When it was announced back in January that the Getai Group would be holding a two-day soul music festival, the news came as a breath of fresh air — finally, something different from the usual indie rock, pop and electronic-centric events.
Formed barely a year ago, the collective's efforts have been confined to series like Getai Electronica and Getai Ethnica, where Getai's efforts to spread the soul gospel were designed for a comfy rooftop setting.
Boasting a lineup of established names like Vandetta, The Steve McQueens and Charlie Lim & The Mothership, as well as rising acts bittymacbeth and The Good Life Project, Getai Soul 2016 marks their biggest and most ambitious event to date. We have to admit we were unsure how well it would do, given that soul music doesn't exactly rank high in the consciousness of audiences here. But did their gamble pay off?
The Highs of Day 1
Peacing out with RaghaJazz
The mellow, jazzy sounds of RaghaJazz made them the perfect act to take us into the evening as the sun was set and the temperature had cooled. With their fusion tunes and frontman Raghavendran's lilting flute melodies, there were some seriously blissed-out vibes with their message of peace and goodwill — as calming and tranquil as a yoga session. Namaste.
Tim De Cotta & The Warriors getting the party started
All punchy songs and funky riffs, their set was a welcome dose of energy that kicked the festival into high gear. They were evidently one of the most anticipated bands, judging by the enthusiastic fans who lined the barricades in front.
Traditional culture is cool
Props to the organisers for including the traditional art forms of Teochew puppetry theatre and Cantonese opera in the activities. Both proved to be hits, drawing sizeable crowds in between acts. Never mind if many of the on-lookers didn't understand a word; the absorbing storytelling and expressive movements more than made up for the language barrier.
Hailing from KL, Najwa Mahiaddin held court with her sultry vocals, especially on her mesmerising, Asli-style last song. A gem out of Malaysia, and one we hope to see more of again soon!
From the moment Dru Chen launched into his set, it's easy to see why he was picked to co-headline the festival. Slick and polished, he certainly brought the funk with tune after infectious tune, from the sexy soulfulness of 'You Got It Babe' to the confident strut of 'Turnaround'.
Backed by an excellent band — shout-out to trumpeter Gabriel Ho and saxophonist Bass G for their sick solos — Dru displayed his unsurprisingly impressive vocal range and control, and formidable chops on the electric guitar. By all accounts, a crowd-pleaser.
The Lows of Day 1
The poor turnout
The grounds were still woefully sparse more than three hours after doors opened, though attendance did pick up as the event progressed. By nightfall, we estimated there were about 150 people in total. A decent, but not mind-blowing figure. The festival deserved better.
The suffocating humidity
We're no strangers to sweating it out in Singapore's heat, but the humidity was particularly brutal on this occasion, and we found ourselves melting faster than a snowball in hell.
A surprise appearance by the police (but not the band, sadly)
Getai Soul 2016 was certainly a hot affair, and not just because of the rising mercury. In fact, it was so hot that the police showed up, complete with the neighbourhood patrol in tow! No doubt, they were acting on noise complaints from residents in the nearby flats. Thankfully the organisers assured them that it was nothing illegal and the mata shuffled off, but not before grilling them for a good 15 minutes.
High ticket prices
We have to admit, $48 and $78 for one and two-day passes respectively seemed a bit steep. And as always, forking out $4 for a bottle of mineral water remains to be painful.
The Highs of Day 2
Roze Kasmani & The Family Soul
Beyonce look-alike but pure soul in sound, Roze Kasmani & The Family Soul brought the house down with a stellar set, which included renditions of Anita Baker’s 'Sweet Love' and Mary J Blige’s 'No More Drama'.
With the festival grounds still fairly empty this early in the day, that didn’t stop Roze and the band from getting what few soul eaters were present dancing and singing along to some good ol’ classics.
The Good Life Project
It was great to have vocalist Joie Tan join The Good Life Project to add bluesy and soulful runs to the ensemble’s already sublime melodies.
Fully taking on the neo soul genre by adding violin and scratching on the decks, we expect The Good Life Project to attract more Singaporeans to hop onto Singapore’s soul train.
Barry Likumahuwa (JKT)
The first international act of the day, energetic and fun don’t even begin to describe the atmosphere Barry Likumahuwa conjured when he jumped on stage.
Encouraging the crowd to stand up, dance and make noise (police, we have your suspect), his enthusiasm was infectious. His jams had our ears tingling with pleasure — combining soul, funk and blues, his riffs were exactly what the crowd needed to perk up after the slow and poignant songs of the Siong Leng Musical Association. Specific credit must be given to the band’s take on Drake’s 'Hotline Bling', who knew you could make Drake sound so light and fun?
ZaFee Do (JPN)
Quirky and playfully experimental, ZaFee Do make the kind of music you’d hear on a soul-inspired Mario Kart soundtrack. Even though the band sang in Japanese (meaning next to no one, bar a few Japanese attendees, could understand), the music alone was enough to get people on their feet and jump and move along to the funky electronic beats produced by the five-piece band.
Although some songs erred towards more purely experimental electronica, the extended riffs and jams clearly showed the band’s funk and soul influences. With the onset of night fully upon the grounds by the time ZaFee Do took the stage, the addition of colorful stage lights added a similarly visual spectacle to their kooky sound.
The Steve McQueens
Led by the petite but powerhouse vocalist Ginny, The Steve McQueens are an exemplary example of the talent of Singaporean soul musicians.
Taking the time to highlight each band member’s skill on their instrument, their jams were formidable, the vocals were emotive, and their whole set had us moving our heads and fully mesmerized. At this point, they're unstoppable.
Charlie Lim & The Mothership
As is always the case with Charlie Lim & The Mothership, their songs were so easily captivating that it felt shorter than we hoped it would be. Luckily, Charlie entertained the crowd with an encore sans the band, serenading the crowd good night with just his electric guitar and sweet vocals. It was the perfect way to end the evening; a soulful lullaby to send us off after a good day of music.
The Lows of Day 2
Siong Leng Musical Association
They certainly added some cultural flavour to the day, but, you know, it’s a soul festival — in all honesty, SLMA’s set just felt a bit out of place. We could've benefited from a livelier introduction of the band as well.
Why weren’t they playing on stage? Though they were spinning short sets in between acts to provide sweet sounds for our ears, it would’ve been great to see DJs like RAH and Funk Bstrd front and centre behind the decks.
At multiple points during Barry’s performance, there was a very loud drone flying overhead taking what we can only assume to be photos, as there’s no way any video could have picked up any sound from the stage — the drone was buzzing as softly as a freight train, which proved to be a slight buzzkill at times during Barry's spirited set.
In the small, cosy atmosphere of Getai, that drone was about as welcome as a pine needle on a down duvet.
A lot of credit must be given to the Getai Group for holding a soul music festival in a city where the soul music scene — let alone the independent music scene — isn’t exactly thriving.
A lot of what makes soul music special is the experiential aspect of it — the connection between the performers and the crowd, and the mutual appreciation of the instrumental explorations and vocal runs that express emotions in ways lyrics can’t.
Although Getai Group were able to land some moderately well-known local acts and some very interesting international ones, somehow the whole festival felt a bit lacking in energy and diversity. It’s not that the artists weren’t good, it’s perhaps more that Singapore just isn’t ready for a music festival of this sort — yet.
That being said, we really hope they can hold a festival again. Soul music really is food for the soul, and like good wine, sometimes it takes time before something can become truly great.