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She’s just 17, and organising concerts

SINGAPORE — Most teens at age 17 might have an internship under their belt. Or, they might have worked at a retail job or cafe.

SINGAPORE — Most teens at age 17 might have an internship under their belt. Or, they might have worked at a retail job or cafe.

Gabriella Zhao, however, can put “concert organiser” on her resume. The 17-year-old even has her own company, and although she has yet to go about printing name cards for herself, they would read: Founder and president of United Singapore.

“I am sometimes blindly optimistic and ambitious,” she joked. United Singapore is a company that organises campaigns. Its first was Le Tour De Singapore in February last year, a cycling event. It saw 100 local and expatriate residents paired together, to visit iconic landmarks such as Marina Bay Sands and the Esplanade.

This Sunday marks Zhao’s foray into music with a concert, SINGapore — Singing with the Stars at *Scape on Sunday. The music is culled from entries from international and local students between the ages of 14 and 21, who sent in original compositions to Zhao online. The songs aim to highlight the importance of unity, integration, and a sense of belonging and identity in a multicultural Singapore.

Zhao has been interested in topics of integration, since she herself was born in Beijing, and has friends whose parents hail from overseas.

“Many of my friends consider Singapore to be their home... and many of them want to contribute to Singapore,” she added. Forming United Singapore was a small step for her, personally, to do so and to create such opportunities for like-minded youth.

“Music is such a universal language, I feel like no matter what background you’re from, people connect on that level,” said Zhao, who likes Kit Chan’s famous tune, Home.

Zhao, a Singapore Permanent Resident since the age of six, considers her inspirational figure to be Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. She had heard his speech at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership Conference last February (2016), when he spoke on the importance of national identity.

She herself said that she has noticed “a huge gap” between locals and international residents here. With the concert, she hopes that she can help bring expatriates and locals closer together.



Zhao picked six songs from the entries she received. She paired the student-composers with mentors from the music industry, and they worked together to better craft the songs.

The singers — Noa Boon, 17; Dominique Goh, 15; Nandini Rai, 14; Gayatri Ari, Clancy MacDonald and Megan Wright, all aged 16; as well as the groups Cutting Transmission, aged 16 to 18; Blunt Traumas, aged 16 to 17 — will present the at the concert at *Scape.

The group of mentors is a cast of international names, and were selected through a partnership between United Singapore and local music label, Ocean Butterflies.

Ohio-born singer Richard Jackson; Singapore singer and producer Clement Chow; Singaporean guitarist Addy Cradle; jazz singer Nita Aartsen; and Singaporean-Canadian hip hop singer Masia One all helped the youth fine-tune the music. Masia One, who was featured in the sound track for the movie Fast & Furious 8, will also act as host of the show on Sunday.

“They are really creative songs to listen to, all quite varied. Cutting Transmission is more indie-pop, and Gayatri, Clancy and Megan have great harmonies,” said Chow, famous for recording the National Day song, Count on Me, Singapore.

He was impressed by the “show of unity” and the students’ interest in a topic such as national integration.

The mentors will also act as judges on Sunday, and they will decide on three songs to record for an album, to be released by Ocean Butterflies.

It is not the first time that young Zhao has managed partner United Singapore with a larger agency.

Le Tour De Singapore was sponsored by National Integration Council of Singapore. A short film was made, out of clips from participants answering questions such as “How do you define home?”.

Although she is “trying to do something good here”, she has faced hurdles from budgeting to logistics.

“There are too many to be named,” she said. But she has soldiered on, despite sometimes facing nay-sayers who criticised the fact that she was not a Singaporean, yet was trying to lead locals to interact with “outsiders”.

“I am stubborn,” she said. “No matter what people say to me, it doesn’t really bring me down.”

Although she worked alone for her first campaign, she has recruited others — she has 10 other delegates from four international schools, and one local school working with her as part of the executive team of United Singapore.

For the future, Zhao said that she wants to grow United Singapore. She will be taking a gap year after graduation this year, to focus on the company full-time, and aims to “stabilise and mature” it with more projects. Some future plans wants to implement include increasing the number of campaigns per year; from just one annual campaign, to a range of two to three.

“We’re also currently working on a film about the establishment and expansion of United Singapore,” she said.


SINGapore – Singing with the Stars will be held on Sunday at The Ground Theatre at *SCAPE from 7pm to 8pm. Admission is free.

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