Opening Address by Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive Officer of the National Library Board, at the Official Book Launch of "From Keroncong to Xinyao: The Record Industry in Singapore, 1903-1985" On 12 September 2023, 7.00pm at the POD, National Library Building


Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen
Good evening,

1            Welcome to the National Library Board and to the official launch of the book From Keroncong to Xinyao: The Record Industry in Singapore, 1903-1985.


2           We have always had a vibrant music scene in Singapore.  Today, this is dominated by international concerts that draw audiences from around the region.  But we used to also have a sizeable record industry, and its heyday was in the 1960s with the rise of local bands like The Crescendos and The Quests. However, it would be remiss to believe that the local record industry was only productive during this short period. As Keroncong to Xinyao uncovers, the industry has had a long and rich history dating back over a century. In fact, did you know that the first demonstration of Thomas Edison’s phonograph took place in Singapore in November 1879 – just one year after it was patented in the US?

3          It was in 1903 that the first commercial sound recordings were made in Singapore by Fred Gaisberg, a pioneering American recording engineer. Lagu Dari Nandoeng Sayang, or “Song from a Love Serenade”, was one of the songs Gaisberg produced during these early recording sessions. You will hear an extract from this song in a short while.


4         Lagu Dari Nandoeng Sayang is but one example from the extensive collection of commercial music records painstakingly preserved and digitised by the National Archives of Singapore for public access, many of which are featured in From Keroncong to Xinyao. This includes rare “test pressings” which were recorded in September 1941 but not commercially released due to the start of the Japanese Occupation. Now, 120 years after the production of the first commercial recordings here, we celebrate the release of this book, written by Ross Laird and published by the NAS.


5        Ross has been a long-time collaborator with the National Library Board. He started as a Lee Kong Chian Research Fellow in 2010, studying the historical and cultural influence of the record industry in Singapore. Now, he has written the first book of its kind to trace the history of our record industry. Within its pages, there are fascinating stories of the start of sound recording in Singapore, the first local record labels and recording stars, and how the fortunes of the industry were intimately tied to the economic, political and social forces of the day – from the rubber boom and the Second World War to the introduction of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the British military withdrawal from Singapore. In particular, the British withdrawal caused a drop in demand for performers in local clubs and was one of the factors which led to the decline of the record industry in the 1970s.


6       In NLB’s role as Singapore Storytellers, we are passionate about sparking interest in Singapore’s heritage through our collections and resources. From Keroncong to Xinyao exemplifies this with its illumination of a lesser-known part of local history. If you would like to explore this topic further, I urge you to visit the “Sounds of Yesteryear” curated page on the NAS’s Archives Online site. You can listen to a rich selection of pre-war recordings, such as keroncongs and Chinese operas in various dialects. Ross also discusses Singapore’s role as a major recording centre in Southeast Asia on a recent episode of the National Library’s podcast, BiblioAsia+. And of course, Ross will be giving tonight’s Archives Invites talk on “The Entertainment Silk Road”. 


7      I would like to end by congratulating everyone involved in producing this book. Thank you and have a good evening ahead!