Hailing from a family of prominent musicians, Trisno Ishak, 39, rose to fame as the lead singer of Urban Xchange, and later Parking Lot Pimp.

As the saying goes, the apple never falls far from the tree. Given his family’s background in the music scene, this is certainly the case with Trisno, whose family members, most notably his mother Dahlia Ahmad, his uncle Eddie Ahmad and aunt Hamidah Ahmad, are all successful recording artistes.

Trisno’s mother and uncle performed at Tropicana between the late 1960s to 1980s, a thriving entertainment complex where Pacific Plaza stands today. He shared that even at a tender young age, he would follow his mother to her singing gigs at various clubs, and even across the region for her jazz performances, watching as she performed on stage.

“She’s a champion,” Trisno shared, his face beaming with pride as he spoke about his mother. “Because she did getai gigs, she could even sing in Chinese, Hokkien, and Cantonese.”

On the topic of his family’s musical achievements, Trisno shared that his uncle and aunt, Eddie and Hamidah, recorded a song together called Mawarku. Originally sung by Aziz Jafaar in the 1950s, the duo made it their own, and their reproduction of the song was a hit when it was released in the early 1970s. Adapting Eddie and Hamidah’s version of the song, Siti Nurhaliza (famed Malaysian artiste during the 1990s to early 2000s) sang Mawarku with a pop group named 2 By 2, reigniting the song’s popularity again in the 1990s.

With his formative years steeped in music, it wasn’t long before Trisno’s opportunity to step into the industry came knocking. It began when he met Terrence Leong in National Service (NS). The pair, joined by Syed Munir Alsagoff, Vanessa Fernandez, Michaela Therese, Firdaus Bahri, Rathor Humaa and Kimberly Olsen, subsequently formed Urban Xchange, creating and performing mostly R&B (rhythm & blues) music.

The band’s breakthrough came when they took part in a competition for a Coca-Cola commercial “Life Tastes Good”. The commercial gave them international exposure, and they were swiftly signed to Universal Singapore, making them the first local band to be signed to the label.

Urban Xchange featured in a Coca-Cola advertisement, with Trisno in the middle, 2001. Courtesy of Trisno Ishak

Having performed alongside international stars like 5566, Energy, Brian McKnight, Stacie Orrico, Jamie Cullum, Jay Sean, Missy Higgins and Ben and Joey of The Click Five, Trisno was also involved in the re-recording of Give Peace a Chance, as part of a John Lennon re-release album (released in 2005).

“It was initiated by his wife, Yoko Ono, and she wanted to do a re-release album featuring artistes from all over Asia,” said Trisno with a smile. “The album was called Peace, Love & Truth.”

Trisno regards this particular opportunity to be part of the line-up for a Beetles’ compilation album endorsed by Yoko Ono to be the pinnacle of his achievements of his music career.

Urban Xchange disbanded in 2003, and Trisno went on to be part of Parking Lot Pimp to create psychedelic rock music, a far cry from the hip-hop and R&B genre in which he had previously dabbled. Perhaps it was because of Trisno’s deep roots and sense of attachment for hip-hop and R&B, having grown up listening to artistes like Boyz II Men on his Walkman when he was younger, he felt a disconnect, as Parking Lot Pimp disbanded the same year it was formed.

“We were signed to EMI,” said Trisno. “But sometimes, you can’t fight the wind – you’ve got to flow with it. If it directs you in the right direction, then that’s good. But if it doesn’t, you’ve just got to take it with a pinch of salt, and treat it as a learning opportunity.”

Pursuing a career in music, especially in Singapore, is no mean feat. Trisno and his bandmates relied heavily on word of mouth, connections, and sheer hard work, to get their name out, and fight for opportunities to perform. Whether it was getting sponsors, finding platforms to perform, or simply expanding their fanbase – Trisno had to do it all without the help of today’s social media outlets, unlike artists today who enjoy the benefits of digital sharing platforms.

“Funding was hard, sponsorships were harder, yes,” said Trisno. “But getting people to believe in you was the hardest.”

“We had to go to labels and magazines to tell them, ‘Eh, I have this thing, release it for me lah.’ But now, it’s pretty much DIY. You can take a picture, upload a video, and post it online to get more fans on board,” continued Trisno. “All you have to do is to keep active on social media. So that’s pretty easy compared to what we had to do previously.”

“I think the local music scene now is really vibrant, and I believe it’s because there are so many outlets for them to gain knowledge,” said Trisno. “Above everything else, there’s YouTube. You can get a lot of tutorials on YouTube, videos to get ideas, to get inspired by idea, and whatnot. Social media is solid, man. Not only does it enhance, it educates as well.”

Trisno’s face lights up when he talks about music. Photo by Chan Kar Leng

Trisno released his first solo album in 2013, ‘Trisno 30’, which consisted of English songs apart from one Bahasa song. He described his style of music as one that is constantly evolving and cited NERD and Pharrell Williams as past influences, and believes in riding on current trends to keep his music fresh and relevant. A true-blue musician, he has plans for another solo album and like many of his local fans, we look forward to hearing from this homegrown talent once more.



Written by: FJ Sai

This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign


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