A few weeks ago, I attended a launch event for a new singer. Near the venue, I chanced upon Stefanie Sun whom I have not met for a while. She asked if I was there for the same event. I would discover later she was there for a bigger purpose. To lend her support for a new comer in this highly volatile and competitive music industry. I was touched by her show of support. I remember her early days. Her collaboration with Sisong and Weisong. Now these brothers are promoting a new artist. It is rare, in this age of music downloads and instant reality TV stars, for a music company to sign a new artist. Suddenly I realised I was witnessing an especially meaningful event on stage. Our most celebrated singing talent encouraging a new talent by the two talents behind some of the most successful singers and most memorable songs.
This new singer is Huang Ling Kai 黃铃凯. A folk rock singer whom Sisong discovered while he was walking along Esplanade about two years ago. He was drawn by a voice and walked towards it. What he saw was an unpolished diamond of a performer. A singer songwriter with an acoustic guitar. On the day of the launch, what I saw was a performer who is edgy but untested. With a right mix of confidence and modesty. I was agreeably impressed. Then I heard a story. One that warmed my heart and made me take a second look at this artist. When she was much younger, going to tuition in Toa Payoh, she would need to use a side path every Tuesdays and Fridays. Along this path she would frequently see an ageing musician who was always at the same spot. Even stationary, this musician had a certain swagger, a certain movement with his guitar that made him appear much younger, almost like a rock musician.
She would look forward to seeing and listening to this old musician in the heartland of Toa Payoh. The young Ling Kai did not know why this man captivated her. He was not a busker. He was not playing to an audience. He was playing for the pure joy of music. While playing, his whole body would be an instrument for his music. She noticed the way he swung his guitar. It was electrifying. This movement transformed him. One rainy day, Ling Kai thought the musician would not be there. Walking with an umbrella she was surprised to hear his music, slightly away from the usual spot. He was oblivious to the rain. When she was close enough, he spoke for the first time, “Do you know how to play? Do you want to play?” She didn’t know what to answer. While listening, she moved closer, almost trying to shield him from the rain. Not unlike a music video, this scene was freeze-framed in her mind.
This scene did not lasts. With no prior sign, Ling Kai’s old-young musician stopped playing. He seemed to just disappear into thin air. As a young girl, she did not really know what missing someone was like. She would look out for her musician. But he would never show up again. One Friday, she stood at the exact spot and imagined playing the music herself. When she moved her imaginary guitar, she felt alive with music. A musical talent was awaken. Yes I want to play! She has found the answer. Soon she saved enough to buy a guitar. And started pursuing an all consuming music career. It takes her places but she will need the occasional break. To go back to the old place. The place where an old man inspired her. The place where she discovered the music inside. The place where the swagger of the guitar would bring out the feeling of why and how she became a musician in the first place.
‘Sometimes we need someone to give wings to our talent. And a place for it to take flight.’