She’s come a long way since winning small talent competitions. Back with a redefined sense of style, Manveen Maan speaks to a songstress who’s carving a name for herself in the local independant music scene.
Prema Yin is like a pocket rocket – small in stature, and huge in personality. The 28-year-old singer is in the process of redefining herself, and she’s more than happy to share details of this transitional phase. “I’ve been making music for a while now, and have always been quite open to different styles,” she explains. “This album speaks to me on a more personal level, with acoustic influences as well as experimenting with different sounds.”
Referring to her latest venture, aptly titled Redefined, Prema cites her mixed heritage, and simply “growing up” as the catalyst for change. “Everyone evolves right?” she asks, as she downs her cappuccino in a quiet café in Bangsar. “Right now I’m getting more connected to my roots and trying to showcase it through my music.”
Of Indian and Chinese parentage, Prema’s latest works feature the sounds of a veena alongside sangitham fusion singing, as well as collaborations with local artists. “I’m lucky enough to have two cultures to draw inspiration from. I appreciate taking pieces of each one and fusing them together,” she says. “I’m also Malaysian, so I’ve been fortunate to have collaborated with some local artists. It sounds cliché but it doesn’t matter where you’re from because music is universal.”
Growing up in the small town of Seremban, Prema admits that she’s not quite sure when her musical talents first surfaced. “My mum says I was singing at four years old. Obviously I have no memory of this!” she quips. “But when I was a kid, we used to travel to KL lots and in the car rides; I used to make up songs about butterflies and mountains and whatever else we saw on the journey. I guess that laid the foundation for my song writing!”
She learnt the piano (like many Malaysian children of her generation) and picked up the guitar, honing her songwriting skills in between school work and other activities. While still studying, Prema decided to give the pub scene a go, gigging at various events to showcase her talents. It wasn’t until she won a nationwide singing competition in 2004 that people started taking notice of her. Despite bagging a record deal, Prema felt she wasn’t ready to pursue her passion full-time.
Musical Footsteps Around The World
Fast forward to 2008 – Prema starts working on her debut EP, a project that she is still immensely proud of. “I spent a lot of money making this album and it’s something that is still very close to my heart,” she says, with a more sober tone. “I invested in my future, and it kick-started my career as a musician. Getting the album out was a beautiful moment for me.”
After gaining much acclaim for her work, Prema travelled to and toured in Japan, Singapore, Germany, the United States, China, and Thailand – whether it was to an audience of 10 or 10,000. “Performing gives me such a rush. Funnily enough, I get more nervous in an intimate setting than I do with large crowds,” she says, smiling. “With a crowd, it’s like a sea of people, but with smaller groups, it’s actually quite personal and sometimes even a little nerve-wracking.”
With all her travels, one would be inclined to think that her most memorable performance experience would sit in another country, but when pressed about it, the effervescent Prema quickly responds: “Arthur’s Day 2011, right here in KL. There were about 10,000 people in the arena and it was just an amazing experience. We opened for Taio Cruz and the energy was exhilarating.”
Once Bitten,Twice Shy
Despite all the highs, Prema has had her fair share of lows, but is quick to point out that, like any other profession, you just learn from past mistakes. “Being an independent singer is very much about self-funding. You may be investing in your passion, but other people may not be so thoughtful. There have definitely been cases where musicians aren’t paid on time, or are taken advantage of, and other tricky situations,” she explains. “When you start, you’re a little green around the gills and often just want to sing without really paying attention to anything else. But as you grow and learn, you understand the importance of carrying yourself in a professional manner.”
Having worked with producers in Los Angeles and toured all over the world, it wasn’t that surprising to learn that Prema has recently returned from a two-month stint in Germany. “Being able to travel and experience different cultures is definitely a blessing,” she admits. “You always learn something, and Berlin is such a hub for artists that it really forces you to expand your skills.”
A New Perspective
While honing her musical skills in the land of the Reichstag, Prema tells me she tried her hand at busking – to some very interesting results. “While I was singing, I saw a well-dressed lady and a homeless man both listening to my songs. After 10 minutes, the lady walked away, while the homeless person came over to tip me! A little while later, another homeless person gave me his gloves because it was freezing!” she exclaims. “He didn’t need to do that, he’s living on the streets. It was just such a valuable lesson in humanity and totally changed my perspective about the world. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what car you drive, it’s about how big your heart is.”
Life lessons aside, Prema’s dedication to her trade stems from an integral part of her life – family. “I’m very inspired by my brothers. One of them, Sunder, has a particularly encouraging story, mainly due to the fact that he never gave up on his dream,” she recalls. “He was really into artwork and decided to pursue it as a career. A lot of people didn’t think he could do anything with drawing but now he’s an art director in Canada, and he’s proven all the naysayers wrong. It just goes to show that if you have passion and perseverance, you can achieve your goals.”
With numerous accolades under her (very slim) belt, and her songs pulsating over the airwaves of radio stations, I ask what’s in store for the Rock Princess of Malaysia? “I just want to continue singing for as long as I can,” she laughs. “I keep doing it because I love it so much, so hopefully it can be my bread and butter for many years to come. It makes me so happy – what’s not to like about that?” Not much, apparently.
Visit Prema Yin’s website, www.premayin.com, for updates and tour information. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for news on her latest album, Redefined.
Source: Senses of Malaysia March/April 2014
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