Of all of the records that Art Fazil has released during his decades-spanning career, there is none quite like his self-titled debut English album.
With its songs serving as social commentaries on the state of Singapore's youth as well as society in the 1990s, the project is one of the veteran singer-songwriter's most sincere and thought-provoking musical releases.
But while it brilliantly captures the zeitgeist of the Lion City in the final years of the 20th century, it would be a mistake to think of Art Fazil as an album whose only purpose is to evoke feelings of nostalgia. According to Art, the album still has much to offer to listeners, especially to those who are new to his music, 30 years after its launch.
"The songs and some of the themes in the solo album are as relevant today as they were when they first came out in 1993. Check out 'Full Moon Over Marina Bay' and 'Mama, I Can’t Breathe' and put them in today’s context and you’ll see what I mean," he told Hear65.
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the timeless album, Art will be performing it in its entirety along with his original backing band, The Healers, at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 6 October. Titled Songs of A Rebellious Teen – Art Fazil's 30th Anniversary Album Celebration by Art Fazil, the event will be an opportunity for both the artist of the hour and his audience to rediscover the works that have been such an integral part of Singapore's music history.
In an interview with Hear65, Art explained what makes his self-titled album special to him, shared his secrets to creating music with longevity, and teased what fans can expect from his upcoming Esplanade concert.
Hi, Art! It has been three decades since you released your self-titled album. Tell us what makes it so special to you.
The album marks an era for me and also, in a way, made-in-Singapore music. It’s the last part of the analogue decade. It was also a time when we had international corporate involvement in local music. As much as being indie is all cool and has street cred, having a big label such as Pony Canyon helped to push the artist and the music further with a good budget for promotion.
It is special to me because after about seven years of writing in English and trying to be heard by labels, I finally got an album out. And it was rather well received by the Singapore public, which made it even sweeter for me. I have wonderful memories of making the record, promoting it, and getting awards for it. This is a celebration of that memory.
"It (my self-titled album) is special to me because after about seven years of writing in English and trying to be heard by labels, I finally got an album out. And it was rather well received by the Singapore public, which made it even sweeter for me."
While revisiting the songs on the record, did you make any discoveries about yourself that you weren’t aware of back in 1993?
Definitely. In hindsight, I would have recorded some songs differently, like 'Full Moon Over Marina Bay' and 'Searchlight', had I had more time to explore the music arrangements.
Also, some commented back then that my diction was too local and that it could have been better had I been aware then. I think my diction has improved slightly after living in London for 15 years.
"I often insist on finding out what’s new in the scene — a new act, a new music movement, or a new marketing strategy like having a TikTok account to reach out to new audiences."
Your creations as part of Rausyanfikir as well as your solo releases continue to be important parts of Singapore’s music history. What do you think is the key to making music that has longevity?
I think it’s because I am stubborn and very persistent with my vision. It can be detrimental to a band with such an attitude as being in a band requires give and take and lots of compromises. We went through a bit of tension while making Rausyanfikir’s second album as some of my ideas clashed with the other band members', especially the late Esham Jamil's. There was one point in the studio where I walked out after a disagreement about what tracks should be on the album and which ones shouldn’t. I am particular with which songs appear on the album from the first track to the last. And whether the songs are stringed together so that as a whole, they tell a story.
It was the hazard of having a sense of self-belief that that was the right direction to take. I did not regret being stubborn on the making of Rausyanfikir’s second album, called Rusuhan Fikiran (Riot of Thoughts), as till today, it has withstood the test of time and still sounds fresh.
Also, apart from being focused, I often insist on finding out what’s new in the scene — a new act, a new music movement, or a new marketing strategy like having a TikTok account to reach out to new audiences. I am still learning new things today, which makes it exciting to be in the music business.
Credit: Art Fazil (Facebook)
When we last spoke, you said that you “cringe at the thought of being a nostalgic 90s act” and that you “try to evolve and sound fresh each time”. Tell us about your some of your most recent efforts to do so.
Yes, I have always cringed at being known for just a couple of hit songs from a certain era and having to keep playing those few songs, hence the conscious effort to try to evolve with the times without losing my core character in music. For example, when I do my school tour to speak to students about music and poetry, the teachers would request the folky 'Merindu Kepastian' (from 2000's Nur) because they grew up with that music whereas the kids would ask for the more chill-out, street-style song 'Rilek Brader' (released in 2013). So it proves that if you tweak things a little bit every now and then, you can gain a bit of mileage and gain a new audience.
You’ll be holding a concert at the Esplanade in October to celebrate Art Fazil’s 30th anniversary. What can your fans expect from the concert?
For the 30th anniversary concert, I will be playing the whole album live. I am rediscovering the songs from the album, some of which I have never played live before. The last time I played almost all the songs from the album was during my 1994 solo concert at the PUB Auditorium, which had about 700 people. I will transport my fans back to the glory days of the 1990s.
Credit: Art Fazil (Facebook)
"The last time I played almost all the songs from the album was during my 1994 solo concert at the PUB Auditorium, which had about 700 people. I will transport my fans back to the glory days of the 1990s."
You will be joined on stage by The Healers, your original backing band, at your upcoming concert. What was it like reconnecting and working together with them for this event?
Everyone’s greying now, so I got to be gentle with them. Hahaha. I’ve got to have longer pauses in between songs now. But it’s great having to play with these guys again. Bani Rahman, who plays bass, is now a household name in the live music scene. Zubir Abdullah, who plays the keyboard, now lectures on Malay music at NTU while Addy “Cradle” Rasidi is a sought-after session guitarist playing with a variety of artists, from Ramli Sarip to Stefanie Sun.
Sadly, our original drummer Keyjohan Ismail passed on a few years ago due to cancer. So for drums, I got Fairoz Samil, whom I had performed with before on many occasions. He is currently the drummer of Jive Talking.
"I am excited to perform all the songs [on the album] as it would be a trip for me and my fans back into a time when we were young, angry, and full of hope. The dream hasn't died; it has just been tweaked a bit here and there to change with the times."
Are there any songs that you are particularly excited to perform for your audience?
I am excited to perform all the songs as it would be a trip for me and my fans back into a time when we were young, angry, and full of hope. The dream hasn't died; it has just been tweaked a bit here and there to change with the times. The music we are playing for the concert will be the same songs they’ve heard at gigs at The Substation, Singapore Bandstand at Lido, NUS Jam & Hop, the PUB Auditorium, and other places. Back then, they may have heard the raw energy of our youth. This time, they will hear the songs aged with time and world-weary wisdom.
Finally, do you have any exciting future plans that you can share with us?
I am finishing up my solo Malay album, which was severely delayed due to the pandemic. It’s got a new sound for me — it’s going to be very loud folk music :)
I am also working on my reggae project, The Relax Company, which is entirely in English. I quietly released a single under this name amidst the pandemic. The single is called 'You Left Your Heart In Bali'.
After performing live with the band at the Esplanade in early 2023, I looked back at the songs and the direction of the music and decided to change a bit here and there. It’s still a work in progress, but as soon as I get my Malay album released, I will have something for the local English music fans. Stay tuned!
Tickets to Songs of A Rebellious Teen – Art Fazil's 30th Anniversary Album Celebration by Art Fazil are available from $28 via the Esplanade's official website.
Stream Art Fazil's self-titled album here: