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Seow Bei Yi
Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bonding through album

The Straits Times | Seow Bei Yi | Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Aspiring singer Tan Ying Hao and his mother, Madam Ong Siok Huay.

When aspiring singer Tan Ying Hao first performed for his mother the Hokkien songs that he would record for his self-released album, Madam Ong Siok Huay did not understand him because of his funny-sounding "accent".

"I didn't know what he was singing and told him to show me the lyrics," says Madam Ong 62, who works part-time at a wet market vegetable stall.

"Sometimes, he uses the wrong words or pronunciation, changing the meaning completely."

But she says he has improved a lot since he first tried singing in Hokkien three to four years ago.

Earlier this month, Ying Hao, 23, released his first album, Black Panther, which cost about $25,000 of his own money to produce. Four of the nine tracks on the album are sung in Hokkien.

His first recordings started as projects during his Music and Audio Technology diploma course at Singapore Polytechnic.

Ying Hao, a self-taught musician, would ask his mother for help to translate some of the lyrics that he had written in Mandarin. He rephrased them sometimes on her advice.

While he and his older sister, invoice processor Yvonne Tan, 25, have always been able to understand the dialect as their mother and father, taxi driver Tan Kian Seng, 59, speak it at home, this is the first time he tried to study the words.

"I didn't speak much Hokkien as a child, but it was spoken among the elderly at home," says Ying Hao, who will be pursuing an Arts Management degree at Lasalle College of the Arts.

Looking back, Madam Ong regrets encouraging her children to speak only English and Mandarin for it has resulted in a communication barrier between them and their dialect-speaking grandparents.

Ying Hao plans to improve his Hokkien and hopes that his mother will to teach it to his children in the future.

"I'll do my part to expose them to it frequently and play them my songs," he says.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to study music-related courses?

Madam Ong: My husband and I had hoped that he would study something more down-to-earth. We wanted him to be an accountant or engineer, but he was reluctant. I discussed it with my husband, who thought studying music was a good idea.

Ying Hao: My dad is more easy-going and willing to let us take risks. Being a full-time performer in Singapore is not easy, so I'm taking it one step at a time. Knowledge of the field will be helpful to my music career in the long run.

How important is dialect to you?

Ying Hao: It's a part of my identity.

Madam Ong: Dialect is important to our family. His grandmother speaks in Hokkien but he couldn't really understand her when he was younger, so she put in the effort to learn Mandarin. He tries his best, but sometimes he cannot find the right words in dialect.

Ying Hao: The moment I struggle, my grandparents will switch to Mandarin.

Madam Ong: His dad communicates with him more now that he can speak in Hokkien.

Ying Hao: I am closer to my mother as my dad works full-time and I spend more time with her.

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