If you’re wondering what to do in your leisure time – now that we’re a bit limited! – there are some interesting exhibitions on at the moment that cover Singapore culture and history. Here are some snippets.
Flashback – Pop music in Singapore
Here’s a quick look at three groups that were leading lights in the Singapore pop scene of the 1960s.
Naomi & the Boys
Known for singing lots of lyrics about lost love, Naomi Suriya had a distinctive voice that helped propel her group to chart success in the 1960s, including with their first record, an original song called “It’s All Over”, and later with a cover version of “Happy Happy Birthday, Baby”. They were also the first group to release a Christmas EP in Singapore.
Inspired by the likes of Cliff Richard, The Quests started in 1960 as a student band in Tiong Bahru. (Their name is based on the title of their school’s magazine.) They went on to have several big hits, including “Shanty”, which knocked The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” from the number one spot on the Singapore charts! They toured Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, and have since reunited for charity concerts.
The Crescendos were the first Singaporean group to be signed by an international record label (Philips). Their debut single, “Mr Twister” (1963), was a cover of a Don Conway tune; it sold more than 10,000 copies. While most of their hits were in English, they did also record Malay songs. Sadly, singer Susan Lim died in a drowning incident on a Malaysian beach in 1970.
There’s a great YouTube channel, Singapore 60s Pop Music, where you can hear tracks by all of these groups and more.
Exhibition – Modern Women
Running until December at the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall is a special exhibition called “Modern Women of the Republic: Fashion and Change in China and Singapore”, which sheds light on the changes in the status, clothing and lifestyle choices of women from the late 19th century on. The exhibition features almost 100 artefacts and photos, from wedding clothing to old advertisements and more.
Naturally, these two magazine covers caught our eye among the line-up of interesting items!
Nanyang Radio Weekly, 1952
This popular weekly magazine gave readers the broadcast schedules and times of radio programmes across Malaya and Singapore. The cover of this 1952 issue shows popular singer and performer Huang Xia in a one-piece strapless swimsuit. While swimsuits were still considered almost “scandalous” by many at the time, they were beginning to grow in acceptability in Singapore, featuring more regularly in media in this way.
Nanyang Monthly, 1961
This cover from the next decade shows a fashionably dressed woman next to her own car, with the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall (now the National Gallery) in the background. It’s perhaps no coincidence that 1961 was also the year when the Women’s Charter passed into law in Singapore, designed to improve and protect the rights of women and guarantee them greater legal equality
A New Look
Also featured in the exhibition is this beige one-piece dress from the 1970s, the style of which dates back to French fashion giant Christian Dior’s “New Look” design of a couple of decades earlier. Increased exposure of Singaporeans to Western culture – through TV and movies, in particular – was accompanied by a rise in popularity of this kind of clothing. It helped that the island had become a textile hub, so local women could afford to wear imported pieces.
The exhibition is open from 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall is at 12 Tai Gin Road in Balestier; visit sysnmh.org.sg for more information.
Exhibition – Sikhs in Singapore
According to the census of 2010, Singapore has more than 12,000 Sikhs. If you’re keen to find out about this community, “Sikhs in Singapore – A Story Untold” is an exhibition running until 30 September at the Indian Heritage Centre.
- Sikhism or Sikhi, is the fifth largest organised religion, and one of the youngest major religions in the world; it originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century.
- There are thought to be around 25 to 30 million Sikhs in the world.
- The word Sikh is perhaps derived from the Pali word “sikkha” or the Sanskrit word “shishya”, meaning disciple.
- Sikhs consider themselves disciples of the ten Gurus, or spiritual guides of the faith.
Most of the first Sikhs who came to Singapore were employed in police and security work. In 1879, a Sikh Contingent was formed within the Straits Settlements Police. Recruitment was strictly controlled: only Khalsa Sikhs from the Punjab region could be considered; they had to be under 25, with a minimum height of 1.68 metres and minimum chest measurement of 84cm.
By the first few decades of the 20th century, the Sikh community had grown beyond just their martial role. Successful Sikh businesspeople were trading textiles, food, electronics, sports goods and more.
Did you know? Sport is an integral part of Sikh culture, and tournaments set up for hockey, cricket and football in the 1940s still continue to this day. For example, the Gurdwara Cup is an inter-state league of multisport teams from Malaysia and Singapore – this year’s edition is the 69th.
For more helpful tips, head to our Living in Singapore section.