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Trailing Yel10w: Singing Hope into People’s Hearts
As one of many former drug offenders in Singapore, Mr Kelvin Soh’s story of struggling to overcome the addictions and pains of his past may not be unique

Bartley Church’s auditorium at How Sun Drive was abuzz with excitement. The audio crew was busy testing every microphone while on stage a group of cheerful but focused band members carried and arranged their musical instruments in place. At the back of the auditorium, a crisp, welcoming voice could be heard.

“Hi! I’m sorry I didn’t know you were here already! We were so engrossed in our discussions just now! I’m Suzanne and you must be Mabelle!”

Suzann is the lovely wife of Hokkien  (a Chinese dialect) singing evangelist, Kelvin Soh. That evening, they were about to rehearse for a singing session that would be performed to a crowd of a few hundred in the same auditorium the next day. Kelvin would be unveiling the launch of his new song album which contains a series of Hokkien and Chinese songs written by him and produced and recorded by a band made up of his friends from different churches in Singapore.

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Members in the band for Kelvin's latest album. PHOTO and GRAPHIC: Matthew Wong

As one of many former drug offenders in Singapore, Kelvin Soh’s story of struggling to overcome the addictions and pains of his past may not be unique―but his conscious, eventual reaction to the seeming odds stacked against him is. His newly released Hokkien and Chinese album, One Word, is telling of where the source of his strength comes from. 

Having spent more than twenty years of his life in prison for drug abuse and petty crimes to feed his addiction, Kelvin knows too well the heart-wrenching pain of being humiliated, ignored, even insulted, by his loved ones, society and even himself.

Born in a broken home and abandoned by his mother as a baby, Kelvin grew up watching his father tormented by drug addiction. Unsurprisingly, Kelvin, soon found himself inevitably trapped in a world of drugs and gangs by the age of 13.

Going in and out of prison for the next over twenty years, it wasn’t till he was dealt three strokes of the cane for repeated drug offenses that he started to cry out for a release from his despair. Handed a Bible by a non-Christian prison warden, Kelvin, still steeped in pain, began to read the verses within. Experiencing the love of God for himself within the hard prison walls, Kelvin became a Christian.

Soon, he began writing songs, inspired by the love he has encountered, and expressing his joy in the hope and grace he has found. After his release from prison, Kelvin began travelling all over Asia to minister in song and share his life story to share hope with the hopeless. Before long, he met Suzann who soon became his wife and followed him on his mission trips to the region.

Despite having had little formal education and no background in music, the songs Kelvin has composed have touched thousands of people who have heard them.

To date, he has produced about eight albums and is a familiar face and advocate for second chances at a number of annual community events organised by the Singapore Prison Service and Yellow Ribbon Project to help promote the successful reintegration of former-offenders into the general society.

“He still wakes up in the middle of the night, picks up his pen and notebook, or anything he can quickly write on, and scribbles lyrics and musical tones that are spontaneously planted in his mind,” shared Suzanne, as she chuckled. 

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Kelvin and his very supportive and loving wife Suzanne, who always watches out for him and helps coordinate his schedule for his speaking and singing engagements. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

When Kelvin was undergoing a low point last year, his wife and friends rallied around him and considered producing an album together to encourage him. With that thought in mind, his friends immediately set to work. Jonathan Koh, one of Kelvin’s long-time friends, soon proposed to produce One Word with him.

“The very fact that I know what he has gone through, his struggles and how he picks himself up again during the recordings, how the songs he wrote tell so much, spurred me on to do this with him,” said Jonathan. “His dependence on God plays a big part in the recording, and you can feel God with him during his past battles with depression, etc, and now too. It’s a phenomenal change for him. From singing in karaoke bars, to singing all over the region and bringing masses to God and hope.”

Jonathan plays the guitar in the band they put together for this album.

Lin Hui, a violinist who had just joined the band two days before, is just as touched by Kelvin’s story. She shared: “Just looking at Kelvin now, you can’t tell what he has gone through. It gives people hope. He is also very funny. We had supper two nights ago. All of us couldn’t eat because we were all laughing at his jokes! He can do magic tricks too!”

Back-up singers Ann and Joyce also testified to the humorous streak in Kelvin.

“Kelvin is great. He’s been an influence, encouraging many people to be determined and we have witnessed how audiences, and even our neighbours who have heard of his testimony, were touched. He is a joker. A joy. He is very bubbly. You can see that nothing can be too difficult for him,” they candidly said, in unison, before going on to share how Kelvin’s songs have personally inspired and touched them.

“My favourite song that he has written is ‘Because of Your Love’. It is one of the first few songs I heard when practising in the band and it brought me to tears. The words are simple but mean a lot,” said Joyce.

“And the song that has left a deep impression on me is ‘Partners forever’,” added Ann. “It talks about partnering with God, and knowing that you are never alone,” she elaborated.

Standing near was Pastor Vincent Loo, who has known Kelvin and his wife for six years, and he was helping to keep time during the rehearsal. “It’s a journey,” he continued. “It takes time. Kelvin shares about this openly. Something happened in him in prison then that gave him the hope and strength to begin this journey. What he has been through with very little formal education and how he is touching thousands of lives all over the world now… It’s amazing. It tells people anything is possible. Never give up hope, no matter how bad the situation is. There is hope out there. There is love. There are people who care about you.”

As Kelvin sang song after song during the rehearsal that night with the musicians in his band, each word in the lyrics flowed out in a deep, heartfelt, knowing stream; one that was nothing short of personal. 

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“Each person has to make that decision to want to change. And I think Kelvin came to that point and that’s the turning point for him. They need to know people believe in them, because they feel they have failed their families and they need that encouragement and to know people believe in them so they can get up despite their weaknesses.,” shared Senior Pastor Vincent Loo, a friend of Kelvin and his wife. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

 

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The band after their rehearsal that night. Ann, Joyce and Lin Hui (back row, from left) join in the fun, while Kelvin tickles everyone with his expressions and Jonathan (in orange, beside Kelvin) tries to hold back the chuckles. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

 

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Mabelle Yeo
  2. 13 September 2013
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