At the recent ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Tourism Forum held in Davao City in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of several of Singapore's most popular entertainers. One in particular stood out. Wendi Koh has a strong voice and is a fun entertainer to watch. She is enthusiastic, passionate and easy on the eyes. It is not hard to see why she has developed a strong following in her native Singapore and has won the hearts of the execs at Singapore Tourism. She is the voice of "Uniquely You," the song that drives Singapore Tourism "Uniquely You" campaign. After the event ending fireworks display, I had a chance to grab Wendi Koh for a few words about two of her loves, singing and Singapore.
Are you a native of Singapore?
I’m a native Singaporean, but ethnically I’m Chinese.
Your English is excellence, have you always spoken English?
Many people are in Singapore speak pretty good English. Singapore is our official language. Malay is our national language; we all have a mother tongue, which for me would be Mandarin. So I call myself, perhaps rightly so, trilingual
I know you are a popular in Singapore and the vocalist for “Uniquely You?”
, When did you start singing?
Gosh, a long time ago, I made my initial and first foray in 1983. So that’s 23 years.
And your first album?
My first album was actually in EP, we wanted to test the market because it was in English, a brave step. It was a 4-song EP and that was in 1990. And then mine next album, which was all original music, even more brave, and in English, which was something I released in 2002.
So what’s your latest project?
I’m working on some music with a friend of mine. We had been talking and thinking about and putting together a musical. It’s difficult to say anything because musicals are so…they kind of move and change so much. In a month, one million ideas can happen. And, the whole story line can change. So we are going to take our time with it. I have already recorded one song in New York for this idea that we had and were to move forward on this. I also intend to be on stage more. In more theatrical production so for the moment I will be putting commercial pop aside for a while.
My last commercial album was in 2002, when I released "Gutsy Girl." Because it was so warmly received, I sort of just promoted that and concentrated on that stuff, and also started producing shows of my own with other artists involved. I also started writing commercially, jingles and theme songs for corporations. I have started doing that more than the commercial way. I needed to think outside the box and try new stuff.
When did you start working with Singapore tourism?
Oh wow, when I was asked by Mr. Ken Low who is the Brand Director for the Singapore Tourism Board. He actually asked me to sing Uniquely You. He was really sweet. He told me that he wrote the song with my voice in mind. I kind of collaborated with him a little bit before that. we were in in Berlin in 2004, I think it was February of 2004, when he used to when he launched uniquely Singapore , and that was the first time that we had done in entire show that included the song, Uniquely You.
Has the song been presented internationally yet?
It already has been in a very subtle way. It wasn’t really going to be the theme song. As I understand it, it was meant to convey a feeling, because Singapore is so many things. The song kind of covered all that emotionally for me.
Where are you from in Singapore?
Singapore as you may have already heard repeatedly throughout the night, our island is very small. When you say are from Singapore, you are just from Singapore. It doesn’t really matter if you’re east or west or from the north or the south, we are all just from this tiny, super dynamic, energetic country. What I like say about it is that it is an incredible. I like the word potpourri. I like the word melting pot. It is really a lovely mix of just so much, and that's what I love most about Singapore. It is even on the cover of "Uniquely You," when I said, "it is our diversity that makes us so different." I grew up knowing so much about other ethnicities, other cultures and traditions. I’m glad to see that we haven’t lost it despite going so fast forward. We are becoming so technologically advanced. We’re really doing it by great leaps, which can kill the culture and the tradition of the good old days of each ethnicity: the Chinese, the Malay, the Indians. It’s our community that has to preserve that. Our Asian values, Asian beliefs and traditions. Plus the trappings of modern life, you know, bio-technology, technology, etc. I could go on.
What should a westerner know about Singapore?
That this tiny island has so much. A lot of my friends from overseas, and people who have just been to Singapore for the first time that I meet didn’t know that Singapore was so interesting. They say, "I didn’t know that was so modern. It is very cosmopolitan. I didn’t know I could go see little India or Chinatown, and they have all these little pockets of culture too. I didn’t know you could have all sorts of fun. At the same time, stay out late and go little crazy. I can do anything and everything in this one little place." Yeah, you have to be here in order to see all that there is to see and do. Yes, that’s what they’re always amazed by, and they love the food. Some of them will go "ugh, way too spicy." But most of them say, "Oh my God, the food!"
So your favorite dish would be?
Oh gosh, that’s not fair.
Don’t worry, I have faith that you.
No, it is really not fair. You can have every kind of cuisine in Singapore. Some of the local dishes like… please forgive me, all the other a fine restaurants and talented chefs in Singapore, but I really love pepper crab.
Is that a restaurant?
That’s not a restaurant, that’s a dish. And the next thing would be chicken rice.
I don't think anyone will be offended, I am not offended.
Yes, but there are so much more. I love it! You can get so much great food from where I come from. We are so lucky that way.
Can you think of a must see when visiting Singapore?
OK, wow! Again, that’s not fair. That's really hard. If you are the clubbing sort, you might want to check out the legendary Zouk Velvet Underground and there is a Ministry of Sound that's in Clarke Quay. For a little more adult entertainment, Crazy Horse has just started in Singapore. It’s kind of what you’d see in Moulin Rouge "“ an artsy cabaret. I haven't really seen it myself. It is more male entertainment anyway. If you’re a daytime sort and like sporting activities by the beach. I would recommend a day at Sentosa. Definitely go try the luge, that’s just started. Yes, Sentosa Island, it is just at other end of Singapore.
You are my hero.
You are most very welcome. Oh, and please visit Chinatown, and little India. Please go to the Malay village. And if you need a great place to go just get asked any Singaporean. They all have their favorite places to go and are more than happy to tell you. Everyone’s got a different opinion of what's great to see, but definitely go see.
Written and photographed by Devin Galaudet
For more on Wendi Koh visit www.wendikoh.com
For more on Singapore at ITKT