Singapore GaGa is a 55-minute paean to the quirkiness of the Singaporean aural landscape. It reveals Singapore's past and present with a delight and humour that makes it a necessary film for all Singaporeans. We hear buskers, street vendors, school cheerleaders sing hymns to themselves and to their communities. From these vocabularies (including Arabic, Latin, Hainanese), a sense of what it might mean to be a modern Singaporean emerges. This is Singapore's first documentary to have a cinema release. With English and Chinese subtitles.
I stepped off Novena train station late one night, and stumbled onto Melvyn. There he was jamming away to no one in particular. The acoustics beside The MRT entrance was perfect. He sang Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and hymns. Half way through, he asked me, "You want happy or sad song?" I thought that this man must be crazy to perform at a station with no one in the middle of the night, but he was having a lot of fun.
THE MICKEY MOUSE OF SINGAPORE
Victor Khoo still wears a mullet and Charlee is even more life like now. On my way to the shoot, I felt excited, unsure what it would be like to meet after all these years. I entered the school hall and saw 1000 kids screaming, Charlee was performing the same magic now as he did many years ago. Victor told me later that he inherited Charlee from his father who was also a ventriloquist. Together they have entertained Singapore children for 50 years.
YEW HONG CHOW
He dedicated his life to the harmonica and to exhibiting the range of this wonderful instrument. It had seen him through extreme poverty and a divorce. Now in his sixties, he is still performing and giving harmonica lessons. I told him I was curious about the world that the harmonica represented in Singapore in the 60's and 70's. Over lunch he revealed the history of the instrument in Singapore and how it became sidelined. There was no bitterness in his re-telling, just a certain wistfulness of what could have been.
MARGARET LENG TAN
Margaret called me up one early Sunday morning, "Are you Tan Pin Pin the filmmaker? When I said yes, she said "Oh good, I called up all the Tan Pin Pins in the phone book to find you." She was back in Singapore from New York. I had written her fan mail because I loved her album 'The Art of the Toy Piano'. We promised to meet if she was in town. That was how she came to be in Singapore GaGa, fresh from Carnegie Hall into the void deck of Ang Mo Kio, Singapore.
I met him by accident in a train station. There he was tap dancing, juggling and playing the harmonica simultaneously. He played the classics from both the eastern and western canon, all to the same clog stomping beat. Since that afternoon, he has been calling me every few days or so, updating me about his latest gig in this or that train station. His signature tune is "Rose Rose I love you", he plays that once a day.
I was so happy when I found the Voice and her name is Juanita. This is the voice that I have criss-crossed Singapore with. It turns out that she is also the voice for the Civil Defence Alerts ("This is an emergency"), the cheery Fujitech elevator announcements ("Going Up!"). Now that I have met her in flesh and blood, she is everywhere.
BAND OF OUTLAWS
I was surprised to hear the Chinese dialect news in a taxi one evening. Since Mandarin was nationalised more than twenty years ago, Chinese dialects are banished from mainstream media and this newscast was a concession for the elderly dialect speakers who grow fewer by the day. At 8 pm every night, six readers speaking six different Chinese dialects (Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese, Hakka, Hockchew) read news for 3 minutes each. When I finally met them I asked if anyone listened to them. One said, "It is a privilege to read in a dialect few speak anymore, we are the last generation and I will continue to do it until they ask me to stop"