ANNABELLE Francis is, by now, used to the “Where have you been?” question.
Once a fixture in the local entertainment scene, the 31-year-old admits she dropped out of the radar a few years back.
But she’s back with a vengeance – Mrs Sheikh Haikel is going back to her theatre roots with the new Peranakan play, Bedrooms, in December.
In the play, set in 1960s Singapore, Anna Belle plays a traditional Peranakan girl who enters an arranged marriage.
The play runs from 25 Nov to 6 Dec at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre Theatre.
“I guess people have been wondering what I’ve been doing,” she said. “I’ve been raising my kids.”
Anna Belle has a daughter, Triqka, 6, and a son, Sheikh Abbra, 5, with local rapper Sheikh Haikel. They married in 2002.
But she hasn’t just been nursing babies for the last five years.
In 2004, she set up Triqnaqi, an urban arts academy aimed at introducing hip-hop to youths, with Haikel, local actor Aaron Aziz, and his wife, Diyana Halik.
The group regularly works with secondary schools here to use hip-hop as a teaching tool in Arts Elective Programmes, or as a co-curricular activity.
She has also been doing behind- the-scenes work.
Most recently, she helped to produce Eurasiana –A Musical Tribute, which was directed by Dick Lee.
But it’s only recently that she ventured back into the public eye.
When The New Paper caught up with her this week, she had just ended a day of filming for a project for the Singapore International Foundation, and auditions for various other roles.
“I had to change three times,” she said, gesturing to a backpack which held all her clothes.
Her return to showbiz is thanks to the fact that her kids “are a little older”.
“I get a lot of support from Haikel’s family andthey all help out with the kids,” she said.
Her kids have also started to realise how cool their showbiz parents are.
Anna Belle said Triqka recently saw her in Forever Fever on DVD– and promptly invited friends over to watch the movie.
“She was so proud of me, and it just felt so cool,” said Anna Belle with a laugh.
She had the same “wow” reaction from them when she hosted the National Day Parade at the floating platform two years ago.
“They saw me on the big screen, and my mother-in-law said they were so happy,” she said. “I think a big part of me doing this now is because it makes me feel so good to know that my kids are proud of me.”
Every day, she wakes up at 6 am to get the kids to school.
The rest of the day is spent coordinating events and what needs to be done for Soul Theory Studios, a new business that she had set upwith Haikel.
The all-in-one hip-hop dance and music studio will be an extension of the work she already does with Triqnaqi, and will have classes for both kids and adults.
It will occupy a 5,000-square-foot space at Queen Street, and will have two studios.
The children’s studio will have the necessary padding and safety equipment for activities like breakdancing.
“We want kids who don’t have the opportunity to work with us through Triqnaqi to come join us at Soul Theory, and share their love of hip-hop,” she said.
She promises the classes will be “affordable”. “I don’t want it to be a pompous thing, like some studios are,” she said. “Hip-hop should be for everyone.”
The studios, set to open in mid-November, will have open mic nights for hip-hop lovers of all ages.
“I married into hip-hop, and it has become such a part of me that it makes sense that I’m doing this,” she said.
Even little Sheikh Abbra is breakdancing, she said.
Still, Anna Belle is first and foremost a mother.
She makes sure she rushes home after rehearsals and auditions at night to help her kids with their spelling and counting exercises.
“It’s kind of funny. Sometimes, on weekends, I have to be the cool hip-hop persona at events. Then I have to go home and be mummy again, and teach my daughter how to spell ‘postman’. It’s mad.”
This article was first published in The New Paper