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Island music and memories for HeritageFest 2014

Expect music performances on Kusu Island and tours of lighthouses for this year's Heritage Festival.

SINGAPORE: Many who are tired of the hustle and bustle of city life here may turn to Singapore's outlying islands for a getaway, but not all are aware of the rich culture and history behind them.

This year's Singapore HeritageFest aims to change that: Singapore's numerous outlying islands are the subject of this year's festival. The event, which takes place from July 18 to 27, will introduce visitors to the idea of Singapore as a nation of islands, and not just an island-nation.

Singapore was once made up of over 70 islands, but today has just 40, with several merged and others transformed into landfills and tourist attractions. Organisers hope the festival will help people discover lesser-known tales of Singapore's trading past as well. The event will highlight the role Singapore's migrant forefathers played in the country's development, as well as the traditions brought with them.

Participants can expect a variety of activities, including boat excursions to lighthouses and outlying islands.

Visitors to Kusu Island will be treated to a performance from the Siong Leng Musical Association. It will perform a rendition of nanyin, one of the oldest existing musical styles of China that is usually only performed during the ninth lunar month at the island's Tua Pek Kong temple. 

The Association has been performing nanyin,  or songs from the South, at the temple for the past 40 years, and it hopes to introduce this traditional art form to more people with special performances during this year's HeritageFest.

"When you talk about nanyin, people will actually think that it's a slow and boring kind of music," said Siong Leng member Chelsea Tan. "We wanted to change the conception that nanyin is more for senior citizens. We wanted to show them that young people do play nanyin as well, and it can also be interesting for us when we learn nanyin."

Participants can also hop on boat rides to other islands, such as St John's, where they will learn about its history as a former quarantine site. Other activities include tours to Raffles Lighthouse, which are rare as visits are restricted.

Away from these islands, activities and exhibitions will take place across 11 festival hubs, including malls and the National Museum of Singapore, featuring topics such as traditional healing practices and motor racing.

The HeritageFest is now into its eleventh year, and the National Heritage Board says it has seen more partners coming on board. Over 40 community groups, individuals and partners have contributed to the line-up.

"If people come on board, they do more. With more programmes, more people can get involved," said festival director Angelita Teo. "Last year we had more than 40 programmes, this year we have more than 60. So that growth is something that we are working hard on, to encourage more people to come on board."

Activities are free and the public can sign up for them from next month. The National Heritage Board hopes to attract 1.3 million visitors to the festival. More information can be found at the HeritageFest website.

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