NME Radar Sessions: To Singaporean rapper Fariz Jabba, Geylang Serai is all about community

One of Singapore hip-hop’s most exciting voices talks the vibrant district he grew up in and how the area and its people are helping him turn new corners in his artistic journey

Every day, rapper Fariz Jabba finds warmth and community in Geylang, a vibrant district of Singapore with a rich cultural history. For NME Radar Sessions, he introduces us to his longtime home of Geylang Serai – and explains how the area and its people have come to shape him as an artist finding his footing in the music industry. Watch the interview above.

This is the final episode in this Singapore season of NME Radar Sessions, a series exploring the relationship between art and place. We conclude with Fariz Jabba and his unreserved love for Geylang Serai, the specific area of Geylang he lovingly calls “the heart of the Malay community” and where he and his family have lived for over a decade.

Geylang Serai got its name from the plentiful lemongrass (or serai, in Malay) plantations that existed in the area in the 19th century. Fast forward to 2022 and it’s a hub brimming with sights, smells and sounds that are deeply interwoven with its history. Fariz takes NME through Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre, which showcases the best of Malay cuisine one tantalising stall display at a time. Its market offers a greater variety of traditional clothing, jewelry, snacks, natural medicine and knick-knacks.

Having grown up in the estate since he was 14, Fariz has become attuned to the daily rhythms of Geylang Serai. He’ll be the first to tell you that – despite its pull as a dinnertime spot for families and tourists – it’s best explored in the morning, when all stalls open for brisk business and you can get the “full, cultural experience”. Fariz admires the boisterousness of market regulars and the friendly rivalry between stalls – one he recognises is borne purely out of love for food and community.

Fariz would know a thing or two about competition. In a matter of years, he’s risen from an aspiring rapper writing verses under his brother’s watchful eye to one of Singapore’s most exciting voices in hip-hop. And despite his rising profile here and abroad, Fariz is still turning new corners in his artistic journey.

After the market, we head to the Geylang studio of Akid Amir, who is a barber when he’s not making music under his own name and as a member of the psychedelic band Spacedays. A lifelong Geylang native, Akid is a neighbour to many other creatives in Singapore’s music scene, including the label Kribo Records. It was in Akid’s cosy studio that Fariz chose to situate his upbeat NME Radar Sessions performance of the songs ‘Masa’ and ‘Kalah’. Watch it below:

Akid’s studio is not only a hangout spot – and a place where he and Fariz make “sad songs”, “where you peel everything [off] and just express [yourself]” – it’s also helped Fariz foster a deep connection with Geylang beyond nostalgia by challenging his ideas about being an artist.

“Being in the industry a lot, you have to fake it till you make it,” Fariz explains. “And I forgot how life is without me trying to put myself as the main character. It’s difficult, because to be a star, you have to think like that.” Mixing with other musicians and creatives in and around this Geylang studio, Fariz says, has reoriented his sense of self and ego as an artist.

“I always come back here to humble myself and to understand what’s important,” he says. “It’s about community. This place made me understand what it feels like to be a reliable member of a community.”

Fariz Jabba is the final artist to participate in this exciting season of NME Radar Sessions, following indie band Subsonic Eye, fellow rapper THELIONCITYBOY and singer-songwriter Khally. You can revisit all their episodes in the link below. ’Till next time!

This instalment of NME Radar Sessions was produced with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board’s SG Stories Content Fund Season 2

Want more NME Radar Sessions? Find the full series – both interviews and performances – here