Melissa Tham: The Singlish-speaking jazz singer
SINGAPORE — When we heard jazz artiste Melissa Tham perform with the Christy Smith Quartet at the Singapore International Jazz Festival earlier this year, the singer’s rich, emotive vocals made jazz music seem far more accessible than one thought possible. Interestingly, while Tham comes across as your regular, endearing Singaporean girl — who is not afraid to flaunt it — with a love of jazz, she likes “all kinds of music, lah”.
“It’s nice sometimes when I listen to something on YouTube, or someone tells me to check some person out,” said the 29-year-old. “But I’ve always felt most at home with jazz or, specifically, swing. I like that feeling when I listen to Frank Sinatra — that swagger. I really like that feeling because it makes me feel so shiok!”
Tham’s addiction to jazz’s unique “shiok-ness” launched her on a path of no return. The singer-songwriter, who has been in the music industry for a decade and was named the Sing Jazz Emerging Vocalist Of The Year in March, released her debut solo full-length album this month. Titled Falling In Love Again, the album was recorded in Germany and contains several covers and a few originals, including the title track, which was co-written by Tham and the album’s producer, musician and Cultural Medallion winner Jeremy Monteiro, who’s also Tham’s mentor.
Still, Tham admits it is challenging to convince audiences in Singapore that jazz isn’t only for the high-brow or, as Tham puts it, the “atas” crowd.
“There is something wonderful to learn in every genre of music,” she said. “I love jazz but, sometimes, I am in the mood for disco music. Sometimes, I want to listen to classical music; sometimes heavy metal. Just because I am in the mood. Music should be accessible to everyone. It shouldn’t be selective.”
Tham believes the enjoyment of music should be intuitive. “For me, as a jazz listener, I feel like I am also a part of the audience, whenever the instrumentalists start to perform their solos on stage and I am just standing there listening to them,” she said. “Even when I go and watch Jeremy at one of his shows, I may not understand what he is doing technically, but for me, jazz has always been about the feeling. A lot of people forget that. We get so involved trying to play with the technical stuff.”
That “feeling” is important for Tham, whether as a performer or concertgoer. “I always want to feel something when I go for a performance. It won’t be that difficult once you focus on feeling something. You don’t have to try to understand. Don’t expect to feel a certain emotion — just let the emotion take you.”
To some extent, Tham’s attitude towards music also mirrors her attitude towards her career. “Now that I have decided I know for sure music is the direction I want to go, it’s a balance of letting things happen naturally and being aware of (what can happen in) the near future. There are moments when I sit down and think about (it), though I don’t have a specific goal. But I do want to improve myself vocally and to be a better singer,” she said.
Perhaps Tham’s aplomb is part of her appeal as a musician. “I just want to share a part of me that I love with people and, hopefully, they begin to love it, too,” she said, with a laugh. “When I am on stage, I am just the way I am now, with the Singlish ... maybe if I go overseas, I just (tone it down) a little! I just want to relax and have fun.”
Falling In Love Again is available at CD-Rama, Popular bookstore and HMV, as well as on iTunes. The album can also be ordered online at http://www.melissatham.jazznote.net.