Alemay Fernandez may be a household name for jazz lovers in Singapore, but she’s only just releasing her debut solo album, Hard to Imagine. She talks to us about her creative journey.
Singaporean Jazz Singer, Alemay Fernandez Launches Debut Solo Album, ‘Hard to Imagine’
Some might say it takes an old soul to appreciate jazz and its traditions. And perhaps stage performer and jazz singer Alemay Fernandez is precisely that. After all, she counts legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James as her inspirations — which any jazz fan will instantly recognise when listening to the title track of her debut solo album, Hard to Imagine.
Putting the album together was a five-year labour of love, featuring nine original tunes plus songs written by 53A’s Sara Wee and her own sister, Sabina Fernandez. But Hard to Imagine, which will be released on 9 July, isn’t just an album styled after old school jazz favourites, as it includes soul, gospel, blues and a touch of Latin rhythms too.
We speak with Alemay Fernandez to find out about her creative journey of making Hard to Imagine.
You’ve been in the jazz scene for a while now, why launch your first solo album now?
Alemay Fernandez Why now? Because that’s honestly how long it took to create. This album has been my labour of love over the last five years, while I was coming to terms with seismic shifts in my life. During this period, I met the love of my life, lost my father and became an aunt for the first time.
I realised that I dealt best with the highs and lows of life through music. I used the creative process to sort through all that emotion, and the songs that came out of that became Hard to Imagine.
What were your biggest inspirations when writing for this album of originals?
Fernandez My inspirations are jazz legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Nancy Wilson and Stevie Wonder.
When I first started on the album, it was all new — it marked my first time writing, producing and arranging songs. I had never done any of those before, so it is an album of musical firsts for me. That is why I chose Hard to Imagine as the title, because all of this seemed inconceivable just five years ago. My co-producer Shawn Letts had the confidence in me and guided me through all of it. I am very much indebted to him. I am fiercely proud of what I created with his help, and of all the hard work that it took to get there. The other inspiration for the album was change. That could be an alternative album title: How I Changed. But Hard to Imagine has a better ring to it!
What did you love about the process of putting the album together?
Fernandez I love that I was a beneficiary of crowdfunding, long before crowdfunding was a thing! Four years ago for my birthday, my sister Sabina got a group of my close friends, family and fans together and started “Alemay's Birthday Album Fund” as a surprise for me. I consider that funding my lucky start-up money, and I am so grateful to everybody who contributed. The rest of the album was self-funded.
How much have you seen the music industry evolve since you first started singing professionally?
Fernandez The music industry has changed quite a bit. In this digital age, everyone has instant access to all types and genres of music. This also means that we can be more selective about the music we choose to listen to and enjoy.
I am grateful that home-grown talents are receiving more recognition and respect these days, especially among the younger generation. Lush 99.5 and festivals such as SingJazz, Baybeats and Laneway all feature local artistes holding their own alongside major international artistes. I hope that more people will be receptive to the brilliant musicians, actors, writers and creative professionals that Singapore has to offer.
Where, in your opinion, does jazz music stand in Singapore’s music scene?
Fernandez Jazz music definitely has a niche audience in Singapore — it is loved by the sophisticated, jet-set crowd. Thankfully, more people are realising the importance of jazz. With festivals like SingJazz and the opening of the Montreaux Jazz Cafe coming up, it is a good indicator that jazz still has a place in our music scene. The jazz scene here is young and full of promise. It is small, but strong — just like Singapore, it continues to grow.
Hard to Imagine launches 9 July, and will be available for download on iTunes and Spotify. The Album Launch Concert also takes place 9 July, 7.30pm at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets at $35, from Sistic.