I've returned to the Lion City Singapore to a time of year where there are pollution warnings. I'm told that this is caused by farmers in Sumatra (Indonesia) that still use cheaper slash-and-burn methods of clearing land for palm oil plantations. This is an annual situation during the dry season from June to September.
The Pollution Standards Index (PSI) indicates that hazardous levels are 101 and 200. Currently the PSI is between 282 - 300, breaking the 226 record reached by Singapore in 1997 when smog disrupted shipping and air travel across South East Asia. At that time it caused widespread health problems and cost the regional economy billions of dollars as a result of business and air disruptions. The particles in the air can cause respiratory problems as their size allows them to lodge deep in the bloodstream. This haze is said to worsen in the coming weeks.
Read more about it HERE
So why am I talking about this on my blog? I've just arrived from beautiful British Columbia where the mountain air is fresh and the sky is blue. I spend a lot of my time in Jamaica where we swim in the ocean and take in the rise of each new dawn with the sun casting rays across the hillside. Arriving in the place of my birth during this "haze" season is an incredible shock to the system.
As morning came and I arose from my jetlag, all I could see outside my window was brown sky. It reminded me of some post apocalyptic scene out of a movie where the sun has bleached the earth and the sky is ridden with polluted reminants of war and technology. I do not want to go outside yet I do not want to remain in the air conditioned capsules (both terrible for vocalists.) I hear construction all around and it's business as usual, watching the workers toiling under hard labour with no masks. Hard hats are not going to help with the respitory problems. I wonder why it is humane to allow those at a lower income level to remain working outside - do they not also have life, health and families that love them? This brown air can't be good for tourism. It horrifies me that reading the Singaporean blogs and comments shows the only backlash is for the Indonesia. Take 10 steps back and look at the big picture, the issue is much deeper than that.
I think about how Singapore is No. 1 in the world's top 50 economies, yet there is no promise of clean air from June to September. (Singapore also ranks No. 1 as the world's least positive people in a recent Gallap poll). Money as the end goal is not attuned to life and the pursuit of something more, made even more apparent by the lack of clean air, water and food. How does the attitude toward life change in people when there is little forseeable future in the environment all around? Cycles of work and debt makes one forget about sitting outside and having a picnic with family, jumping into a lake with friends or bike riding on the coast for some exercise and fresh air. In this environment food is expensive yet scarce. The replacement and new norm is of course the latest Samsung or HTC, 4 Chanel stores on Orchard Road or diriving an Italian sports car in a country where it costs $154,000 to drive a Toyota Prius. (No seriously, there are 3 lambos stuck in traffic going no where at any given time.)
When I opened my first company M1 Group for the release of Mississauga years ago, I ensured that my logo represented my Singaporean heritage in the form of the merlion. I used to brag to my friends that I was born in a country with the best tasting food, the craziest technology and the most efficient and hard working people. What does it all mean when as a country we've lost our nature (air, water, food) and as a people we have lost our soul?
I'm scheduled to perform in Bedok this Saturday, June 22 together with long time comrade DJ XG - at the very place where I picked up my first Public Enemy Tape and fell in love with Hiphop. Right now...it's bigger than Hip Hop. A punk and activist friend has gone through the red tape (no easy feat here in Singapore) to make a neighbourhood show like this possible. The Singapore police have requested my set list and all my lyrics. Don't worry, the rude girl is polite.
To return to the very place that started my journey, and perform for the people is a great blessing in life. At this juncture, the plight of a future here weighs heavy on my mind. It is the role of the artist to express the voice of the people. If you're in Singapore, please come out to the show and let's have a conversation so I can understand more and we can build this dialogue toward change. Until then, I'll be looking for a place to make customized Masia One face masks.