Arts & Culture

SAtheCollective: Collaboration, Improvisation, Studio Jam

Balance between tradition and new explorations

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By Joseph Nair

To move forward, should the past be an inspiration or should it be abandoned? This constant negotiation occurs in Singapore, as we play tug-of-war with our cultural traditions and the competitive spirit to be the face of the future in architecture and the arts. However, there are groups of artists working towards a vision of melding the two together in order to forge another path for themselves. One of them is SAtheCollective.

SA (仨) is a three-person band trained in traditional Chinese music, with its own space at Goodman Arts Centre.

SA: We played in the same orchestra outside of school and were active in the amateur Chinese orchestral scene during our school days, when we were between 15 and 20 years old.

With this training as a foundation for their work, the trio explores the concept of identity through the creation of original soundscapes with an inventive approach to Chinese musical instruments. Through their original music, they seek a point of convergence between multiple pasts, presents and futures. They embrace plurality and actively pursue collaborations and improvisations.

At the moment, they are expanding beyond their own musical instruments of choice and incorporating other sounds.

SA: Andy, being the main founder of the collective, has always been innovative in his approach towards ethnic Chinese forms of music. Prior to SA, he was already actively creating different forms of Chinese music such as that of a jazz band, and a fusion band thereafter. SA can be said to be his third “invention” or re-imagination of what Chinese music could be. 

We have moved from thinking of ourselves as a trio to a collective (and therefore the name SAtheCollective as an extension of SA). We’ve started to see ourselves working increasingly frequently with collaborators, and the public can expect to see more works produced by SAtheCollective that transcend disciplines and boundaries.

By Joseph Nair

Currently, all three members of the band — Andy C on the dizi (Chinese flute), Natalie Alexandra on the guzheng (Chinese zither) and Cheryl Ong on the drums and percussion, are full-time musicians. Despite the difficulties such as financial instability that comes with being a full-time musician, their passion and optimism keep them going.

SA: Difficulties or challenges exist in any job or industry, and if we dwell on them, we would never move on to experience other wondrous things. So if one were to pursue music performance full time, one just needs to manage expectations.

Having chosen the path of artists, SA seem more than prepared to conquer whatever difficulties come their way. Though the Singapore climate may not be ideal for artists yet, the diversity and melding of culture alongside other challenges make fertile ground for creative possibilities.

Their goal for the future is to move beyond the perceived image of SA as a band to a collective, moving beyond creating concerts to creating productions.

by Joseph Nair

Specifically to SA and their brand of music-making, they mostly work within three components:


Trailer for Anticipation of One

Most recently, SA is a part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, alongside Brandon Tay and NADA called Anticipation of One. They have also collaborated with OrkeStar Trio and Nizar Fauzi.

The philosophy that guides SA’s collaborations is simple.

SA: Being really open-hearted. We jam and improvise during the process.

Anticipation of One is an initiative by SAtheCollective. Bringing in producer Mok Cui Yin to help produce the show, it was a 15-month process, and both shows as part of SIFA 2018 were sold out. Prior to this final showcase, it was featured at Baybeats Festival by Esplanade.

SA: The formulation of the show was in multiple parts, including a week-long residency at Goodman Arts Centre, followed by a showcase of part of the work as part of SA’s Studio Sessions and Open Jam.


This belief seems to hold true with their improvisation sessions as well, though they do work within certain guidelines to guide the process of creation.

Improvisation is when the work is created spontaneously and with no/minimal preparation beforehand.

SA: We do work with some parameters, such as length of tones, intensities, densities among others. We wouldn’t consider our improvisations as songs. We stop when we come to a mutual agreement musically that it’s time to stop.

You might find some of their improvisations recorded and documented on their SoundCloud and Bandcamp pages.

SA: Only some of our improvisations are up there. Most are still only available in our private archive for us to reflect on and review. Anyway, improvisation is all about the moment, so we are not precious about keeping it to ourselves.

Studio Sessions – Open Jams

SA: Actually, Studio Sessions are events that we organise for industry development, where we invite collaborators to come and make art with us, with the option of opening the floor up to audiences after that.

Open jams are for community building where anyone, artist or not, can come and jam with us with no baggage, in any style or form.

It doesn’t specifically inform our work as a trio (not in the way where a concept or creative workshopping process might), it shapes us as artists, shapes the industry and community no matter how little the extent.

Through their work, they have earned quite the reputation for their work, travelling overseas to share their sound. Having represented Singapore on multiple occasions, due to their unique appeal of the modern and traditional sounds, do they think there is a Singapore Sound?

SA: We are who we are and we sound however we sound like. There’s no need for a label. Neither is there a need to impose boundaries on the Singapore sound (or not) with tags.

Then, if there is no such thing as a Singapore sound, what exactly is the vision of SA for itself and its work?

SA: SAtheCollective gathers like-minded creatives who embody a diversity of cultures and experiences to create artistic works that transcend disciplines and cultures in contemporary ways.

We create, produce and present dreams, connecting people with people. We connect people and nature through artistic creations, productions and presentations. We re-imagine possibilities through creative, experimental and collaborative processes embracing the unifying nature of the arts. We relate to culturally diverse people and processes through sonic visions, embracing and expanding our cultural roots as global beings of the future.

SA will be performing next for ETHNI-CITY III, held at the newly refurbished Stamford Arts Centre on 19 and 20 October 2018 to celebrate the space’s official opening.

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