On September 10 and 11, ASEAN Music Showcase Festival (AMS)—an event I co-organized together with several esteemed colleagues from Southeast Asian countries—held its first in-person event in Singapore after two years of organizing virtual showcases featuring a majority of independent music acts from primarily ASEAN and guest performers around Asia and beyond.

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Held at the historic Haw Par Villa, the two-day festival brought some of the biggest names in Asian hip hop and R&B, including returning AMS performers VannDa, Sophia Kao, and Vanthan, as well as first-time performers Basboi (Indonesia), Zamio P x Thinlamphone (Laos), NYK (Malaysia), Fern. and kiyo (the Philippines), BGourd and Fauxe (Singapore), and Alec Orachi (another AMS alum), OG Bobby, powerhouse label showcases from YUPP!’s AUTTA, Flowr.far, AINN, and Fizzie, as well as HIGH CLOUD Entertainment’s BOOM BOOM CASH, PUN, and a surprise appearance from its founder and Thai rap OG, none other than F.HERO himself.

Since its inception in 2020, our team at ASEAN Music Showcase Festival worked within and around the physical restrictions of organizing an intraregional music showcase festival, which aims to provide not just a platform for upcoming and seasoned musicians alike who often lack the infrastructure and connections, including and especially financial support or resources to support future export and international touring opportunities, among other key business solutions such as marketing, PR, music licensing, sync, and distribution, among other things.

One of this year’s most exciting offerings is an extensive hip hop and R&B lineup. While AMS has been traditionally genre-agnostic, this is the first year that featured a more pronounced number of established hip hop and R&B artists from the region.

Past editions have featured neo-soul/R&B singer-songwriter August Wahh (Philippines), J.M3 (Singapore), Omens Radio (Cambodia — Daniel Omens returned this year to man the deck for Sophia Kao, Vanthan, and VannDa’s sets), Shelhiel (Malaysia), and Réjizz (Thailand).

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Different from the format, programming, and scale of headline (commercial) festivals, this edition of ASEAN Music Showcase Festival was held at the eclectic Haw Par Villa park, touted as the “largest outdoor art gallery” in Singapore, which was conceptualized by Aw Boon Haw, the founder of Tiger Balm, the popular centuries-old liniment found in most Asian households.

The unconventional location was converted to a three-stage live music venue set across different parts of the park, with the majority of hip hop acts performing on Stage 1, one of the two outdoor stages of the festival.

Many of the festival’s performers have shared on-stage and with HipHopDX Asia not only their excitement on being back at live shows, but mentioned ASEAN Music Showcase Festival as their first overseas performance, including VannDa, kiyo, OG Bobby, and Young Cocoa.

They also expressed their interest in collaborating with fellow artists they’ve met—many, for the first time—which manifested and culminated in a grand hip hop performance led by Thai rap veteran F.HERO when he performed his hit collaborative track with VannDa, “Run The Town.” He said, “We just want to spread the love. We are [the] Asian sound.”

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This echoes several of the hip hop artists’ sentiments about how the “Asian sound” can transcend borders. When we sat down with kiyo for an exclusive interview after his set, he cited K-pop’s global success as an example. “I can use my own language to connect,” he said when asked what was the most exciting part for him about his performance. What mattered, according to him, was that the mood and the energy he wanted to bring came through.

It was also the case for the audience. With Singapore being home to diverse cultures and backgrounds, a lot of attendees showed up to support not just homegrown acts but also came through for visiting performers. One of the most pronounced moments was during VannDa’s closing set on Sunday, where fans singing along to his music in Khmer and waving the Cambodian flag was a testament to not just VannDa’s popularity but also to the crowd’s reception of a majority-indie lineup from all over Asia.

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ASEAN Music Showcase Festival has also inspired music from some of its now-alumnus. Kiyo has shared with us that he has written a song—and filmed a music video—specifically about his experience at the festival, while VannDa has released the official music video for “C.O.D.A,” which prominently features footage from his Singapore trip and his performance at AMS.

With AMS assembling its largest hip hop lineup this year yet, we look forward to seeing more new up-and-coming and established artists in upcoming editions, especially on the heels of the success of adjacent projects such as “The Regionals.” It’s an opportune moment to scale the phenomenal success of many of these artists in their home states and countries. It’s time.

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Check out highlights of the festival below:

OG Bobby

Young Cocoa

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BGourd

Fizzie

Flower.Far

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BOTCASH of BOOM BOOM CASH

Faii of BOOM BOOM CASH

Oak Soe Khant

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F.HERO

Vanthan

VannDa

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NYK

Fern.

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AUTTA

Basboi

Shortone

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kiyo

Sophia Kao (L) and VannDa (R)

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Fauxe

AMS hip hop lineup all-stars

Header and inline images shot by YUNGTAUFOO for HipHopDX Asia