TOC Report: Bureacratic muddle leads to canning of International Fringe Festival event

By Choo Zheng Xi

Members of the Singapore Complaints Choir have an additional grievance to add to their future lyric sheets: they have been effectively muzzled by the city state’s police.

The arrival of the Finnish ‘Complaints Choir’ in Singapore was an eagerly anticipated component of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2008. The Singapore leg of the Complaints Choir was billed as the first Asian Complaints Choir to be organized.

Now, the Choir’s experience will be remembered as a first for a very different reason: it was effectively banned from performing in public by the police because of foreign members’ participation in the choir. (See the choir’s press release below).

About the choir

The Complaints Choir began in Finland in 2005. It recruits volunteers from the communities it travels to and cobbles together common complaints into lyrical public performances. Volunteers hold workshops to compile thousands of complaints and select and then turn the most resonant ones into a performance piece.

The Complaints Choir has performed in Helsinki, Birmingham, Hamburg, and St Petersburg. (See video below)

In Singapore, the choir had planned public performances at the Speaker’s Corner, Vivo City, The Esplanade, a HDB estate in Eunos, and City Plaza Complex.

Initial approval, then confusion

The choir had sent in their lyrics for approval and been cleared by the MDA. MDA then granted performance licenses to the choir.

Almost a month of rehearsals went by without incident. It was only two or three days before the first performance date that a different government department started making life difficult for the choir.

The police demanded that a handful of foreigners and Permanent Residents (PRs) remove themselves from the performance on the basis that they should not be commenting on local affairs.

Considering the choir’s conductor was Malaysian, and a handful of Finnish professional singers were in the choir, the choir was faced with the tough choice of having to decide whether or not to cancel the performance totally, or continue singing with reduced capacity.

Fortunately, the The Arts House management helped the choir to circumvent the police regulation: they opened up the Old Parliament House debating chamber for a private showcase of the choir. Essentially, the only difference between this and a public performance was the indoor venue, and the requirement that members of the public had to register. (See here)

However, the authorities’ vacillation and hamfisted tactics have already been resentfully noted by members of the arts community, and have been most deeply felt by the members of the choir.

A statement on the website of the Complaints Choir read:

“The Singaporean police did not want to issue a permission to perform in public if foreign choir members don´t step out from the choir. The choir has few members who are permanently living in Singapore but who are not citizens.”

In their private performance at The Arts House, many of the choir members expressed frustration and bewilderment at the police’s decision. One local choir member TOC spoke to said that the initial reaction to the police’s ultimatum was ‘shock and depression’. She further described the whole experience as leaving her feeling ‘embittered’.

In physics, every force has an opposite and equal reaction. In politics, the reaction is likely to be magnified dramatically.

Ironically, while the police might have managed to clamp down on the choir’s public performance, interest in the choir is likely to skyrocket as a result of this fiasco. Expect to be able to watch the choir’s full performance on YouTube soon.

The Complaints Choir will be having its final private performance at The Chamber, Old Parliament House this Sunday. The best way to honor the choir’s hard work is a supportive full house.

TOC is reproducing the lyrics of the Complaints Choir Singapore performance below. Foreigners reading them aloud are advised not to do so in public, as it might constitute interference in our domestic politics.

Read Reuters’ report – “Singapores stops foreigners from singing complaints.”

Also Channel NewAsia’s report on the project.

The Complaints Choir Singapore Lyrics

We get fined for almost anything
Drivers won’t giver chance when you want to change land
The indoors are cold, the outdoors are hot;
And the humid air, it wrecks my hair
Those answering machines always make you hold
Only to hang up on you

When a pregnant lady gets on the train
Everyone pretends to be asleep
I’m stuck with my parents till I’m 35
Cause I can’t apply for HDB
We don’t recycle any plastic bags
But we purify our pee

*chorus:

What’s wrong with Singapore?
Losing always makes me feel so sore
Cuase ifyou’re not the best
Then you’re just one of the rest
My oh my
Singapore
What exactly are we voting for?
What’s not expressly permitted
Is prohibited

When I’m hungry at the food court, I see
People chope seats with their tissue paper
To the lady staying upstairs:
Your laundry’s dripping on my bed sheets
Please don’t squat on the toilet seats
And don’t clip your nails on MRT

Stray cats get into noisy affairs
At night my neighbor makes weird animal sounds
People put on fake accents to sound posh
And queue up three hours for donuts
Will I ever I live till eighty five
To collect my CPF?”

*chorus

Singaporeans too kiasu!
Singaporeans too kiasi!
Singaporeans too kiabor!
Maybe we’re just too stressed out!

Old National Library was replaced by an ugly tunnel
Singaporean men can’t take independent women
People blow their nose into the swimming pool
And fall asleep on my shoulder in the train

Singapore’s national bird is the crane (the one with yellow steel girders)
Real estate agents’ leaflets clogging up my mailbox (en bloc, en bloc, en bloc, en bloc)
Why can’t we be buried when we die?
No one wants to climb Bukit Timah with me

*chorus

There are not enough public holidays
My neighbour sings KTV all night
Wedding dinners never start on time
My hair is always cut shorter than I want
Channel 5 commercials are way too long
Why do men turn bald?

At first it was to speak more mandarin
Then it was to speak proper English
What’s wrong with my powderful Singlish?

People sit down during rock concerts
We have to pay for tap water at restaurants

ERP gantries are everywhere
But I can still see traffic jams on the road
All the bus stops have tilted benches
Cannot access playboy.com

 

The choir’s press release (link)(link):

“We’ve just gotten news about our license application for THE COMPLAINTS CHOIR PROJECT (performances at various public spaces today). While we were given a license, this is a conditional one – no foreigners (i.e. a handful of the participants, the artists themselves and our conductor) are allowed to perform with the Choir. This is across the board and not only applicable for Speaker’s Corner (which has a regulation that states that non-Singaporeans aren’t allowed to perform there).

Naturally, this comes as a total shock to us, but we have discussed this amongst ourselves, with the artists and Choir. It is clear that we all do not want the Choir to be split up in any way.

As such, a few decisions have been made:

1) All public performances will be cancelled. We will put signages at the venues to inform people of this.

2) Instead, we will have private invite-only performances of the full Singapore Complaints Choir on both Sat 26th Jan and Sun 27th Jan, 3pm and 6.30pm at The Chamber at The Arts House.

3) Please help us spread the word to your friends, families and anyone else who is keen to watch the free performances.

4) To obtain invites, interested audience members can email [email protected] or call The Complaints Choir Hotline at 9690 7453. Alternatively, if you turn up at the venue prior to the show, please let one of us know (we will be at The Chamber). We will issue private-event invitations for the special performances.”

 

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