a 49-year-old American musician she married in 2014, had just had his long-term visit pass approved, but also became jobless as the pandemic disrupted the performing arts sector.

They had to let go of their maid and give up one month of their son's kindergarten classes and "we had to move out of our rented condo unit and move in to stay with my cousin", says Hargrove, who is currently six months pregnant.

She did not despair, but turned to music for comfort. She is one of five women with original songs highlighted by She Shines SG - a community initiative which helps to showcase, support and mentor women through music and the arts.

For this month, She Shines is featuring uplifting original songs by women artists whose livelihoods have been hit by the pandemic.

Hargrove, who has been a singer for more than two decades, wrote My Angel a few years ago when she and her husband were still dating.

She says: "I got divorced and met him a year after. He helped me understand that I can depend on people and that I'm not alone, and I feel that this song fits the current situation too. My husband, my children, my cousins and all the people who helped me and opened their doors to me are my angels."

This latest She Shines initiative, titled Songs For Unprecedented Times, is supported by the National Arts Council's Digital Presentation Grant. It is a collaboration with the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) to call for donations to its Vulnerable Women's Fund, which provides help for single mothers, family violence victims and others.

In March, Aware received 619 inquiries, a 35 per cent jump from the same period last year, as more women suffered emotional distress and physical abuse while staying home with their families and financial strain from job losses.

Aside from Hargrove, musicians like She Shines founder Michelle Poh, whose stage name is Michelle SgP and is herself a single mother; Allie Soh; NyaLi; and Ken Mahanani have lent their voices to the project - holding a mini online concert on June 21 to perform original songs they wrote for the cause.

For Ken, 46, a Singapore permanent resident and freelance singer originally from Indonesia, her song Miracles represents her hope that difficult times will pass. She is raising her 16-year-old son on her own, after her husband died of a heart attack in 2018 at age 50.

It was written several years ago when she was at an emotional low and the tune popped into her head. "I can't play any instruments so I just wrote the lyrics and hummed the song," she says.

She adds: "I've been through a lot. My husband had a stroke in 2016 and stopped working. So I took on two jobs to make more money and I was so tired I almost had a breakdown. Then he died suddenly and we were so shocked as he was going to the gym regularly. I look back and I don't know how it happened, but those tough times have passed."

She is surviving on her savings for now as she had quit a clinic assistant job in January to settle her late husband's affairs in Indonesia.

But with events cancelled and performance venues closed here because of the pandemic, she lost her source of income as a singer and also could not travel back to Indonesia. Still, she is hopeful and has received some job offers.

Ken says: "Even though right now I have no income now, I'm trying to stay positive. I don't want to stress myself too much, I want to take care of my health so I can look after my son."

• Listen to Songs For Unprecedented Times at bit.ly/31lMnTa

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