Commissioned and produced by The Foundation as part of the One Million Towards UTOPIA movement, a perennial campaign to encourage Singapore to live better through the arts, the project also served as a platform to introduce The Foundation and its mission to the wider public.
To lead the conversation, The Foundation invited 4 of Singapore’s brightest music artistes, whose genres could not be more different, to talk about art-making in a pandemic, their creative processes, and what utopia in the arts looks like for them.
As it turns out, Charlie Lim (Indie), Aisyah Aziz (Soul/R&B), ShiGGa Shay (Rap/Hip-Hop), and Joanna Dong (Mando Jazz) had more in common than their differences in styles would suggest.
After close to a year of living with COVID-19 and government restrictions on social interactions, The Foundation embarked on the Roundtable Video Series to pursue conversations with artistes about the arts, within and beyond the pandemic. Adhering to prevailing safe-distancing measures, recordings were made over 2 days, with the artistes split into pairs to maximise room for conversation.
First, they listened to the UTOPIA Symphony, recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios and were told about how it was inspired by Singapore. Then, the artistes were given question prompts to stimulate discussion.
On the first day of recording, our first pair of artistes Charlie Lim and Aisyah Aziz peeled back the gloss to give audiences a peek at some of the struggles they face as musicians. They spoke about how, by leaning into the creation process and stripping away the distractions, they would find a way forward time and again in this cycle of self-doubt and renewal.
Charlie and Aisyah also shared some sagely advice they have received, like this gem from Aisyah’s uncle, “(Life) is like jazz, you win or you learn. There’s no losing, unless you put that in your mind.”
Our second duo of Joanna Dong and ShiGGa Shay tackled the ‘lofty’ topic of utopia. Questioning their right to discuss such a ‘deep’ topic, ShiGGa Shay waxed lyrical about “anyone can talk about (utopia)”, and that “everyone has a right to an opinion”.
The conversation circled back to the idea of utopia a number of times, as the two spoke about holding onto hope and making the most of what we have in these bleak times, as well as feeling grateful for being able to practise the arts. As Joanna put it, “I don’t think there would be many people who would describe their utopia as being devoid of arts and culture.”
The Roundtable Video Series marked the beginning of the wider One Million Towards UTOPIA campaign to get Singapore more invested in the arts. The Foundation plans to build on this initial success, adding layer upon layer through commissions, outreach efforts and further conversation with an ever-growing circle of artists, patrons, and stakeholders. As the COVID-19 virus evolves to become endemic in Singapore and around the world, The Foundation also plans to adapt the Roundtable Video Series discussions for in-person and ‘phygital’ events.