Making their voices heard at NDP's first rap, hip-hop segment

Rappers (from left) Yung Raja, Wheelsmith and Fariz Jabba performing at the National Day Parade preview last Saturday. The trio will be joined on Aug 9 by four other musicians in the rap and hip-hop segment - Bani Hadir, Beverly Morata, Mel Ferdinand
Rappers (from left) Yung Raja, Wheelsmith and Fariz Jabba performing at the National Day Parade preview last Saturday. The trio will be joined on Aug 9 by four other musicians in the rap and hip-hop segment - Bani Hidir, Beverly Morata, Mel Ferdinands and Robert Fernando.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Musicians all set to take the stage in NDP's first-ever segment devoted to rap, hip-hop music

When this year's National Day Parade (NDP) reaches its fourth act, sound engineer and music producer Danial Bawthan, who has muscular dystrophy and goes by the moniker Wheelsmith, will be rapping "stand up, Lion City, stand up".

The 25-year-old, who uses a wheelchair, hopes his presence on stage can be a defining moment for people with disabilities.

"Ultimately, I want people to know that we don't just sell tissue. There are others out there who are doing things too. I'm just hoping the next generation of people with disabilities would look at what they really want deep inside, and then pursue it," he told The Straits Times recently.

Along with fellow rappers Yung Raja, 23, and Fariz Jabba, 22, Wheelsmith will be among seven musicians in the first-ever segment devoted to rap and hip-hop music at the NDP.

In Act 4: Our Nation, the music will be interspersed with short films by multimedia director Royston Tan that tell stories of ordinary Singaporeans overcoming adversity, such as Wheelsmith himself, 90-year-old World War II survivor Helen Joseph, and ex-convict and social entrepreneur Anil David, 51.

It will be the first NDP outing for all three rappers. They started writing their own rap lyrics for the act after their first meeting with NDP music director Sydney Tan in February.

Wheelsmith, who may eventually lose his voice due to his condition which causes progressive loss of muscle mass, hopes to be a catalyst for change.

"I feel like I'm running this kind of Black Panther movement where I'm setting our rights - like this is our right to pursue things," he said, referring to last year's blockbuster movie that featured a predominantly African-American cast.

"I mean, nobody discriminates (against us), but within ourselves, there's a boundary that we have, (we have) shunted ourselves. Like how... we may sit at the back of the bus because that's where we feel like we should be.

"(But) as a matter of fact, I can sit anywhere I want. So I'm trying to set out an example that, if I want to be in the front row, I can be in the front row," he added.

Yung, whose real name is Rajid Ahamed, said that being part of NDP has been his dream since he was in the Music and Drama Company during national service two years ago.

"The pride that I feel being Singaporean, cannot be put into words. This is something that I will tell my children one day. This is how dope it felt to be a first-generation Singaporean, only son in the family, representing the culture and community," said Yung, whose family moved to Singapore from Tamil Nadu, India, in 1992.

He had thought that writing music for NDP would be a formal process.

"But it was like every other hip-hop session we had, and we have to thank Dr Sydney Tan for giving us the freedom to do our own thing," he said.

The last time NDP featured rap was in 2017, when actor Tosh Zhang wrote a piece titled Here We Are that drew inspiration from how his family was affected by the 1997 Asian financial crisis, as his parents had to hold multiple jobs for two years.

The others artists involved in the rap and hip-hop segment on Aug 9 are Bani Hidir, Beverly Morata, Mel Ferdinands and Robert Fernando.

Performing with them at the Padang will be some 600 youth from the Singapore Soka Association, with drums that will light up in sync with the LED wristbands given to the audience.

Fariz, who broke into the local music scene two years ago and whose full name is Muhammad Fariz Abdul Rashid, said the lyrics they wrote reflect the struggles of the man in the street.

"We are the reporters of the streets. So what we are doing is the most hip-hop thing in the world. We take the highest visibility platform, we echo out to the world, and this is what's happening with our streets. Struggle is happening, and this is how you resolve things - by doing it together," he said.

Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2019, with the headline 'Making their voices heard'. Print Edition | Subscribe