The Best of Singapore Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


For lovers of folk music, Singapore is a veritable treasure trove. There are many excellent folk musicians plying their trade in the city-state, and the best of them are showcased in this blog. From traditional ballads to more contemporary folk tunes, there is something for everyone here.

What is Singapore Folk Music?

Singapore folk music is a genre of music that encompasses the sounds and traditions of the various ethnic groups living in Singapore. It is characterized by its use of traditional instruments and melodies, and its focus on storytelling.

Folk music has been an important part of Singaporean culture for centuries, and has played a significant role in the country’s musical development. Though it has undergone many changes over the years, it remains an important part of Singaporean identity.

The Origins of Singapore Folk Music

Folk music is the traditional music of a group of people. It is often passed down through generations, and typically reflects the culture, history and experiences of the people who create it.

Singapore folk music is no different. It is a rich and varied tradition that has been passed down through the generations, reflecting the diverse cultures and experiences of the people who live here.

There are many different types of Singapore folk music, each with its own unique history and sound. Here are just a few of the most popular:

Tempo doeloe: This type of folk music originated in Indonesia, and was brought to Singapore by migrants from there in the early 20th century. It is characterized by its slow, relaxing tempo and its use of traditional instruments like the gamelan.

Bharathanatyam: This Indian classical dance form is also popular in Singapore, and its musical traditions have influenced local folk music over the years. Bharathanatyam-style songs are typically fast-paced and energetic, making them perfect for dancing.

Chingay: This is a traditional Chinese lion dance that is performed during festivals like Chinese New Year. The music accompanying this dance is typically fast-paced and upbeat, with lots of drums and cymbals to keep things lively.

The Different Styles of Singapore Folk Music

There are many different styles of Singapore folk music, each with its own distinctiveness. The most popular genres include ballads, work songs, love songs, and Children’s songs. Ballads are typically sentimental and often tell stories of love, loss, or epic adventures. Work songs usually have a more upbeat tempo and are sung while performing tasks such as fishing or farming. Love songs are often romantic and express the emotions of love and desire. Children’s songs are usually playful and often teach moral lessons.

The Instruments Used in Singapore Folk Music

The term “folk music” can refer to both traditional music and the music of the folk revival. In Singapore, folk music is often associated with the music of the Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups. The music of the folk revival movement, on the other hand, is typically Western in origin and was introduced to Singapore by Western musicians.

The instruments used in Singapore folk music include a wide variety of percussion instruments, string instruments, wind instruments and musical bows. The most commonly used percussion instruments are the kompang (a frame drum), gambus (a plucked lute), gendang (a drum), tambur (a long-necked lute) and tabla (a pair of drums). String instruments include the erhu (a two-stringed fiddle), jawi (a four-stringed lute), ravanahatha (a bowed instrument) and sitar (a plucked string instrument). Wind Instruments used in Singapore folk music include the serunai (an oboe-like instrument), suling (a bamboo flute) and harmonium (an organ-like keyboard instrument).

The Singers and Bands Who Perform Singapore Folk Music

There are many singer-songwriters and bands who perform Singapore folk music. Some of the most popular ones include TheSuns, The Wknd, stopgap, Straitjacketed and Forests. These artists often sing about their personal experiences and observations of Singaporean life, which gives their music a unique and relatable quality.

The Best Places to Hear Singapore Folk Music

Singapore has a vibrant and diverse music scene, and folk music is just one genre that is thriving in the city-state. If you want to experience the best of Singapore folk music, there are a few places you should check out.

The Music Studio is one of the leading music schools in Singapore, and they offer a wide range of folk music classes. From ukulele to erhu (a Chinese string instrument), there is something for everyone. TheMusicStudio also hosts regular concerts and events featuring local and international folk musicians.

The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is another great place to catch Folk music performances from time to time. This iconic Singaporean venue is well-known for its world-class programming, and they often have Folk music acts as part of their line-up.

If you want to get off the beaten path, head to The Substation. This independent arts space is dedicated to supporting emerging artists, and they offer a variety of Folk music performances throughout the year.

The Best Singapore Folk Music Albums

There are many great Singapore folk music albums out there, but these are some of the best. If you’re looking for traditional songs, check out these albums.

1. The Best of Singapore Folk Music: Traditional Songs
2. The Best of Singapore Folk Music: Contemporary Songs
3. The Best of Singapore Folk Music: Instrumental Albums

The Best Singapore Folk Songs

There is a rich tradition of folk music in Singapore, and the island nation has produced a number of folk songs that have become classics in their own right. Here are ten of the best Singapore folk songs that you should certainly listen to.

1. “Di Tanjong Katong” – This song is about a man who leaves his hometown to seek his fortune in the city, but eventually misses the peace and tranquility of rural life.

2. “Lak Num” – A traditional wedding song, “Lak Num” is about a young woman who is getting married and her mother’s hopes for her future happiness.

3. “Bunga Raya” – A popular children’s song, “Bunga Raya” celebrates the beauty of the hibiscus flower, which is the national flower of Singapore.

4. “Jalan Jalan” – This song is about the joys of taking a leisurely stroll, and enjoying all the sights and sounds of nature along the way.

5. “Kampong Boy” – “Kampong Boy” is an ode to the simple life in the village, and how it can be more fulfilling than living in the bustling city.

6. “Singapore Town” – As its title suggests, this song is about all the different aspects of life in Singapore’s cosmopolitan capital city.

7. “Pasar Malam” – Translating to “night market”, this song captures the lively atmosphere of Singapore’s popular street markets, which are held every evening in different parts of the island.

8. “Champion Muar Town” – This Muar-style folk song celebrates the town of Muar in Johor, Malaysia, which was once known for its champion wrestlers.

9. “Pak Pandir Singsing Pulau Ubin” – This nostalgic tune tells the story of Pak Pandir, an old man who lives on Pulau Ubin Island and misses his days working as a coolie on Johor Estate back in Singapore.

10. “Song Of Homecoming (Balik Kampung)” – As its name suggests, this heartwarming folksong is about coming home to one’s family and loved ones after a long journey away

How to Learn More About Singapore Folk Music

One of the best ways to learn more about Singapore folk music is to attend a concert or performance. Folk music is often performed in smaller, more intimate venues, which allows you to get up close and personal with the performers. This way, you can really appreciate the intricate details of the music and get a feel for the culture that it comes from.

Why Singapore Folk Music is Important

Though it may not be as popular as other genres, Singapore folk music is an important and integral part of the country’s musical culture. Folk music has been around for centuries, and it is one of the oldest forms of music in the world. It is a type of music that is passed down from generation to generation, and it usually has a strong connection to the culture, history, and traditions of a particular region or country.

Folk music plays an important role in Singapore because it helps to preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage. Folk songs often tell stories about the people and the land, and they provide a glimpse into the country’s past. In addition, folk music is often used for celebrations and special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Folk songs can also be used to teach children about their culture and history.

Singapore’s folk music scene is vibrant and diverse, with many different types of folk music being performed by both local and international artists. If you’re interested in exploring this fascinating genre of music, there are plenty of great resources available. From traditional Chinese folk songs to modern Malay pop tunes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

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