We can’t be more proud of Alemay Fernandez. Not only is the local jazz stalwart one of Singapore’s best (and most hardworking) female vocalists, she’s also an experienced theatre actress and a generous teacher at LaSalle College of the Arts.
Now, the multi-talented performer has another hat to add to her collection: That of songwriter, music arranger and producer. She’s just released her debut album - an ambitious effort called Hard To Imagine on which she not only sung, but co-produced and arranged.
The 10-track offering features nine original songs, six written by Fernandez herself, and 20 guest musicians including drummers Erik Hargrove and Pablo Calzado, who toured with James Brown and Buena Vista Social Club, respectively.
Naturally, it’s been quite a journey for this Singapore girl . Here, she shares what it took to make the album happen (crowdfunding included).
You’ve been a performer practically all your life. How did your singing career start?
I was four years old when I had my first television appearance on a local show called Romper Room. My second one was at age 7 on a children’s show called Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by ACT 3. I was doing voiceovers for the Ministry of Education when I was 9 years old, and performed at first musical at age 10 - a STARS (now Singapore Repertory Theatre) production of The Sound Of Music. So yes, you could say that I have been performing all my life.
My family is very musical and we used to have sing-alongs at our house parties every Sunday. My parents saw my love for the stage early on and encouraged me to sing and act. It has always come naturally to me, so I continued to do different performances throughout my school life, whether in theatre or musicals. When I turned 18, Cara Van Miriah gave me my first pub gig at No. 5 Emerald Hill. Cara was entertainment director there for a short time before going into journalism. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Which singers did you listen to, growing up?
I owe my jazz influence to my father. Growing up, our house was always filled with the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Fonah Washington and The Mills Brothers. These were the songs we sang at family gatherings, which shaped my young ears.
That said, I am definitely a child of the ’80s, and like everyone else at the time, I wanted to sound like Whitney Houston. I also loved all the great soul, Motown and R&B artistes such as Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Babyface. All these artistes taught me about soul.
How does birthing this ‘baby’ feel?
Over the last five years, the album came together while I was coming to terms with all the changes in my life – I met the love of my life, lost my father and became an aunt for the first time. I realised that I best dealt with the highs and lows of life by expressing my feelings through music.
I was also an early beneficiary of crowdfunding, before it was a thing! In 2012, my sister Sabina got a group of my close friends, family and fans involved, and together they set up an album launch fund as a birthday surprise for me. I consider that funding my lucky start-up money and I am so grateful to everybody who contributed.
I’m thrilled with how the record turned out. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I could write, perform, produce and arrange a full album. It’s still a little surreal and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world.
What’s the inspiration for your album name?
That's also the title track, and this album marks my first time songwriting, producing and arranging - all at once! Before this album, I was a singer. Now, I am a lyricist, composer, producer and arranger. Working on this record has made me grow so much as a musician and as a person. It’s truly hard to imagine how far I’ve come, so the title was only fitting.
I love the freedom that comes with jazz. There is a form that you work within and there are jazz standards that are as familiar as a warm blanket, but you can be as original with your interpretation as you like. With jazz, you are only limited by your imagination. It’s thrilling.
What’s next for you this year, following your album drop - gigs, stage performances?
A break! I need to recover from the madness of this album launch and concert. I shall hibernate for a while, and then I want to do a regional album tour and also perform at music festivals around the world. That’s the plan!
Complete this sentence: “Making music is…”
What I was born to do. My reason for getting out of bed. My joy in life.
Hard to Imagine is available on iTunes and Spotify.