Shandy Gan describes herself as "odd". "I'm famous for being a weirdo," says the singer. She's petite, with a hairband holding back her shoulder-length hair. She looks younger than her 28 years, but nothing seems odd about her.
It's the music, Gan explains: she's a travel enthusiast, and whenever she can, she embarks on trips around the world, discovering the most exotic music styles and instruments to include in her songs. She's seen flamenco shows in Spain, and plays the gamelan, a metal percussive instrument from Bali, Indonesia.
Gan began learning the piano when she was five, and sang in the choir throughout her school life. After studying music and comparative literature at the University of Hong Kong, she went on to pursue a career in marketing for orchestras and art groups. At first she thought she would be content working behind the scenes; but Gan is a performer at heart. "I would see people sing and have the urge to just go up to them and sing along," she says.
Only in recent years did it occur to her to write music. "I was experiencing some ups and downs in my life. I was doing music promotion, and I thought, 'I've done that now, so what next?' And then my grandfather died … and the melodies and lyrics just came out."
The song inspired by her grandfather, Grandy Yeah Yeah, which Gan performed in Sony Music's 2012 "Best Folk Free Jam" competition, ultimately won her a contract with the label. Along with Lil' Ashes, Lillian Wong and Trekkerz, Gan became a part of O.U.R Works, a project that helps to produce original, unique and refreshing music from different genres.
Gan focuses on producing bossa nova and world music. "The biggest challenge for me is to find resonance among my audience for my music. Just because I like it, doesn't mean that other people like it too," she says.
In April this year, she released her first solo album, To Bossa. Bossa nova originated in Brazil, and is a soft samba influenced by jazz. "The songs are relaxing and the topics simple," says Gan. Bossa nova emerged in the late 1950s, when Brazil was in a state of turmoil. "The people wanted more optimistic songs to cheer them up. So bossa nova is not just 'chill' music, there's actually a story behind the attitude." Listen to The Girl From Ipanema by Antonio Carlos Jobim for an idea of what bossa nova is about.
World music basically means songs that incorporate lesser-known styles and instruments from around the globe. These include the gamelan, India's sitar (a guitar with up to 20 strings, used by the Beatles in Norwegian Wood) and Argentina's bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument. "By incorporating elements of these instruments, Canto-pop can be much more fun," says Gan.
She holds no grudges against Canto-pop, though, saying she listened to it in school. "As long as it sounds great and is meaningful … it's fine."
Gan also sings four songs for the upcoming local film Dot 2 Dot, including Beyond's Early Morning Train. Director Amos Why gave Gan a role in the film. "I learned so much from the process," say Gan. "And I got to drink coffee brewed by Moses [Chan] himself!" Gan says Dot 2 Dot sparked her interest in acting, and she hopes to do more of it in the future. So keep an eye out for her on the big screen: this girl makes things happen.