By Hans Ebert
My longtime friend Munir (Alsagoff) in Singapore shared some music videos with me last week of another friend from the fairly old days: Vanessa Fernandez.
What stopped me in my tracks was seeing a very familiar name on one of them: Leland Sklar, one of my musical heroes and a bass guitarist who’s played with everyone who’s anybody. James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Toto, Carole King, Phil Collins, and part of The Section with Russ Kunkel, Craig Doerge, and Danny Kortchmar.
Here he is on a track by Vanessa where she’s playing guitar. The girl was talented, but to record with Leland Sklar??? And to play guitar with him. Blew me away. Filled me with pride.
Both Vanessa and Munir plus Terry Lee, now based in Taiwan with KK Box, and looking after the career of the extremely good and marketable singer Julia Wu, Trisno Isaac and a couple of “roving” members were part of, first Urban XChange, which morphed into the psychedelic Hip Hop of Parking Lot Pimp.
I signed both bands to recording deals- Urban XChange to Universal Music’s Singapore office and then, when I moved to EMI, the latest incarnation of the group known as Parking Lot Pimp, below, moved with me and straight to that label’s Singapore office, Singapore being where the members were based.
They were both terrific bands for what they were at the time and wasting time being in pretty much creatively stifling Singapore. With me running the Regional Office of Universal Music out of Hong Kong, I had convinced Terry, Munir and Trisno over lunch while visiting Singapore that Urban XChange sign with us.
There was a frantic call from the regional head of EMI at the time to please not go there. That we had such good acts. Why take Urban XChange? Why, Gawd, why? Because I thought they had something. Nothing great and singing about “booty” and “da ghetto” while in Singapore didn’t really kick into the mindset of someone working the Dej Jam catalogue. But Urban XChange jumped ship. And on the very day that EMI was holding a press conference sponsored by Coca-Cola to announce their new signing. It was an enjoyable coup d’état.
During the short time with us, we delivered on our promise to associate them with International acts. There were duets with Brian McKnight, an original appearing on the OST of the Asia release of “Rush Hour 2” and appearing in musical showcases with up and coming UMG artists like Stacey Orrico. She upped and came. Just another wrong artist signed by those A&R geniuses at Head Office and thrust upon us.
When being successfully wooed to move to EMI, Parking Lot Pimp, Terry Lee’s latest incarnation of Urban XChange, also made the move over. Hey, I was “Pops” to Terry. Still am. Their one album for us titled “Welcome To Our Frequency” remains a personal favourite- all original material by the band members with “Blow” being an undiscovered classic.
“Blow” was inspired after taking Terry Lee to Tokyo with me to meet and interview Pharrell Williams and Shay and watch N.E.R.D on an awards show that included Outkast, Janet Jackson and Mary J Blige. Terry might have soiled his pants that night.
In hindsight, the reason both bands self-destructed was being based in Singapore, where, especially if in music, it’s the small town mecca for too many dramas, internal politics, external hangers on and two local offices that didn’t really understand them- 4-5 young kids- extremely talented kids- swept up in that dreaded tsunami of being big fish in a very small pond. Egos got in the way. So did two bit players trying to play in the major league.
Still, compared to today, as two music companies, we went out of our way to take both acts to where none of the majors can take any local act today.
At that time, both Regional Offices were committed to the music. At least some of us were. We left those doing the hanky panky to their own means. Many are still there. Others cashed out and retired. Many should be behind bars for all manner of corruption. Thinking about them makes me quite ill.
I enjoy having a break in Singapore, but what’s always stunted the music scene there has been the need to gossip and constantly complain about everything and everyone. In the process, some very good local talent fall through the cracks. It’s like a curse. No wonder there’s always the need to head to Brix and lose one’s self in the meaninglessness of it all.
Over just the past couple of years, there’s been some excellent home grown talent. But despite some initial excitement about the acts, nothing seems to be happening with them.
The fairly new music that Vanessa Fernandez aka Vandetta is creating really deserves wings. International wings to make her art fly. Speaking of which her original “Fly” is beyond amazing. Why this never took off is baffling. It’s also unfair. Depressing.
While being a huge fan of Malaysian born singer-songwriter, style icon and entrepreneur Yuna, there’s now someone who comes close to rivalling her for my attention. And which is extremely difficult to do as Yuna is Yuna and in another stratosphere.
There’s also Julia Wu who has everything to make her anything and more. One only hopes that she’s heading in the right direction and not confined to the hip hop scene in Taipei. But Terry Lee should have learned enough by now not to get caught up and tripped out on old games.
From the video links sent by Munir- an excellent guitarist in his own right- Vanessa, through her various career changes over the years- and at 36, she’s hardly old- is a truly creative multi media artist who needs to break out of Singapore and the all too often crippling and restricting music scenes in Southeast Asia and Greater China region. Why? With control wresting with the usual suspects, their thinking borders on silliness mixed with personal agendas and zero original thinking. You hear?
The Philippines soldiers on, but it’s a minuscule market. Indonesia and Malaysia are much bigger markets, but with most of the local acts recording in Bahasa, there’s no opportunity other than making the most of what’s happening at home base. I really don’t care if Steve Lillywhite is now living in Jakarta and selling CDs through KFC. Good luck to him.
The biggest problem, especially if signed to one of the majors, is that Head Office, which is either in London or Australia, don’t give a damn about this region which constitutes around 2.7 percent to total revenue. It’s about having a “presence” out here just in case Mainland China ever becomes more than the con that it is and has always been. Good luck to them, too.
It’s also artists past their Use By Date still offering sound bites about hoping to tour America and be the Chinese Beyoncé. Please. Make them stop.
On an executive level, how on earth can someone based in, let’s say Sydney, who’s never been to Beijing or Shanghai nor this region be in charge of…this region? By sending geographically challenged troops from the land of Oz on expat packages to keep the local natives from becoming too restless? Bitch, please. You’re being shoe shined. You’re being played. As usual. But with retirement around the corner and a good nest egg for services rendered by doing bugger all, why bother?
To those masquerading as music executives out here and those without the gonads in “head office” to do anything to make a difference, here’s my message…
The new con being worked is to have ageing Canto and Mando Pop names appear as judges on the various highly choreographed television singing competitions. The money is huge. Younger artists somehow manage to appear on these shows as unknowns. It’s all very confusing. But hasn’t this always been the case with the Mainland China music market? There’s an Orwellian vibe to it. Censorship? What censorship? Just shut up, play the game, take the money and run.
Remember Jessie J recently appearing as a contestant on one of these shows- and winning it? Bizarre or what? And despite what was said and reported at the time, where did any of this lead? What the hell was it about? Of COURSE it was about the money money money…Jessie J is hardly Beyoncé. Or even Kelly Rowland. She’s, well, Jessie J.
Leaving all this Old School nonsense behind, Vandetta needs to be introduced to music fans in Europe and Scandinavia. Perhaps even Australia- rich with some amazing young talent, but something always holding them back. Complacency? Even that initial adrenaline rush of interest in the amazing looper Tash Sultana seems to suddenly be on hold.
Maybe it was all too much too quickly. Hope not. Tash Sultana was all about breaking rules. So is Miss Vandetta. The music videos for her music take her songs to another level. I would love to help take her to the heights where she belongs. By breaking the rules because playing by the rules has not got many into even a McDonald’s.
#Music #Vandetta #VanessaFernandez #MunirAlsagoff #TerryLee #JuliaWu #JessieJ #LelandSklar #Chinamusicmarket #TheVoiceChina #Singapore #UniversalMusic #EMIMusic #UrbanXChange #ParkingLotPimp