Man at His Best

Jacintha Abisheganaden: What I've Learned

"You go for 'feel', which is a very special word in jazz. A lot of people can sing it, a lot of people can speak it, but not that many have 'feel'."

BY Franchesca Liauw | Apr 11, 2016 | Music

Chng Dju-Lian

The princess life looks like a nice picture, but I’m quite a realist.

I trust my producers. Everyone has their sound and I can only hope to have a moment; a moment where I am able to not mimic someone else’s sound, but try and get as authentic a feel [of a] sound as possible.

You go for “feel”, which is a very special word in jazz. A lot of people can sing it, a lot of people can speak it, but not that many have “feel”.

When you take the “me” out of things—and you are not such an omniscient narrator—you allow stuff [to enter and] sometimes, it gets too much and confusing. But you can experiment that way to get more out of life as it were.

It’s hard enough just to navigate getting from point A to point B. There is no beginning or middle; there is no formula. I’ve been in all aspects of this room: behind the camera, in front of the camera, using the camera, management, events, writing, magazines, music. I started out writing, and then it became chaotic and madly beautiful music.

What I do in recordings is different. It’s an old jazz technique called live to 2-track, which means that you are “live in the room”. I’m in the booth singing, singing to you, but we are recording this. So live to 2-track means everyone is playing live in the same room, which is kind of unheard of.

This is what I find exciting about young people now—that they are tuning into human stuff, which is not so digitised. They listen out for a different word, so that language comes alive, and your music comes alive.

I come from an audience who listens, so there’s an audience who dances, and there’s an audience who listens. They are kind of radio friendly, they don’t stand around dancing, so they drive. They listen and they drive.

I am very realistic: what time’s the next meal? Do we need to get the car out of the car park? We have to stay as present as possible.

I used to travel all the time. I didn’t understand that when I had a kid, I was just off the map. You just couldn’t find a reason to go off to shop and eat in Bangkok, not even for a weekend. It was just so fascinating because I was a mother late in life.

You shouldn’t confuse the commercial with family.

I have another son. He’s a sponsored child and he lives in Ethiopia, in an AIDS village outside of Addis Ababa. He didn’t have clean water when he first wrote to me. His letters were these long, lucid, lyrical notes translated by a French volunteer. His world was no clean water, no school, no church, no buildings. Two years ago, he got a cow, so he has milk, and his tummy is bigger. It’s fantastic.

A lot of the world isn’t beautiful. It’s crying out for help, and there are so many things that we can do instead of just talking about the elegant stuff that we do.

Opulence is not a prerequisite in my world. It’s interesting to observe, but it’s a little bit insulting at this moment in time. I’m not trying to be hip or cool. You are just more aware. You have the information at hand.

The thing that distinguishes one person from the next isn’t your sound, but your resonance, your voice. Your voice is what you ultimately leave behind. We can all look like someone else sometimes, but your voice is particularly yours. The speed at which you speak certain words, or say certain things, or sing at different ages, it’s going to be you, just you.

Theatre is not formulaic. It can bring you to unexpected places and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. In a sense, that has more resonance with me. It’s not chaos, but sometimes, you don’t know.

Well, maybe you do know.

From: Esquire Singapore's April 2016 issue.