How Peter Ng of Maduro is Giving Singapore Musicians a Platform to Play Live Music Online
The pandemic has been hard on businesses, especially on small live music venues like Maduro, but thankfully the listening lounge and bar on Dempsey Hill can now welcome back customers for food and drinks. Owner Peter Ng and his team have introduced a new cocktail menu inspired by tunes of various eras, accompanied by a spread of bar bites. For the first-time F&B entrepreneur, this is part of the steep learning curve he has been on since 2019 when he opened the cosy spot, which can seat up to 50 people—fewer with the current social distancing measures.
Even so, the regulars come here for the music, be it jazz or classical, and the musicians look forward to the live jam sessions. While the who’s who of the local jazz scene, Jeremy Monteiro and Louis Soliano included, have played at Maduro, Ng is known to support the careers of musicians, often giving them the platform to hone their craft and, of course, a ready audience.
Ng would know the challenges of being a musician for he spent his youth in the 1970 and ’80s as a professional pianist (he later moved to real estate) playing jazz and pop tunes and accompanying songbirds the likes of Frances Yip and Anita Sarawak at some of Singapore’s top live music spots of yesteryear such as the Tiara Supper Club at Shangri-La Hotel and Westin’s Palm Grill. So when the space for Maduro came up, Ng did not hesitate. “It’s not by choice, but by chance. Music and piano have always been part of me. Real estate is a function of survival, where I have managed to find a niche and developed that.”
For the musicians, they get to showcase their art. For Maduro, it’s about the presentation, production, branding and association.
— Peter Ng
“I have musicians coming up to me saying, ‘Peter, thank you for giving us a place to play.’ This is my way of offering a lifeline. As an artist, you need an audience, you need a venue to play. And I have customers who tell me they now have somewhere to go—so that’s very encouraging and gives me satisfaction,” shares Ng, before adding, “But losing money is no satisfaction. So I have to find a balance. I know where I want to take Maduro and what it’s going to be, but we’re evolving every time.”
In August last year, Maduro kicked off a series of live streams on its virtual home Maduro Social, bringing live music from its “living room” to the living rooms of music lovers in Singapore and around the world. A series called Genfree is produced in collaboration with the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory of Music, while the Sunday Sundown Social sessions have so far featured jazz singers Alemay Fernandez and Richard Jackson, jazz musician Chok Kerong and soprano Christina Thé.
Ng is most concerned with putting out good programming and quality productions. He has also tapped on the National Arts Council’s Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts to boost Maduro’s live streaming capabilities. “We are very proud of what we have, so we have to maintain the perception that people have of us. For the musicians, they get to showcase their art. For us, it’s about the presentation, production, branding and association—there’s so much more breadth and depth to the matter. And you are getting good-quality music as the acoustics in the room is beautiful. It almost looks like TV production, with host Michelle Martin.”
While he wants to do more of such live streams, funding is a consideration. “We can only dedicate so much because there is no live audience, and it costs thousands of dollars. And we have to lock in the place, no guest can come in for drinks. So coming back to the production, it has to be of a certain level of sophistication in order to keep us relevant and entice our audience until the point where we are able to resume live performances again.”
Ng is currently working with YST to revamp some of Maduro’s programmes. “This is a crossover of music. We are a jazz bar and YST has different genres of music: classical, jazz, contemporary. We want to align ourselves as a venue outside of a conservatory. We are working to see what we can come up with. You come to a nice bar and listen to classical music—you change the whole setting and understanding of it. We are connecting the senses—and that is something we would like to try doing.”
(Related: Jeremy Monteiro Brings Together Musicians For A Livestream Concert To Celebrate International Jazz Day 2020)
Also featured in the Arts Champions series: Edmund Wee of Epigram Books | Talenia Phua Gajardo and Ben Jones of Straits Clan Creative Studio
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