There’s no doubt that hip-hop has been a dominant cultural force in recent years. While a genre celebrated for decades around the world, its assertive presence on the public airwaves has been a fairly recent phenomenon in Singapore.
For the formative years of Yung Raja, somewhere in the late-2000s, hip-hop opened up new worlds for him. And he was compelled to dig deeper on his own.
Now an emerging face in Singaporean rap, skillfully mixing club-ready hooks with an ear for low frequencies, Yung Raja is cultivating his own path owed to years of studying the greats.
While music geeks would spend hours on music blogs unearthing obscurities, Yung Raja dug into the then-popular sounds that populated the iTunes hip-hop charts, which allowed him insight into the cultural power the genre held in the rest of the world.
Fast forward to 2021 and he’s promoting his newest single ‘MAMI’, his first under US label Alamo Records. Yung Raja spent time talking with us about the 10 tracks that have shaped him.
He begins the list enthusing about the formative songs that clinched his love for the genre, but down the line, his love for the greats take different forms — from their work ethic, to their choice of producers, to the powerful moves they make culturally.
The full episode of 10 Tracks provides greater insight into Yung Raja’s own personal journey, but read the list below for a glimpse into the hip-hop blueprint that has guided the rapper all these years.
I was 13 at the time and my dad got me my first iPod. I didn’t know who Lil Wayne was and Tha Carter III had just come out. ‘A Milli’ was on the Top 10 iTunes chart so I bought it. When the bass hit, a part of my soul just left — like, “What was that?”
It was a song I looped on my way to school and back home. I listened to it about a thousand times. It was one of the first few times I fell in love with the “sound” — the drums, the subs, the 808s. Lil Wayne was, at the time, somebody who showed me what the world had to offer in 2009.
The first song by him I discovered was ‘Whatever You Like’. It was everywhere, it was even the number one video on YouTube at the time. I got hooked on that song.
I dug a little deeper, and I found he had a song with Lil Wayne. I listened to ‘Swagga Like Us’ and that was the first time I knew what sampling was — with the M.I.A. sample (‘Paper Planes’).
It was just, like, “Wow, this is so cool!” This became the next song I kept looping on my way to school. That was the beginning of me understanding the other huge figures in the game at the young stage in my life.
My parents have always been obsessed with A.R. Rahman. The South Indian entertainment space has had many greats, A.R. being one of them — especially as a musical prodigy. There isn’t another A.R. Rahman. He’s made so many evergreen songs since the 1990s.
In my household, one of the biggest South Indian influences for me was A.R. Rahman. At a much later stage in my life, I realized I’m now at a place where I can connect with other musicians. I connected with Sri Sriram, who’s also another trailblazer in the South Indian music space, and he’s worked with A.R. Rahman.
I went to India and met Sriram and he told me to come through to the studio. Once our schedules were aligned, and we were kicking it, he played the original demo of ‘Thalli Pogathey’, the original demo that A.R. Rahman sent him to work with. I was just blown to smithereens. It was so crazy.
A.R. Rahman basically freestyled the entire song — every chord and vocal melody, not one part of it was changed from the demo sent to Sriram. I was already a fan of the song, but to now understand the backstory of it, there’s not a song I would rank above it. I got to take a sneak peek into how it was made, so it’s cemented as one of my favourite songs.
My brother-in-law gifted me a $50 Amazon gift card, which I bought a bunch of CDs with. Curtis was one of them. I saw the music video for ‘Ayo Technology’ and it had a sound that I was not previously exposed to. This was when I had a liking to heavy production.
I wasn’t able to verbalize these thoughts then but I was attracted to the production side of things. The word is kilat, bro. 50 Cent’s sound was so kilat, and I fell in love with it. From that moment in time, I wasn’t just looking for the artist, but I was looking at Timbaland and what he was putting out.
I bought Nelly Furtado’s album [2006’s Loose] because he produced it. That kind of direction only came for me after listening to a production-heavy song like ‘Ayo’. I’m pretty sure that was the tipping point for me.
By the time I was 16 or 17, I had thought to myself “I know everything about rap there is.” Someone told me about Biggie and Tupac and I asked “Who’s that?” That person said “How could you be a fan of hip-hop without knowing these guys?”
I went home and did my research. I went pretty in-depth when it came to Biggie and Pac and all the other artists who were around them at the time. That trickled down into learning more about that music period in the 1990s, so it includes Michael Jackson, Prince, and whoever was making the dopest music at the time.
At a later stage, I went deep into Biggie’s music, and I was drawn way more to Biggie’s music than Pac. I was trying to understand it over the years, but now I finally get it — he had a sauce and a groove that nobody else could copy. He had a way to flow over beats that was very inimitable.
It was a style he had that took the world by storm. Biggie could claim a spot next to Pac as the king of New York. He claimed his lane like no one else did, and I was very inspired by that.
It wasn’t the most pleasant time for me in secondary school. I was constantly trying to fit in, and it wasn’t pretty, man. Hip-hop was instrumental in making me feel empowered and dope inside.
It was something that I constantly had as a pillar of strength. It was that one thing that made me feel strong, so I relied on hip-hop for that strength. I’ve never come across a personality in the hip-hop space that was so bold as Kanye.
‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ was the record I heard from Kanye that made such a big impression — that boldness was a source of strength for me at that time.
I would say that Drake is the GOAT because of what he’s achieved with his day ones over the last 10 years. It’s not even debatable at this point. It’s just a consistent display of greatness. That’s just how I view it.
He’s someone who reps his hometown, his team, celebrates his life, his people, and the different parts of life he goes through in each album. The way he tells stories is what I’m working towards.
Tha Blue Carpet Treatment was one of the other albums I bought with that Amazon gift card. ‘Vato’ is a very funny song, because if you listen to it, he uses the hook as somebody else talking to him, while he’s sharing a story from a Spanish dude he calls Vato.
The hook is what Vato is telling Snoop Dogg. Conceptually, it’s mad, and the song is a banger. Snoop Dogg’s sauciness is inspiring. ‘Vato’ is a song that is hard, and it has a creative storytelling element to it. It has his stamp, his sound on it.
Yung Raja’s ‘MAMI’ is now available to stream on digital platforms. Thank you to Universal Music Singapore for arranging this interview.
Energy is everything to deførmed, the main project of Abdul Hakiim.
A talented multi-instrumentalist in his own right — best displayed in his absurdly fun covers of songs from anime and Animal Crossing on his Instagram page — deførmed’s latest EP, LATE TO THE LOUDNESS WAR (all caps), is a jolt of frenzied breakbeats and engaging sonic detours that leaves an indelible mark just as it ends at 15 minutes.
Although this EP is not wholly representative of the music he makes under this project, it kicks off an ongoing exploration of fury and mayhem that draws from hardcore, gabber, hip-hop, and anything else that vibes with him.
His latest release — a two-track single release with the lead song ‘my crush should confess to me instead’, dropped just in time for Valentine’s Day via Syndicate — is a pleasant and offbeat side-step into heart-swelling indie rock, so there’s no guessing where else he might turn to.
Hakim’s ten tracks run a fascinating gamut from Indonesian jazz fusion to Aphex Twin and sprightly video game music, so listen to our conversation and read through his picks below.
Raw energy. This is my favourite track at the moment — the displaced rhythms, strong driving vocals, and unusual electronic timbres just activate my hormone glands.
Love the quirkiness of this track and this fictional band. It also fits perfectly with the wacky setting of (video game) Splatoon 2.
This is the song from K-On!, my favourite anime. This is the song I’d always play when I pick up my guitar.
I love the organicness and tightness of the band. It screams raw energy and chemistry which I absolutely love.
This one really transports me into an intermediate of another dimension and the current dimension. They blend tradition and modernity really well.
It’s from the soundtrack of the game Xenoblade Chronicles X. I love how Sawano is able to blend acoustic and digital sounds so naturally. It really paints the danger and atmosphere of the area in-game through the music.
The lack of a tonal center — yet still using pitches from the 12 tone equal temperament we are all conditioned to — makes it all the more ambiguous yet danceable with its four-on-the-floor beat.
Reizoko Cj is the mashcore/breakcore guy. Honestly, any of Reizoko’s tracks would do — all of them bang hard.
Another track from Xenoblade Chronicles, my favourite game. The reason I like it is nothing more than it being a calm and melancholic song.
This is the song that got me into the heavy bass style of music and sound design synthesis.
For many, exploring music is fulfilling and deeply personable — and sometimes the best songs arrive by happenstance. For JAWN, it happened in school.
If not for a chance encounter with a classmate putting on Kings of Convenience, he might still be hanging onto Contemporary Christian Music and Symphony 92.4.
Since then, he’s latched onto that feeling and turned it into a body of open-hearted work that evolves as he grows. While known for sparse acoustic arrangements, his latest single ‘Feel Too Much’ is pure joy, with an upbeat arrangement recorded with friends that still retains a personal touch.
“I actually recorded most of the guitars and violins in my room,” he explains. “It was an interesting experience because I thought, “You need to be in a treated room” but I was like, “F*ck it, I’m gonna record it in my closet and see what’s what”, and it turned out okay!”
To JAWN, the process is just as important, and many artists have helped him understand how that process does not need a large studio or a cavalcade of professionals to get things done.
In this 10 Tracks, he talks about the artists that have opened his eyes to music, and the ones that showed him how making it your own way is crucial — and also why Damien Rice isn’t an artist he wants to go back to anymore.
I was doing my art project in school because I had an art module in Junior College when I was 17. Someone put that on and I really liked it.
From there, I jumped into a lot of things, but here it was when I realized there were whole worlds of music that are apart from Delirious? or Planetshakers or Hillsongs.
There was this artist called Jon Chan I found while on Google just because his name was the same as mine. Turns out, he was the frontman of Plainsunset.
I discovered his album Pencil Tracings, which was among his first material. I wanna give a shoutout to his track ‘Security’ because that was the first local track I listened to that I liked. Thank you, Jon!
Listen to the track on Bandcamp here.
Naturally, I had the transition from church acoustic music to inhabiting that realm of rationalizing your faith and who you are. Sufjan Stevens, very big shoutout to him!
He had his own struggles and rationalizations of sexuality, faith, and violence. One of the first tracks I heard from him was ‘Seven Swans’. It’s a beautiful track. It was the first time I heard a banjo in a track that sounded nice.
For me, For Emma, Forever Ago broke down my preconceived notions of how a track can sound. You don’t need to have polished vocals — he recorded it all on super shitty mics. I also really like his way of song construction, because he would do vocalizations that fit that particular phrase and will find a word for it after.
He had really interesting ideas that I initially rejected — I listened out of hatred for a while, but it started to grow on me.
The Valtari album was interesting for me — it was one of the first times I experienced an album through film and music. The great thing about Sigur Ros is that there is no barrier to appreciation.
You may never understand their language (aside from Icelandic, a good amount of Sigur Ros’ music is sung in Hopelandic, the band’s form of wordless vocals) and that’s fine.
You don’t need to in order to access whatever he’s trying to build or paint or say with these word images and music. It’s a whole moodboard that encompasses you in this world of soft voices and feelings.
I can’t go through a list without talking about one John Mayer track. He’s been one of the most formative influences in my guitar playing and how I approach “band” music. he’s one of the rare modern guitarists who can make a guitar sing like a human voice.
It has inflection and imperfections. It plays into how he’s talking through his guitar, and I really like that. That was something I tried to bring into my own practice. He has really cheesy but effective lyrical imagery.
I like the way they construct their lyrics, it’s basically biblical poetry. There’s a certain gravitas to whatever comes off the page from them.
It helps that they come from the UK — there’s the whole experience of church and state that informs their life experiences.
They have so many effortless metaphors about the practice of religion while noticing the shortcomings of life and happiness. They’re not a Christian band but they have a natural affinity for Christian imagery and metaphors.
This track is here just for his voice. If there was any voice I could have in the world, I would kope his.
It was something I found recently, and I didn’t even know he was still active in music. I was listening to it thinking, “I can get why I was into his music but that’s not a mental space I want to inhabit today.” Still, I wish him the best!
He modernizes gospel music and there’s this element of joy I seldom get from other music nowadays. There’s a celebratory aspect to his music-making.
I just enjoy his energy. you can find it in Chance the Rapper’s stuff too — the references to family and religion, adding it all up to figure out what makes life good for them.
The New York-based, Singapore-bred Slodown is adept at conjuring resolute moods that are now familiar territory in modern R&B.
His latest single ‘Ample Fruit’, released on Dec 18, is powered by warped sounds and twinkly synth-pads courtesy of producer WY Huang (who recently turned in an astounding Guest Mix for SGCR.)
‘Ample Fruit’ capped off a slew of singles from the artist, who has kept himself busy despite a year like 2020. It arrives at the kind of hushed intimacy that harks back to older soul records, and it’s no surprise that Slodown himself is a seasoned student of the classics.
But instead of handing in a laundry list of the usual suspects for this 10 Tracks, Slodown highlights a handful of lesser-known delights, while schooling us on the up-and-comers he believes will come to define the genre in the years (or even months) to come.
Of course, there’s also D’Angelo. No discussion of R&B and soul can omit that name.
Pore through his picks below and listen in to our conversation with the singer during his brief return to Singapore last month.
I know very little about this guy. It’s something Spotify algorithms fed to me. I’ve been listening to a lot of movie scores recently just because I love films as well. There’s always something about how movie scores can conduct and play with your emotions without needing words or lyrics.
At the core of it, that’s something I try to do with my music — to conjure certain emotions. So for me, I feel like movie scores are a really good place to get inspired by.
This guy has only two songs out right now, both similar in vibes, but I was immediately drawn to this guy because he wears his identity on his sleeves.
He’s not shy to have symbolism and references [from his Muslim faith] in his work and he uses that. He just speaks his truth. The nature of the content is familiar — it’s still street tales that we may be more familiar with, almost doing this folk/R&B thing while drawing so much from his heritage.
That’s my favourite D’Angelo song, and probably my favourite song of all time. That’s my most-played song ever.
I’m always in the mood to listen to this song. It’s the kind of vibe that inspired me to make music the most. The feeling that I got from this song was something I wanted to create with my music.
I found Xavier Omar on Soundcloud, never even knew how he looked like. No photos up. But that song ‘Blind Man’, I was like “Shit!” I think now he’s finally gotten bigger – I wouldn’t say he’s mainstream but he has at least come out of that. There’s a phase to his music now.
I found out about her from Xavier Omar, she was featured in one of his singles. She’s a new LA artist and her shit is all upbeat and dancey, and somehow it feels really fresh. I wouldn’t be sure to call it R&B but it’s fresh to me.
I’m a bit bored – to me, the sound of R&B has become so mainstream that PARTYNEXTDOOR almost sounds like it could be on the same playlist as an Ariana Grande playlist now. There’s still the new Ty Dollar Sign album, it’s still done very well, but I’m always more excited by fresher takes on R&B that retains the genre’s soulfulness.
Lucky Daye’s blowing up, and he’s probably going to be mainstream soon. He’s blowing up in the States, and he’s also super talented. His sound is fresh and different from the regular landscape of R&B right now.
Love when Shelley gets on his soulful shit, especially when it’s in that old-school vein like that.
Been really enjoying this Benny the Butcher album — gives me the same feeling classic rap albums like The Infamous and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… used to give me.
It just puts you in a good mood. Every time summer hits New York, that’s the song I go back to. It’s another vibe I’m trying to recreate with my more summery songs.
There’s a certain thing about it — I don’t know if it’s the “old” quality of the music, or the vocals — but it’s just so warm and soulful. It’s a blanket statement lah but a lot of new music nowadays is made to be played in the clubs or parties.
A lot of old music was meant to be played outdoors, like at a picnic. This is one of those songs that puts you in that mood.
This is the shit I pour whiskey and chain-smoke cigarettes to during the winter. It gets me to an emo place, but not a bad kind of emo.
As a kid, I’d always wanted to move to New York, even before I had ever seen the city myself. This song felt like New York to me. When I hear this song, I think of movies like Taxi Driver, like old New York. It’s a special song for me.
‘Ample Fruit’ and other Slodown singles are available on streaming platforms.
Ever since their fiery 2016 opus August is the cruellest, The Observatory have gone through an evolution in both sound and line-up.
What remains is their ever-present ethos — pushing past expectations set upon them, resulting in an electrifying body of work that defies the stagnant “art rock” category.
Now comprising of Cheryl Ong on drums, along with Yuen Chee Wai and Dharma on guitars and electronics, the three-piece have since ventured down the path of collaborations — beginning with Norweigian experimentalists MoE, along a split with prolific psych-rock outfit Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O..
The latter featured a recording of a concert where the band, in their last major concert, performed with a chorus of 30 young guitarists, conjuring an effect that they’ve described as “layering tiny tremoloes to create emotional earthquakes”.
It’s not an overstatement to say that their latest document dwarves that statement in sheer volume alone.
Authority is Alive captured the band during a surprise performance last year with avant-garde soothsayer Keiji Haino, whose ferociously prolific and boundary-pushing output has kept his cult-like following on their toes since the 1980s.
Within the first few minutes of the recording, the splintered potency of Haino’s poetry collides swiftly with the band’s improvisational approach. It makes for an intense listen — if otherwise bordering on inaccessible, if you find yourself stepping into this immediately after a propulsive rock album like August is the cruellest.
This edition of 10 Tracks not only captures the present earworms of the three-piece — they also freely exchange thoughts about performing with Haino, unravelling the power of free improv and Mandopop, and their current activities (they are, indeed, working on a new album).
Pore through their picks below and listen in to our conversation with them.
Dharma: There was a period I was listening to just Kate Bush, almost nothing else.
Once during this period, I travelled to KL to play some gigs and visit my grandma. It was a much longer journey than usual due to rain and traffic. When I finally arrived at my grandma’s, she was sleeping on the couch in the living room. I sat on the floor beside her, just watching her, and this song just played in my head, lyrics and all, bringing back much memories spent with her. It truly was comfort just being beside her.
She passed away in July this year. I was not able to pay my last respects.
Dharma: Suddenly in an FKA Twigs mood this week. Can’t say I like all her songs but this song especially stimulates my “Kate Bush receptors”.
Dharma: Initially, it can seem like “anyhow whack” but on closer listens this is an amazing gem. I always wonder how the Captain composed this. I don’t think he plays guitar. Lick My Decals Off, Baby is a very essential album besides Trout Mask Replica.
Chee Wai: Lately, the stuff I am reading has prompted me to revisit an era that played a significant role in forming my views of the world, the mid-90’s to early 2000’s. I am reminded of an era of the neon flush, a kind of decadence, self awareness and of course a lot of cyberpunk material from that time.
But this track — taken from the wonderful and unforgettable opening sequence of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo — served to be a soundtrack for my own interrogation of the city for a long period of time. Soundtracks played quite a big part for me.
Chee Wai: I have been so familiar with this melody for decades. From since I was in my teens, this melody segued in and out as a soundtrack for growing up. But it took me a long time before I actually watched the film.
And I must insist for anyone who has not watched it, to not watch the director’s cut. Ennio Morricone’s melodies have an innate ability to touch one deep inside. The immensely talented Pat Metheny’s playing is sublime in this rendition, to say the least.
Chee Wai: Close friends who know me will probably know that I listen to Mandopop from time to time.
For me, while there is challenging music that I voraciously listen to all the time to open up my mind, there is also music that allows me to seek some kind of simplicity. Mandopop, amongst others, falls into that latter category.
This track was from her 2001 album where she collaborated with Tanya Chua for the first time, which resulted in a Leslie Low-esque folk song on waiting, longing and the etcetera. And with the lyrics of wordsmith 林夕 (Lin Xi), it’s hard to go wrong.
If there is space, I would also recommend Stefanie Sun.
Cheryl: I’ve been listening to these two albums: Nonagon Infinity and Flying Microtonal Banana. They’ve been on repeat for the past week, so it’s been real hard trying to pick one song from the albums!
I love the energy of Nonagon Infinity, microtonal melodies over driving post-punk drum beats. I’m just in awe at the speed of their releases considering the fact that each album has something different to offer. Mad skillz.
Another pick would be the track ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ from the album of the same name.
Cheryl: This is a composition that grows after every listen due to its intricacies. The displacement of the rhythms on the flute with regards to the percussion or vice versa is really amazing.
I have a lot of questions about how he composed this and how it was translated into a score. We are usually so used to listening to songs done based on a Western construct that listening to a piece like that really opens up one’s ears to what other types of music exist out there and what music can be.
Cheryl: I’ve been revisiting this older album of his after listening to his mix for Resident Advisor. If I could choose a mix, it would definitely be that. It’s hard to find a DJ who can seamlessly transcend so many genres in one mix while keeping it danceable.
Truth be told, a friend and I were kind of dissecting this song to try and see how he produces music, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t hacked it yet. Looking forward to hearing his new release on PAN.
The band: We have been listening to this — collectively and individually — quite a bit since it was released last year.
It was said that the piece was not entirely composed and all the musicians met for the first time together when they headed for the studio. What resulted was a piece of rhythmic genius that traverses krautrock, techno and minimalist composition.
Chee Wai would play it in his car occasionally when we drive to places. Silence will immediately descend upon us, as we collectively listen deeply and marvel at the complexities and nuances of the piece.
Authority is Alive is now available via Ujikaji Records.
Patterns, the new album by Hauste, strikes the tough balance between instrumental prowess and melodic charm.
While the band’s dexterity remains on full display, the three-piece are keen to step out of indulgence to allow hooks and textures to shine. Watch their recent Baybeats performance below for a taste.
It’s no wonder that for 10 Tracks, the band — comprising of guitarist Daniel Lim, bassist Bennett Bay, and drummer Ian Tan — handed in a remarkable selection of catchy indie pop, club music, post-rock, and old-fashioned screamo.
Where most instrumental rock bands rein in on their comfort zones, Hauste remains wholly inviting and engaging to the outside world.
Listen to our conversation with the band below and pore through their 10 picks.
Daniel Lim (guitarist): ‘Lotus Eater’ encapsulates this simple and effective form of arrangement that is really inspiring.
Daniel: [This song] showcases the perfect balance between technicality and musicality. It’s complex yet it is effective in conveying the musician’s intention of invoking a specific mood.
Daniel: This took me by surprise. I never would’ve expected this song to change the way I perceive music. The fact that it was a remix reinforces how malleable music can be.
Ian Tan (drummer): Feed Me Jack breaks the “math rock” mould by infusing different styles to form something so tastefully raw and unique.
Ian: The drummer creates such texture in his beats — [it’s a] balance of intricate drum n’ bassy playing that still feels light and delicate. The texture and mood lie in the subtleties.
Ian: [It’s] just straight up groovy. You can’t help but bob your head with a stank face on. He encapsulates an infectious funk vibe mixed with a modern dreamlike sound for a whole new experience.
Bennett Bay (bassist): My go-to song when I’m feeling down and need a pick me up, and when I want to analyze a really good song. It’s a long song that runs about 11mins but it doesn’t feel boring or overly complex, and instead feels therapeutic.
Bennett: [It’s] your quintessential punk-ish math-rock song. The density they are able to create — despite being a two-man band — always catches me by surprise and always reminds me of the importance of dynamics in instrumental songs.
Bennett: [It’s] twinkly and light yet heavy and raw at the same time. They’re somehow able to weave the interlocking nature of math-rock-like guitar lines with gritty and emotional vocals, while at the same time making sure that it does not sound too harsh. While the song isn’t instrumental it is a good reminder as well that the voice enhances the sonic capacity of a band as instruments do.
In the podcast, the band explains that their early exposure to math rock was through a live set by Sphaeras.
Bennett: After that gig, we were all searching for math rock bands to listen to as well. I found Elephant Gym, and I was like “Dan, listen to this!”. We thought, “Okay, yeah, let’s do a band that’s kind of like this.”
Hauste’s Patterns will be available on streaming platforms on October 23rd. The album is now available on CD, cassette tape and digital download on Bandcamp.
10 Tracks is a new series of interviews with artists, producers, and personalities. We unearth songs that bookend or encapsulate various stages of their careers, from their formative years to their later-day activities.
NADA is a Singaporean visual arts & sound project developed by Rizman Putra and Safuan Johari that blurs the line between fiction and reality, summoning hauntological soundscapes and seeking lost futures.
Their live performances have always been a highlight at arts events — featuring reworkings and samples of Malay and Southeast Asian traditional and popular music from the 1950s to the 1980s, combined with dance and heady visuals.
The duo is part of the artist line-up featured in Life in a Cloud, a digital playbook curated by Natalie Hennedige.
It features creations from seven prominent artists — across seven different disciplines — creating intimate 5-7 minute video chapters that offer viewers insight into their artistic geneses and creations born out of this time of pandemic.
Listen to our full interview in our 10 Tracks podcast on Spotify, and read their picks below.
Safuan:It was sometime in 2014. We were at my place trying to figure out how we could do NADA musically to accompany the visual art piece we were exhibiting. This was one of the first tracks I pulled out.
I then played Gonjasufi’s ‘Kobwebz’ and explained to Rizman how we could adopt such a sampling technique and he can just sing over it. It was the start of it all, I guess. After that, we started picking out old songs from Southeast Asia and fleshed out 4-5 songs within weeks.
Rizman: It’s the ‘60s in Singapore, at the height of Pop Yeh-Yeh. These guys were playing songs in Baweanese and this particular one hit the charts in Germany. True story!
The NADA world is built on fabricated history and mythologies. We are like pranksters who are constantly pulling the audience’s legs with our ideas and creations. But the fact that The Swallows actually existed and left their mark globally with their own brand of hedonistic sounds, it’s mind-blowing.
Safuan: Personally, the musical lens of NADA would not have been possible without the mention of either Richard Bishop, Alan Bishop, or the band they used to be in, Sun City Girls.
Eclectic is one of the most overused and abused terms in music and music journalism these days. Whenever I’m going through periods of self-doubt, I will just go back to any of their works. Through their works, they have also taught me how to appropriate the music of others with respect while pushing the envelope to make it your own.
It’s always a delicate balance, especially when it involves the historical culture and heritage which are not ours, i.e. sampling a Thai song or adopting an Ethiopian musical scale.
Rizman: This is a perfect example of what used to be a guilty pleasure but then became a staple to listen to after we started NADA. Once, we were in a dressing room and for some weird reason, a transistor radio was blaring one of the Malay channels.
This song came on, we started singing along and discussing how musically rich the track is. It was one of those moments of realization that cemented the idea for us to rely on our own idiosyncratic thoughts or gut feel for whatever we are doing.
Safuan: With NADA, it’s always important to have a specific imagined world in mind whenever we are creating or performing. Guess What is one band I look up to when it comes to this methodology.
This song is from an album of the same name where they paid homage to Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, a Persian polymath from the 8th century who produced influential works in mathematics, astronomy, and geography. Through the album, they painted their own magical world just via music, of what it could have been during Al Khawarizmi’s time.
They did the same thing on an earlier album. This time, it was a musical portrait for Yuri Gagarin, the Russian astronaut who was the first human to journey into outer space.
Rizman: Mulatu Astatke and Ethiopian jazz, music from a faraway place, yet it sounds like home. There’s just something about it, especially this version by Dengue Fever, an American band that does Cambodian rock covering an Ethiopian piece. The idea of global mish mashing or cultural clashing is always fascinating. Whenever we run out of ideas, the first thing we go to is “what if we combine ________ with ________”.
Safuan: This song was also featured in a Jim Jarmusch film, Broken Flowers. The deep, dark, and absurd worlds he’s created through his films is another source of inspiration for us.
Rizman: We are fans and friends of the band so we are probably biased when it comes to this. The 90s were our formative years when it comes to experiencing music — going to gigs, buying demo tapes, the full works of exploring music pre-internet.
Though we only met slightly later, with NADA forming a couple of decades after, it won’t do any justice if we didn’t include a Singapore-made track from back then. And this is something special from such a great album.
Safuan: It’s the least celebrated song which deserves more attention (‘Venus with Braces’ too). The guys made do without their signature jangling guitars, experimented with electronics, and kept it minimal.
Safuan: The past year or so, especially when the pandemic started, I grew tired of recreating nostalgic sounds or just the idea of nostalgia in general. I wanted to look ahead instead of immersing myself in the past, now more than ever when the future is so uncertain.
I started thinking about how we can create a NADA world that is undeniably futuristic but still strongly echoes a sense of a cultural past. While searching for points of reference, I came across the works of Sote, one of Iran’s foremost experimental composers and sound artists.
The way he blends Persian music with electronics opened new doors for me. It’s definitely a trajectory we want to pursue right now.
Safuan: We have always kept our ears close to the sounds coming out from the thriving scene in Yogyakarta. This Y-DRA output by Yennu Ariendra is something I can’t stop listening to the past year.
He managed to twist the happy celebratory sounds of the masses that are dangdut koplo into something dark, brutal, and still danceable (somehow).
Gems like this serve as a constant reminder to us on how malleable music or genres can be. It’s really up to our imagination to where we want to bring it to.
Rizman: It’s only fair to end this with a crowd favourite. It’s the only song we’ve actually sampled in this list. ‘Kudaku Lari’ is an ecstatic number that can take you places.
For us, we like to have random conversations which involves concocting unbelievable scenarios where the Malay music world collides with the realms of our other music influences.
When we decided to sample this, we fantasized about a version that can be played at the infamous Studio 54 in New York and how it replaced Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ as the anthem for the era.
Safuan: Basically, this is how NADA works behind the scenes. Instinctively we just rely on the cultural references we share and grew up with, use them as shorthands to communicate ideas between ourselves, have a good laugh about it, and then we get to work.