Intimacy and music in the time of COVID-19: Reflections by Akeem Jahat, Amanda Chong, Aqmal N., Artyfartybrin, and Joshua Ip

Intimacy and music in the time of COVID-19: Reflections by Akeem Jahat, Amanda Chong, Aqmal N., Artyfartybrin, and Joshua Ip

Presented by Singapore Writers Festival

In this long, extended season of social isolation and lockdowns, our experiences of intimacy - whether it be with lovers, friends, or family - seems to be farther than ever. From video calls to virtual Netflix parties, we’ve all tried to bridge these distances in our own ways.

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However, as we continue to navigate this time of social distancing, our understanding of our relationships with ourselves, others and the environment evolves with us. Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) will explore these ideas through words and stories in their first-ever digital edition. Organised by the National Arts Council, this year's Singapore Writers Festival is in its 23rd edition and is part of the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign.

 
 
 
 
 
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The 23rd edition of the Singapore Writers Festival will take place from 30 Oct to 8 Nov 2020 with the theme Intimacy. - In a year of quarantines and social distancing, this year’s festival interrogates notions of community mindedness, loneliness, mental health, our need for physical and emotional human interaction and what intimacy could resemble in a time of pandemic and the lack of human contact. - How has this scenario changed our understanding of our relationships with ourselves, others, and the environment? We invite you to stay home, turn on your screens, and witness the power of literature in capturing this shared human need. - SWF 2020 Key Visual by Eric Foenander @efoe - #sgwritersfest #SGCultureAnywhere #swf2020 #intimacy

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This year, the festival has brought on musicians such as Akeem Jahat and Aqmal N as part of its lineup, where we will get to hear them share more on their notions of intimacy from a songwriter's perspective. Music, after all, has always been a way to tell stories of vulnerability and raw emotion. Shabir's modern Tamil track 'Aayizhai’, for example, vividly narrates the age-old circumstance of infatuation and pining for deep love; .gif has always been an act that's not afraid to bare it all, and the duo's song, ‘Only Yours', featuring Bani Haykal, beautifully captures an essence of overwhelming longing and emotional closeness both sonically and lyrically.  

As the scene continues to grow, we witness musicians using melodies and lyrics to discuss increasingly intimate conversations around mental health, loneliness, heartache, physical and emotional connectivity, and more.

Beyond music-making, the act of consuming music is also a shared form of expression. Similar to the practice of writing, or reading poetry and literature, music creates intimate experiences that can be enjoyed alone or with a community. Like literature, music allows us to experience a spectrum of emotions through words and expression. Whether we are touched by the emotional tenor of the song or resonate deeply with its lyrics, each of us reacts to the power of stories in our own personal and intimate way.

Exploring the confluences between music and literature, we speak with some of this year's Singapore Writers Festival speakers Akeem Jahat, Aqmal N., Joshua Ip, Artyfartybrin, and Amanda Chong to find out what intimacy means to them in today’s world, and the music that accompanies these expressions of intimacy.


Akeem Jahat

Akeem Jahat is a songwriter-rapper-producer that's well characterised for his hard-hitting verses and clever wordplay. Most known for his highly acclaimed mixtape SeluDOPE, the rapper will be part of SWF's Music and Social Conscience panel, alongside fellow musicians inch and Shak'thiya, to discuss the role and purpose of music in times of complex social climates and how musicians can be socially conscious.

What does Intimacy mean to you? 

I think being able to close the gap through music/ art is a form of intimacy. Being able to share the vulnerabilities and joy with the listeners.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distances have been more keenly felt. How has that changed the concept of intimacy for you?

I feel like I miss more people now. Especially when we are disallowed to travel.

What is one song you feel best represents your idea of intimacy, and why? 

‘Merindu Kepastiaan’ by the one and only Art Fazil. This song in particular got me writing in the Malay language even more. The whole line when he sings “Andai esok aku menjadi tanah, sudikah engkau menjadi bunga menghiasi dadahku” (If tomorrow I turned to soil, Would you be the flowers that decorate my chest) gave birth to the blueprint of my conviction I apply in my songs.


Amanda Chong

A lawyer with a long-standing love for writing, Amanda Chong is the author of the poetry collection Professions and the founder of ReadAble, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving social mobility. This year, the author will be part of A Strange Time to be Alive, one of SWF's many digital programmes.

What does Intimacy mean to you? 

Intimacy is the willingness to carry another person’s weight. The mutual bearing of burdens is what knits together lovers, friends, families and whole communities.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distances have been more keenly felt. How has that changed the concept of intimacy for you?

In forced isolation, I thought about all the ways we have put up our own barriers and avoided bearing others’ burdens. I hope this collective memory of loneliness in 2020 brings us all to a place of deeper compassion, and of fresh wonderment at the beauty of human connection.

What is one song you feel best represents your idea of intimacy, and why? 

Paris 12 by Linying. I wrote many poems in my book “Professions” with Linying on loop. At that time in my life, I was pondering the imperfect nature of human intimacy, and the vast unknowability between lovers who could be as close as a kiss, yet spin apart into the cosmic distance. There is almost a foolhardiness in our attempts to bridge that gulf of unknowability with love, but where would we be without that courage? As Linying sings in Paris 12: “Don’t be guilty, don’t be brusque / It’s not a thing that you can lose / The girl I am, the galaxy you are.”


Aqmal N.

With a great love for both poetry and music, Aqmal N. is an award-winning musician who has been highly praised for both his beautiful melodies and thought-provoking poems. Apart from producing music and arts content, as well as contributing to literary groups, Aqmal will also be joining two SWF programmes this year - Connecting Souls Through Poetry | Bait-bait Puisi Penghubung Jiwa and Tatkala wabak melanda.

What does Intimacy mean to you? 

Intimacy is a feeling of freedom in privacy. It is personal yet extensive, related yet free-spirited.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distances have been more keenly felt. How has that changed the concept of intimacy for you?

Digital sharing has brought about another meaning to the definition of intimacy. I feel that intimacy is a state of being. Its meaning is presented through the arts, and can be felt through the lens of our eyes, or through the screen of a phone or computer

What is one song you feel best represents your idea of intimacy, and why? 

I would choose '行星戀 PARALLEL ' by OHMYMEITING & Goose

只能責怪自己的沉默
I can only blame myself for keeping silent 

沒把心意說出口
For not saying what was within 

At the moment of writing this, I felt these two sentences are true and are relatable to everyone young and old. Many times, we hold our speech for fear of hurting someone but we don’t really know the actual outcome. The feelings are intimate to us and some I would rather not share it with others.


ArtyFartyBrin

Born out of a love for art and her culture, ArtyFartyBrin is the brainchild of Brindha, a self-taught illustrator and a full-time educator. Bringing out stories of Indian culture and the pains and pleasures of being an educator, Brindha has been using art as her creative release during busy days. Set to provide a visual iteration of initmacy, ArtyFartyBrin will be part of SWF's Illustrating in Tamil programme. 

What does Intimacy mean to you? 

Intimacy to me is an ‘I-can-just-feel-it’ connection between people that does not need words. 

It exists because we know that they are our loved ones and that they will always be there for us no matter where they are and no matter what.


With the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distances have been more keenly felt. How has that changed the concept of intimacy for you?

I don’t think it has changed that much because I’m a homebody and someone that doesn't need to physically meet someone to feel the love or connection. I just need a consistent effort to communicate, every day - either via phone calls, messages or video calls. I also think that the time apart from friends and family was not too long for me, so I was lucky in that sense. And my loved ones weren’t suffering in any way and so I did not feel helpless because I could not be physically there to help them.


What is one song you feel best represents your idea of intimacy, and why? 

‘Maari’s Aanandhi’. it’s a song from a Tamil movie titled Maari 2. It’s about a couple realising they are meant for each other and how they are at peace and enjoying simple pleasures in life together. 

The melody is lovely and my favourite line is நிம்மதி உன்னால் வந்ததடி which means ‘I am at peace/feel peaceful because of you’. Intimacy gives me inner peace too! I don’t have to worry because the person I am intimate with has got my back!


Joshua Ip

Joshua Ip is a poet, editor and literary organiser. Having published four poetry collections and edited nine anthologies, Joshua has won an array of awards and even co-founded the literary charity, Sing Lit Station. The poet will be part of two SWF programmes - Transcreation: Translating A Language You Don't Know? and Poetry Bites #5.

What does Intimacy mean to you? 

Text response time under 3 seconds, sustained for at least 15 minutes.


With the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distances have been more keenly felt. How has that changed the concept of intimacy for you?

Not at all.


What is one song you feel best represents your idea of intimacy, and why? 

她来听我的演唱会 by Jacky Cheung, an old Mandopop tune from the 90s. The song talks about a singer and a listener. The latter never meets the former, except from the distance of a concert. The former shouldn’t even know the latter exists, yet they’re singing this deeply emotional song about a hypothetical yet real person. And, so to me, this represents the intimacy between a reader and a writer that I often wonder about -  so many words, static, speechless words on a page, that are yet capable of bearing and conveying these personal emotions and connections between two people who may never meet and never have a conversation.


Singapore Writers Festival will be happening from 30 October to 8 November 2020. The festival will feature over 100 programmes, including conversations, workshops, exhibitions, and digital experiences. For the full lineup of programmes, check out the SWF website. To purchase your Digital Festival Pass for Singapore Writers Festival 2020, head over to SISTIC.