Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: U Wonder)
Interview with Aarksara
I first knew of Aarksara when she was a guest worship leader in my home church a few years back. Her energy was not only infectious, you could feel a deep sense of joy and triumph as she sang unto the Lord. There were no traces of pretension.
Raised and educated in Australia, God started to speak to Aarksara about her heritage — she’s half-Thai and half-Singaporean — and grew her heart for Asia when she was older, drawing her to a region that she had no intention to invest into. Today, one of the fruits of her labour is the Vocal Summit, a platform that seeks to equip and empower musicians in Asia. She shares with SELAH about the genesis of this project and how it weaves into the larger narrative of musicians in our part of the world.
How did you start singing and worship leading?
I grew up in church. When I was eight years old, an uncle had asked me to sing during communion because he wanted a break from having to sing during communion every week. I sang ‘Shepherd Of My Soul’ by Marty Nystrom — it not only made me happy, something in my spirit lifted each time I sang! It also seemed like everyone around me felt the same.
After attaining my degree in Commerce, I fell really sick; I was practically stuck at home for nine months — I couldn’t even make it to a job interview. I wanted to find something that would take my mind off the recovery period and then I found out that I could do Berklee College’s program off-campus! I eventually received a Specialist Certificate in General Music Studies from Berklee College of Music, Boston. I am also currently undertaking a certification in Professional Voice Development with the New York Singing Teachers Association.
Was there a time where you questioned your gift in singing or call to worship lead?
There have definitely been challenges along the way! People doubted my ability to sustain myself through music, especially when it came to paying the bills. But God has always provided for me every step of the way!
Another challenge would be memorising lyrics — I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to be a worship leader because everyone seemed to know their lyrics inside out and I did not. I’ve overcome that by just placing the lyrics sheet right in front of me, even on some of the biggest stages I’ve performed on. Through this, I felt God lifted off that “performance” mentality and replaced it with a “worship Me” mentality.
Through all the challenges, I have decided that no matter what happens, I am going to follow Jesus. He is the one that encourages me every day. Trusting Jesus in every moment of my life is how I overcome doubt or anxiety. I choose Him, always. Sometimes I have to close my eyes and cling onto Him tightly!
Could you share with us what your ministry stands for today?
Today, I travel to train and equip singers and worship teams to use their skills and talents with excellence all for the glory of God!
The starting point was during the time when I fell ill after university. Doctors discovered a lump on my lower back and I had to go for an operation. Even though it was supposed to take six weeks to recover, it eventually took nine months. I fell into severe depression as a result. I was not only in intense physical pain 24/7, I was also in emotional pain; I battled suicidal thoughts daily and wanted everything to end.
However, one day, one of the National Youth Worship Directors called me (I was a worship leader before my illness) and asked me if I could help train a few national youth worship leaders. I told him that I couldn’t leave my house (I couldn’t drive or walk much), so he started sending these young worship leaders to me for training. The word got out and soon other worship teams found out and asked me to train them too. This was the start of my breakthrough: by taking my mind off my hopeless situation, pushing through the pain, and walking through the fire, even though my students had no idea about the battle that was going on in my mind. God freed me through worship and teaching.
Could you share with us how you founded Vocal Summit?
We had our first Vocal Summit last year in November. I felt there was a gap in Asia: workshops and summits weren’t available to singers and songwriters who live on this part of the globe. It’s common to have amazing summits overseas, such as in Australia and America, but not in Asia. I felt that God’s direction was: “Do it. You have the resources and contacts, so do it.” Therefore, I started gathering my friends from Israel & New Breed, Planetshakers, and Crossover Music to fly over to Asia to share their knowledge and skills with singers and musicians in this region. I’m grateful for them!
What is the heart behind this event?
The name U Wonder actually stands for “Unlimited Wonder.” I really believe God wants us to be teachable always — for us to be in a place of unlimited wonder. Instances such as, “Oh, I wonder how I can do that vocal riff’ or “Oh, I wonder how I can make my choir sound fuller.” I believe these summits will help equip, inspire, and empower singers and musicians across Asia.
Why is it held in Singapore and Bangkok?
I guess it’s because of my roots: my dad is Singaporean and my mom is Thai! I’ve always had a strong connection with both cities.
I was very close to my Singaporean grandma; when she passed away right before my eyes, it hit me hard. I didn’t want to return to Singapore ever again, as I associated it with my sadness and loss. Yet, one day, I found myself back in Singapore as a guest worship leader at Cornerstone Community Church (it is now my home church when I’m back here). It also just so happens that my grandma’s home is down the road from church. God has healed my heart slowly but surely.
I had also never wanted to return to Bangkok, as I found the spiritual atmosphere so eerie and “dark.” However, I found myself being invited to conduct workshops and was commissioned for songwriting projects in Thailand. Today, I reside in Bangkok.
God called me back to Asia — a place where I didn’t want to return to — when I was so happy in my “perfect world” in Australia. But I’ve chosen to live this life with Him. Wherever He leads, I will go.
What do you hope to see in Singapore within the next 5 years?
I pray there will be an awakening among Singaporeans, especially musicians in Singapore. There are two prevailing attitudes that could be improved upon: “I’m good enough — there’s nothing new I need to learn” and “I’m too busy; I have this and that to do and have no time to enhance my skills by taking lessons or attending workshops/ or summits.” May we not be in a place of laziness, and always be willing and eager to keep bettering themselves for the glory of God. There’s always more!
U Wonder’s Vocal Summit aims to inspire, equip and empower musicians and songwriters in Asia and beyond. It takes place on 30 Jun at SLV Hub. You can register here: https://vocalsummitsg2018.eventbrite.com. Enter the code, SELAHSINGS, to get $15 off your registration fee.