The Jazz Association Singapore (Jass), led by maestro Jeremy Monteiro, turns five this year—and in that short time, it has accomplished so much, including promoting jazz to a wider audience and nurturing local talents. We meet four young musicians who are set to take the jazz scene in Singapore into the next stage. In the last of a four-part series, jazz singer Siti Nur Iman discuss the power of music and having the one privilege other musicians don’t have: lyrics

Growing up on a diet of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland films introduced Siti Nur Iman to some of the popular jazz standards. But it was at the National University of Singapore (NUS) that she made her first foray into jazz with the NUS jazz band, performing at its biannual showcase and concert.

It was also there that the 23-year-old met fellow vocalists Marielle Solano and Sneha Menon—and together they formed the close-harmony trio, The Sugar Bees. They first performed together in 2018 at the annual Voices – A Festival of Song, organised by the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, and returned the next year with their guitarist friend, Kenzo Nagari.

In May, Iman performed a set of musical theatre songs with Solano and jazz pianist Lee Ann Gie as part of the Esplanade’s Songs We Grew Up With series of free performances. “It was the first time I’d done anything other than jazz professionally and I had an absolute blast singing with my best friend.

"I guess the standard I set was less about my performance but more about my attitude—genuinely enjoying the process and the music that you make is crucial in the making of a performance that all parties can enjoy. After that performance, I made a promise to myself to enjoy the shows that I do; if I don’t, it’s not going to be fun to watch either.”

She will be performing in the Jazz Association Singapore’s upcoming concert, Pesta Jazz: A Jazzy Celebration of Malay Songs 2021, which will take place on October 2, at the Capitol Theatre. “Having performed with Jass on several occasions, I’m definitely looking forward to enjoying the experience of performing Malay evergreen songs infused with jazz.”

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PASSION FOR MUSIC

“Music can be so personal. Whatever you’re playing or listening, it always begins and ends with the person. Through music, we speak and we feel. It’s hard not to be passionate about something so powerful and ethereal.”

MUSIC AND LYRICS

“One of the skills I’ve gained is definitely to embrace my theatrical side. I’m a huge fan of musical theatre, and prior to my foray into jazz, that was all I had really known. I used to be quite shy about being dramatic onstage, but after a while, I realised that being a singer means having one privilege other musicians don’t have: lyrics. To me, lyrics can sometimes be the most beautiful part of a tune—it’s the reason why I have a whole playlist dedicated to torch songs for when I’m feeling sad. Over time I’ve learned to let myself be dramatic with them—it makes for a more fun, relatable, and engaging performance.”

KEEP CALM

“I’m a bit of a baby so reading encouraging texts from my loved ones before I go on stage really helps to calm me down. Huge, deep breaths and chugging water before I step into the spotlight are also part of my ritual. Oddly enough, finishing my first tune helps gets the nerves out tremendously—I think it’s because halfway through the song, I realise just how much I love what I do ... and that’s usually enough to wash away any anxiety with adrenaline.”

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SONGBIRD I LOOK UP TO

“I attended my first Rani Singam concert two years ago and I left in absolute awe. As a singer, Rani embodies everything I believe in and aspire to be; she doesn’t just sing, she performs. She’s almost theatrical in the way she delivers each tune and has you in her grasp from the very first note until the very end. After I watched her live, I remember for the first time being comfortable in my own skin as a singer. It was magical.”

“I made a promise to myself to enjoy the shows that I do; if I don’t, it’s not going to be fun to watch either.”
Siti Nur Iman

ON REPEAT

Jazz standard:Easy to Love by Sarah Vaughan is one of my favourites, and the arrangement here is simple but delectable. Sarah’s voice in a cappella is such a treat.”

New release:Do Friends Fall in Love? by Rachael & Vilray. While this isn’t exactly a new release, it’s definitely one of the more recent releases that I’ve been obsessed with from the start. It’s a warm, intimate song done beautifully—Vilray is absolutely masterful at his instruments.”

Wildcard:Kiss Me More by Doja Cat. I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head. It’s so fun and flirty. I probably hit my daily cardio target just from dancing to this song in my room every three hours.”

DREAM COLLABORATION
“Since I’ve spoken so much about how musical theatre and jazz intersect in my world, I think it would be really fun to see Cynthia Erivo and Cécile McLorin Salvant bounce ideas off of each other. Pretty unlikely, but a girl can dream!”

Read more: Singapore International Festival of Arts 2021: Making Music with Jazz Icon Louis Soliano