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Girl From Katong

The first time Shak’thiya saw Charlie Lim, he was on Shak’s sister, more specifically, she was wearing a Charlie Lim t-shirt. One day you see a face on band merchandise, the next, you’re sitting beside the same guy, reimagining a classic hit with him...

From Charlie Lim T-Shirt
to Charlie Lim’s Partner

When Shak Met Charlie

The first time Shak’thiya saw Charlie Lim, he was on Shak’s sister, more specifically, she was wearing a Charlie Lim t-shirt. One day you see a face on band merchandise, the next, you’re sitting beside the same guy, reimagining a classic hit with him. This has to be quite the surreal ride for Shak.

Both singer-songwriters, Charlie dabbles in a mix of R&B, electronic and neo-soul while Shak’s got a serious case of the blues. Both are solo artists, but they are just as comfortable jamming with their bands. Fun fact: Shak’s band is called The Baits, a pun that really reels you in.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing here in the first place,” said Shak jokingly. Understandably, Shak is still feeling a tinge of disbelief. Only two years on the scene and he is already collaborating with one of the biggest names in Singapore music.

While Shak regularly hosts open mic nights, actually working with another artist on a musical project is completely new ground. And, for his first-ever music collaborator to be Charlie, an artist whom he’s always looked up to, Shak is naturally equal parts anxious and excited. Charlie, on the other hand, thinks that they are already on similar wavelengths and is all set to get things going.

However, similar wavelengths don’t necessarily mean things will be smooth sailing. The pair definitely expects clashing creative directions. In fact, Shak thinks “it’s definitely going to happen” and Charlie is absolutely “open to discourse”.


Charlie and Shak meet the Girl from Katong

The pair will take on Serenaide’s Girl from Katong for The Great Singapore Replay. A sweet indie pop hit that fully embraces its Singaporean charm. Easy on the ears, it seems like a fairly simple track on first listen. But as Charlie has come to realize, it isn’t as straightforward.

Both musicians are looking beyond a faithful replication of Girl from Katong. To them, a reimagination means research. It’s all about learning the rules before breaking them. They feel that there is a need to first unearth the intentions behind every lyric and note so that the essence of the song remains untouched.

Only after they get to the core of the song will they begin to reimagine it with their own styles and interpretation. With such a meticulous approach to remaking Girl from Katong, there is certainly a lot of work ahead for the team but also a satisfying song at the end of the road. 


Rocking the Music Hustle Full-Time 

While many artists hold day jobs and pursue music on the side, Shak debunks the myth that you can’t be a full-time musician in Singapore. In the two years that he has surfaced on the scene, there has been no lack of musical opportunities.

Charlie also believes that Singapore music is making a comeback noting the outburst of music festivals and programmes to get young musical hearts pumping.

Shak believes that as long as he hustles, the opportunities will come. He believes in the importance of “taking initiative” and “put[ting] yourself out there”. “After all, the gigs don’t look for the artist. The artist has to be the one eagerly breaking down doors,” he explains. If anyone can attest to that, it’s Shak, since he’s the one sitting beside Charlie Lim now.

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On the Edge
of Change

“I really don’t think the way we play the song is going to surprise anyone,” says Shak.

The reply is unexpected, especially when the task is to reimagine a classic. 


Never Good Enough

This unassuming honesty is characteristic of Shak and a sign of the pair’s work ethic. Holding themselves to high standards, “good enough” takes on a new definition. “You are never going to be good enough for you, but you have to let yourself be good enough for people,” says Shak.

The duo seems perfectly at ease with one another, laid-back even. “We have kind of a similar vibe,” admits Charlie. “I think they put us together because we both have mumbling issues,” he jokes. 

But once they bust out their guitars and get going, they are absorbed in a world of their own. And it’s easy to be sucked into their process as well. As they reimagine Girl From Katong, discussion flows seamlessly from the various accents applied to the word “Katong” to spotting opportunities in the song for tweaks.  

With a penchant for the blues, a stripped down Girl From Katong with an emphasis on Shak’s raw vocals is steadily taking shape. 


A Music Renaissance

For the pair, a near future where the layman is able to recognise Singaporean music on the radio seems every bit plausible.

“I really think the landscape is going to change in the next few years” Shak says - and with good reason. As a host to a weekly open mic session, he’s in the heart of all the action. “So many amazing people are putting out so many different things in their favourite genres.” He even recounts seeing a lady bring a cello to one of the sessions.

“The amount of talent that is still not seen is crazy” Shak says with much passion. He believes that with the current momentum, local music “can’t be contained.”

Charlie certainly agrees. “Singapore is a great place to be a springboard.” Having been in the scene for eight years, Charlie is optimistic with the direction local music is taking. “There is this great renaissance happening right now,” Charlie says and the surge of new artists has been an inspirational push for him as well.


A Renaissance takes Hard Work

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Two years in and Shak says it has been “rough” while Charlie shares the same sentiment. “It’s a tough industry to be in.” Being a musician still takes hard work and perhaps it is the drive needed to be in the scene that has put local music on an upwards momentum.

While it’s not easy, Charlie thinks it’s a misconception, especially embedded within the previous generation, that it’s not achievable to pursue an art-related passion. He believes this is certainly not the case with many venues and festivals opening up in Singapore and the region. It’s more about putting in the legwork to get the right break. “There are a lot of opportunities if you go out to look for them.”

The same has been true for Shak. “When you work hard, opportunities will come.”

For budding musicians still hesitant to pursue their passion, Charlie has this to say, “There is no better time to do it than now.”

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