The 1400-1700s saw a plethora of different eras of rule and states of flux – under ancient kings inspired by the gods, foreign influences in religion and trade from India, China, the Middle East and Europe. In the midst of constant natural phenomena and climate change, Temasek moved through this era like a candle in the wind; at times flickering tentatively and at others burning bright.
Creating a mashup of electronic music with elements from this era, would see an abundance of influences drawn from tablas, gamelan, malay orchestral music from the Nobat, to Portuguese, Dutch and Arab influences of the era. Imagine an electronic musician being a kid in the candy shop; the candy shop of the sounds and colours of the 1400-1700s.
During the British rule, Singapore was undergoing an era of reconstruction, change and growth as a business and trading hub of the region. Interest came flowing in, as the British encouraged and opened up the young port city and new colony to trade and investment from the region. As the cobbled streets were paved and as systems of governance and infrastructure were set in place, Singapore became more urban; and with any city, so did the underground and counter-culture grow.
Much like hip-hop, RnB and soul in the urban genre of music, as cities grew, so did the voices of the blues and soul in music, as city life had its struggles. Hip-hop music developed as a means of protest against establishment and any imbalances in society among the rich and the poor, the advantaged and disadvantaged. A mashup of this era and genre could be moulded on this dichotomy.
As more and more of the region was unveiled through thorough exploration, so did centres of expansion for the rising thalassocracies (sea-borne kingdoms) including Palembang – where the Srivijayan crown set out to find refuge after fleeing pressure from the invading Majapahit Empire. The Riau Islands would also have had a huge influence on the settlement in Temasek, and the power emanating from these islands would go on to determine the fate of a new kingdom of Singapura.
With urban music being sample heavy but more versed in soul music, the spiritual and political aspects of this era, and its pureness within its struggles could be a source of inspiration for a mashup in this era and genre. Using the inspiration from Gamelan, tribe and indigenous music of this period, which is still alive today, these forms of music could be retrofitted with an updated urban treatment to their sound.
Temasek, being at the tip of the peninsula, would have been exposed to the networks of trade from the edge of the peninsula inland to the wider surrounding archipelago. She would have been a gateway, springboard and respite of sorts before seafarers moved south, east or west through more challenging waters towards Java and East Timor, to the Straits of Malacca or even north into the Johor hinterlands towards Champa (southern Vietnam). Her waters would have been home to the Orang Laut, who lived on trading along the surrounding tributaries, getting the best of the influx and outflow of obscure goods and items for food and survival.
Pop music in recent times, like the Orang Laut, has been finding more obscure sounds and influences from Southeast Asian culture to be included in the samples of music by artists such as Charlie Puth and Ariana Grande.
Seeing as the elements of music above were the ‘popular’ musical elements, styles and instruments of the era, this mashup would encapsulate the essence of time travel, making the obscure mainstream.
1819 saw Singapore as one of the strategic pieces in the colonial conquest of the region by the Dutch, Portuguese, French, British and belatedly, the Spanish at Philippines. It would have been a time of change and questioning of identities, as local populations of the region came to terms with the influx of European influences on their lives. Underbellies could have developed in the city-port during these times, and these would have thrived and looked out for the little man, whoever that was.
Much like indie musicians, they would have then found their own voice and pushed their own ideals and agendas to independent make a path for themselves, in a seemingly impossible environment; much like independent artists do in a saturated music industry, in rock, pop or underground music.
Having borne the name Tumasik, as seen in early Javanese and Malay Literature, this name would be Singapore’s original moniker, to be then recorded and transcibed as 淡馬錫 (Danmaxi) by Chinese explorer Wang Dayuan. Likely related to the word ‘tasik’ in Malay which means lake, the name could have been given in relation to the fact that Singapore was always surrounded by water.
As the people of the time probably lived from day to day on the natural riches of the region, with its biodiversity and plentiful forests, rivers and seas, they must have lived free and without a care; determining their next moves on feeling the vibes of the times.
Very much like in jazz music, they must have improvised as they went along, following their guts and feelings as they trusted in their ability to make the most of their situations and environments. A mashup based in jazz would encapsulate; with the distinct musical elements of this era’s instrumentation; the spirit of freedom of the 1300s, which would align almost identically with the spirit of jazz.
Sounds of traditional music by Riau tribes and the Orang Laut would have included gamelan, flutes and other skin drums, making the spirit of creating music spontaneous and independent as they told stories of adventures at sea.
The spirit of Indie-rock or Indie pop relates well to this natural and uninhibited approach, using resources around it to make the most of the music that is produced. Indie artists would find the new frontier of the 1300s intriguing as they set out to blaze their own paths in their genre.
With the onset of a new and lasting peacetime, Singapore regained its status as a port hub akin to pre-war status, and it would eventually go on to surpass previous standards.
With the political change, Singapore society saw a national identity burgeoning from the shadows of British rule and Japanese Occupation, with a people hungry for the future.
Under Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP, the nation strode past its neighbours in economic progress and infrastructure, establishing it as Southeast Asia’s most prized gem, attracting investors and global commerce to its ports, enriching the country to enable it to push into the first world.
As our economy and our autonomy grew, so did our love for local pop music and music that moved as fast as we did; with the trends, times and tunes of each decade in modern Singapore changing as fast as our city landscape. More familiar to our ears, a mashup of this era in pop music will be very familiar, yet somewhat nostalgic.
The soundscapes of nature and simple rhythmic singing of the Orang Laut who would sing or chant to keep a rowing tempo constant, with the occasional seafarer’s expedition from the north and south of Temasek would have rung prevalent around its shores during this era. They would have temporarily settled on our coasts while moving in the waters around our island back then, where greater trade activity would have occurred with its neighbouring region.
The romance and majesty of ancient Riau kingdoms of Southeast Asia featuring early royal court music in the different civilisations and empires that dominated Southeast Asia, would have musical manifestations of gamelan music, the serunai (flute), rebab (lute), rebana (hand-drums) and bronze gongs of the 1300s.
In electronic music, sound and sample quality are everything. Exploring the frequencies of traditional instruments that originated in this era could prove magical, discovering tones and treatments of these sounds in a modern and even futuristic way.
The Singapore economy experienced much the same roller-coaster effect that Western economies did in the period between the two world wars. A post-war boom created by rising tin and rubber prices gave way to recession in late 1920 when prices for both dropped on the world market.
Pioneers of Singapore would also rise to prominence, as immigrant businessmen setup their interests on the island, but also out of concern for their indigenous populations that were not well-served under the demands of everyday life.
The vices of the time would have also seen many want to live like the more fortunate, acquiring their same tastes for cabaret and big band music in clubs, where jazz and musical theatre were popular. Jazz would have seen its birth as the pop-music of the time in this era, specifically. A mashup of Jazz and this era would to uncover jazz in its former, mighty glory – music that dreams were made of.