Creating future funk
There is something about old Malay pop music from the 1980s that has captured the imagination of this innovative young musician
Article from the Sun daily (posted on 24 Dec 2019)
EVEN in person, Amzar Hafizi stands out from the crowd. His fashion style – which blends a retro look with contemporary sensibilities and futuristic ideas – is as unique as the music he has chosen to champion.
Driven by passion, Amzar, 23, takes inspiration from music before his time and makes them ‘new’.
Known in the music scene as Fi7i, he has single-handedly re-introduced thousands of youths worldwide to the golden age of Malay music, and rekindled the spark of nostalgia in thousands more with his brand of future funk.
Tell us how your journey into music began.
“I started making music in 2013. But it all started with my parents; my mum is a fan of Sheila Majid. She used to work in a cassette factory and she was very fond of local artistes. Through her, I grew familiar with Malay music from the 1980s.
“The genre of music I make is called future funk. I take 1980s music and make it sound futuristic, hence the name. I discovered the style on YouTube, on a channel called Artzie Music.
“Most musicians in this genre use Japanese City Pop music, so I thought: ‘Why don’t I use Malay pop music instead?’ I also want to make my country proud.”
What attracted you to 1980s Malay pop music?
“The lyrics. One thing I noticed the most when comparing music from today to music from the past was the lyrics. With old music, the words may be simple, but the meaning is profound. Lyrics from most old Malay music were based on poetry.
“But today, musicians would use anything that they think sounds nice. It is especially jarring when I listen to Malay music, and the song turns out to [include lyrics in another language]. I feel they should not do this.”
How did you learn to mix music?
“Everything I do in music is self-taught ... with a lot of help and encouragement from my friends too, of course. After I started making music, I went to university. While there, I would tell my friends that I made music ... and I could show them how I produced the music.
“In live shows, I use a DJ deck to mix my song live. It is nice if the organisers can provide me with one but I also have one of my own, a basic mixing gear. When I am on stage, one song that everyone recognises me for, is Sinaran by Sheila Majid.”
How do you distribute your music?
“I distribute mainly through Soundcloud and Bandcamp under the name Fi7i. I also do cassettes. I had an album on tape last year for Cassette Store Day.
“I was planning to make another one this year, but I did not manage to make it on time.
The album from last year was called Megahit Memory. The title was inspired by a radio station tagline and the name of a series of compilation albums from back in the day.
“Did you know such cassettes are still being made in Malaysia? It’s actually the trend now in the indie scene.”
Who produced your cassettes?
“FBFC Editions is a label started by Ero and Azzief. It was their idea to turn my album into a cassette. The graphic was done by my friend, Irfan (@Irfungus).
“The cassette contains some of my older songs and some new songs as well. It took about a month to produce. I handed them the digital version of my music which they turned into a master copy and then made them into cassettes.”
What are you studying? “I just graduated from film school, actually.”
What are the words you live by? “Anywhere you go, always uphold your heritage.”
What modern genre of music do you listen to? “I listen to all music, especially electronica.”
Do you play any instrument? “No.”
How do people discover you? “Most people find me through social media by searching for Fi7i.”
Playing beyond the walls
Article from the Sun daily by Mark Mathen Victor (posted on 12 Oct 2019)
WITH an impressive musical resume in the gig economy, 24-year-old Keith Noel is one musician not afraid to take risks. After all, walking away from his Christian music roots, and his church, to pursue his own dreams is certainly something most people would hesitate doing.
“I didn’t like (Christian bands such as) Hillsong and Planetshakers. I was more about gospel music; they had groove and were more rhythmic,” he explained. “I obviously felt a lot of emotion playing that kind of music, and it did help me musically, but it didn’t help me internally.”
He also made the bold decision to drop out of his expensive law school, in order to loosen the family finances so that his two younger siblings could pursue their studies without taking any student loans.
Keith once studied in law school before dropping out so in the hopes that his two younger siblings could continue their studies without being burdened by loans.
This allowed Keith to focus completely on creating music full time.
“I’d play for six months and go ‘This is going nowhere. Let’s go to the next band’,” he said.
Having played in a number of bands spanning different genres, either as a temporary player or as a sessionist, Keith has now established himself as the artiste Leon Sapphire, employing unconventional sounds through mood-setting vocals, jazz and R&B.
Speaking to theSun, Keith spoke about what makes him tick as a musician, his background and even his thoughts on the local music industry.
How did Leon Sapphire begin?
“Leon Sapphire is a persona. I didn’t want to go by ‘Keith’. I would’ve been like a singer-songwriter, which I didn’t want to pull off.
“My favourite artiste is this guy called Justin Vernon, and he has a band called Bon Iver. That band is his persona. It’s kind of his persona to be undefined.
“I wouldn’t even think of it as my own thing. Everyone that plays for me now, I never tell them what to do or what they should be playing. I grew up in a place where you could express yourself through music and when we’re doing it, it’s like a group project.
“Leon Sapphire consists of ‘Noel’ backwards, and I was a big fan of drinking Bombay Sapphire. I didn’t come up with the name myself. I was playing with [fusion rock band] TMJB, and my lead singer started calling me that.
“Before I knew it, everyone started calling me Leon Sapphire.”
Where do you start when creating your music? The lyricism or the songwriting?
“A good musical idea of where you’re coming from is very important, but the lyrics are king for me. [Local] English music has been going on for many years. I’ve always felt like I have to compete with the best of the best.
“The only music I listen to when I’m in the car is on Lite FM. I get really in touch with the lyrics, how they come up with them, and where they’re going.
“When I try to write songs based off the music, it comes off as generic to my ears. So I always try to write lyrics first.
“Music-wise, I’m secretive about where it comes from and the process. It’s most things that are undefined and pique my interest.”
Much like any ‘tormented’ songwriter, where do your words come from?
“I don’t talk a lot about the problems in my life and this is a good way to express them, especially societal problems that I feel have no answer to them. You can only reflect on it.
“I don’t get involved [in] political and racial problems. There’s no answer to them, so I have to sing about it. It’s the easiest way to champion my ideas.
“I’d say my lyrical themes revolve around the progression of love now compared to many years ago, male suicide rates, Indian people trying to get jobs, and the middle class life.”
As a bass player who also uses the bass synth, why did you skew towards with these instruments in telling stories?
“I started playing when I was seven or eight years old. My dad was a musician back in the day, as a guitarist.
“According to him, one day God said his fingers were blessed and he was meant to play the keyboards. From the age of 25 onwards, he picked up the keyboard and now he plays it so well.
“My brother started playing the drums when he was three years old. When I was younger, I used to look up to my brother, and one day my dad asked what I wanted to play.
“I didn’t want to play the guitar because everyone played it, and I didn’t want to use the keyboard because my dad played it. So I chose the bass.
“It was that or the saxophone. The bass is the easiest to pick up, and the hardest to master.”
Do you think you’ve found your voice or signature style, or is it ever-evolving, much like the intricacies of life?
“I feel like you can find your sound multiple times, especially identity. Right now I’m singing from a very soulful place.
“When I’m singing a song, you might not understand the words sometimes but when you’re listening to me, you’re coming into my world.”
Any other instrument you’d consider/like to start playing: “Drums.”
Top 5 most influential records/albums: “Bon Iver’s Bon Iver and 22, A Million, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, and Thundercat’s Drunk.”
Top 3 most influential singers/songwriters/instrumentalists: “Justin Vernon, Marvin Gaye and Erykah Badu.”
A drummer’s world
Derrick Siow has played for notable names in the music industry
Article from the Sun daily by Marion Fernando (posted on 14 Mar 2019)
DERRICK Siow got his big break as a drummer back home a year after graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He was living in New York and was back for Chinese New Year break in 2015 when he got the call from acclaimed local producer Aubrey Suwito, asking if he was interested to play for a Siti Nurhaliza concert.
Siow, who has been playing the drums since he was eight, said: “That was my first concert, and a couple of months later I moved back for good. It’s kinda crazy how I got that gig.
First contact with the producer came prior when Siow set up a “mini concert” while in Malaysia for summer break.
Suwito was with his family and left before they got the chance to meet, but the 25-year-old’s skills with the drumsticks had already made a solid impression.
A Facebook message from Suwito later, and the two were connected.
Still exploring New York as a musician at the time, they kept in touch, leading to Siti Nurhaliza’s Unplugged show at Istana Budaya in 2015.
Since then, Siow has gone on to play for numerous notable names in the music industry including Talitha Tan, Jaclyn Victor, Kris Dayanti, and even the 2017 SEA Games closing ceremony.
What is it like being a full-time drummer in Malaysia?
I’m a freelance musician. So I play gigs whenever I’m free, and when people call me to session, then I’ll just go play.
I do from a variety from pub gigs, to jazz bars to wedding functions, corporate functions, then to obviously the TV shows, and the big concerts, and whichever artist that calls me.
That is basically it. During the daytime, we’re normally occupied with rehearsals, because our gigs are at night.
Our work is mostly at night. So during the daytime, we’re busy rehearsing.
Do you have a band that you regularly play with?
Because I am a freelance musician, I can just play whatever I want.
I’m not tied down, but there’s an artist that I’ve been working with quite closely for the past year.
Her name is NJWA, Najwa Mahiaddin.
I work with her quite closely, so if you ask me, what is the band that I am with, I would say her.
I work quite closely with her.
We had a Malaysian tour – Penang, JB, and KL.
And then we went to Japan in November [for] a couple of gigs there.
What are your favourite songs to perform live?
I am really into pop, R&B, hip hop music.
I really like those genres.
I don’t have a particular song that I like performing.
Anything that is R&B, pop, hip hop-related, I normally would quite enjoy performing it.
But obviously being a freelance musician, you would have to be able to play different genres of music.
You have to be able to be versatile to get hired, basically.
I mainly play pop, R&B stuff, and obviously do the other stuff like jazz, and Latin too.
Like recently, we did a show in Menara Ken with a band called Tara Kucha.
With Tara Kucha, we play a lot of olden Malaysian songs, like P. Ramlee songs but we make it sound more current.
It’s a mixture of Malay and English. Their goal or their aim is to keep the Malaysian song book alive.
You know how a lot of people say they want to pick up an instrument but they end up never doing it?
What is something that you always say you want to do but have not?
You know, being a full-time musician is great and it’s a privilege, but I’ve always wanted to start my own business of some sort.
I’m really into cars and stuff like that.
That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done yet.
Who has inspired you most with what they’ve accomplished?
I would say, one of the richest man in the world, Warren Buffet. It’s because he started with nothing.
He didn’t have one business that just blossomed and made him super rich, you know.
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but he’s somebody who knows what he’s doing, knows his business, knows numbers so well that he was able to invest at a young age in so many businesses.
To be able to pull through and stick to [what he’s been doing] all this time, it’s really inspiring.
It sounds like you have an inclination towards entrepreneurship as well?
I actually do. Like I said, I was very fortunate to do music as a full-time musician, but in the future I would definitely love going out, venturing into entrepreneurship, business, and whatnot.
What is your favourite memory as a professional drummer?
I would have to say the SEA Games closing ceremony in August 2017.
That would have to be like the craziest for me.
There were 20 to 30 different artists that night itself, and we played for all of them because we were the house band for the night.
So that was pretty insane.
I was able to meet and play for practically the Malaysian scene, like the legends, you know.
Amy Search, Man Bai, and Sheila Majid.
What is the coolest thing about being a drummer?
When you do the big concerts, and are able to meet your childhood idols.
I remember when I was in primary school, I was watching Malaysian Idol, and Jaclyn Victor was the winner.
And recently I did a show with her.
So it’s crazy, and we became friends, you know.
That is one of the coolest things, to look up to the people you think you’d never meet or never be able to be in contact with, and then being able to be in the scene meeting them, and being friends with them, I think is one of the coolest things.
Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 3 April 2018)
COMBINING subtle harmonic vocals with minimal electronic melodies, Pastel Lite comprises Eff Hakim and Mohd Faliq, two like-minded people who just want to make music that they both enjoy. But the band was not formed without any trials and errors throughout their music journey.
The pair met after a friend introduced them through Facebook and initially Faliq was reluctant to form a band because he wanted to produce Eff as a pop star and felt it wasn't going to work with just the two of them. But the two hit it off after going to Faliq's studio and having a jam session.
"It was instant chemistry. I realised I have never been this comfortable with anyone else," Eff said. "We ended up making a song and I told Faliq we should do something with it."
"I was looking for a female singer and when I met Eff, it was like magic. She was really serious, and we made songs that people love," Faliq added.
Their band name is probably proof of the trials and errors they faced. "We didn't know what was the cool name that would suit our music. Initially we wanted to call ourselves The Orchid Was Dying, but Faliq thought it was too metal and I said that's too avant-garde," Eff said.
"Then what about CatDog? But Faliq said that has nothing to do with our music although we liked the cartoon. I was thinking pop, pastel colours and putting some electronic sounding word in it. So why not go 'lite'? We thought of Pastel Lit at first, but that was too hip hop so we ended up staying with lite."
Their album, Balada was completed after two years amidst personal turmoil including a studio that burned down. During this period, they had thoughts of quitting because of the problems they were going through.
"We pretty much gone through everything, but it wasn't because of these problems that the album took longer than expected. It happened when we decided to take our time to make all these songs that all these personal problems started popping out of nowhere," Eff revealed.
Still, they persevered and their silver lining was landing their first performance at Baybeats 2012 in Singapore after releasing their first demo, being called up to perform at Laneway Festival 2015 in Singapore, and going on a three-day tour at Chongqing, China. But that's not all to their track record, having played in multiple local music festivals to opening for international bands with the most recent being The xx in January.
Who does what in the band?
We both do everything respectively together. It is just a matter of who starts and finishes it. Back when we started I was a novice so Faliq tends to start or he would give me a guideline of the song. As I progressed and learned more, I started things myself.
What I like working with Faliq is he always gives me room to do what I want to do and if he wants to experiment, I wouldn't stop him. I would be like are you sure that would work and then I would put my 100% trust in him. The best thing about making music is working with someone who is willing to experiment with you, and Faliq is just open-minded to everything.
What kept you both together?
I think it was a miracle. There were a bunch of random small miracles with the first one being our previous manager who was nice enough to lend us a space on top his cafe for us to use.
The second miracle was getting the most random call to be opening act for Tame Impala even though we weren't releasing anything. During the show we played four songs from Balada and the response was really good. People were excited about what we were going release and we thought people have forgotten about us.
The third miracle is having a number of music labels calling us up, and we ended up joining Yuna Room Records. That really saved the game.
What's your plan for the future?
We are thinking of penetrating more into the Malay market. In Balada, we released two Malay tracks and it was our first time making Malay songs. We didn't think we were going to have good feedback from the Malay speaking community and we would love to educate them when it comes to independant music, and the only way to do that is by speaking their language.
We think this is a good way to further expose the market to synth pop. We won't be forgetting our English fans; it is just our habit to not stay in the comfort zone.
What can the next generation look up to you with?
Perseverance. I know it is such a boring answer but it is true especially when it is so easy to quit these days. Everything is super fast nowadays that it is very easy to fall out of love with something. Perseverance is about staying with it and letting it grow on you. I think we have it the most because there were so many times we wanted to quit but we thought we should stay; it's been three years, what's another seven or 20 years.
Drumming to her beat
Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 8 June 2017)
HOLDING a pair of real drumsticks in her hands, all 14-year-old Nur Amira Syahira could think of was, "is this a dream? Is it real?" Sure enough, her dream of owning a set of drums came true after finding an online drumming game and enjoying it so much.
"When I asked my parents for a drum set, my father told me that drums were really expensive and if I don't play it well then it would be quite a waste to get one. Before making a decision, my parents took me to a studio to see if I could play, and I was confident I could do it.
"I tried to play the basics like snare, hi-hat and pedal even though I did not recognise what was a floor tom, second tom, snare or a crash. I proved myself, and my father started saving money and finally bought a second-hand drum set for me," she said, adding that the set of drums has been with her since she started playing at the age of eight.
Fondly referring herself as Mira, she calls YouTube her "sifu" as she has never taken any drum lessons, learning purely from that platform. She said everything she searched would yield detailed information of what she wanted to learn.
"I will take one drum stroke that is difficult and practise every day until I learn it. Professionals could probably learn it in two or three days, but I usually take a week or sometimes two, if it is extremely difficult.
"I am currently learning how to do the swivel foot on the pedal where you are stepping on the pedal but also sliding as you go. Watching others do it, I wonder how it is done but if they can do it, why can't I do too?
"There are many more strokes I need to learn, hence I need a lot of energy to learn them and an active mind to remember what I have learned all this time," Penang-born Mira said.
What is your favourite genre?
I don't like sticking to just one genre. I like all kinds, from classic to rock and even, heavy metal. I take them all in and hold on to them as I believe as a musician, I need to know, learn and play all genres.
What is important for a drummer?
His or her stroke, drumming and tone. Each drummer's tone is different. Even if I can play like other drummers, the tone is never the same. Normally, people wouldn't hear the difference, but drummers can.
I started developing my own tone from jungle-like themes. When I do drum solos on YouTube, I try to make a treble beat and that became my own tone. It became something I could feel, and if I stop and listen again, I can gain more ideas for it.
What are the challenges you face?
My challenge is playing the drums itself. I may be able to hear a song and feel good about playing it but on the drum, I don't know where to start playing. Nonetheless, I keep trying even if that song is difficult.
As a musician, I cannot give up and say I cannot do it. I must know and learn all the hard steps to become a professional drummer.
How do you balance school and drumming?
I follow a schedule set by my mother. When I get back from school and I have homework to do, I will complete that first and study for one to two hours before touching the drums. I practise for two to three hours a day.
With more than 150,000 subscribers on YouTube and 390,000 followers on Facebook, how does it feel to be famous?
I have never intended to play the drums to become famous, but as a hobby. My main reason for starting a YouTube account and uploading my videos is to see where my mistakes are rather than keeping them in the computer.
I uploaded a Zapin song, Usik Mengusik by Senario, and it became viral. This happened around three, four years ago and I was shocked and confused by it.
Perhaps, it was God's way of telling me to play better and take it to a professional level.
Drummers often play in a band, but what is your opinion of this?
I feel more comfortable playing alone than in a band. To me, bands are nonsense. Many say playing in a band is great because you can achieve more, but that is if everyone works as a team and have positive attitudes. I prefer to play solo and when I play alone, I get to have the stage to myself unlike in a band where drummers are usually placed at the back.
What are your plans?
The next thing I want to achieve is to have 1,000 videos and one million subscribers on my YouTube channel. I am also looking at producing vlogs (video blogs) and having a road tour in Malaysia.
I would also like to become an entrepreneur, but I literally don't know how to leave my drums and will continue to learn and become more skilled at playing.
Favourite colours: Red, purple and black.
Favourite animals: Cats, owls and tortoises.
Malaysian idols: Drummers Black from Wings and Ujang.
International idols: Meytal Cohen, Christian Coma and Joey Jordinson.
Favourite songs: Nenek ku Pahlawan Ku by Wali and You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift.
Junk food for her soul
Article from the Sun daily by Peony Chin (posted on 15 November 2016)
JOCELYN TAN, or better known by her stage moniker Jocelyn Stemilyn, may have been around in the local scene for a little over a year but she has always been surrounded by music her entire life. Growing up near a sugar cane plantation in Perlis, Tan’s family played multiple instruments.
“My mother sang, and even my then domestic helper played the guitar!” quipped Tan, who also sang, played music and danced in church.
Then, she left for Kuala Lumpur to pursue her theatre studies in University of Malaya. It was here that she joined its music club, Yao Lan Shou Music Composing Unit and started singing and composing music.
She debuted last year with her song Junk Food, produced by Dae Kim, with whom she frequently performs. Tan, who veers towards electronica and ambient music, recently released her new single, Pedicure.
Can you recall the first song you ever wrote?
I was 15 years old when I realised I could write songs. I’ve forgotten the title, but it was a song of gratitude towards my friend. It was for a very close friend of mine who left the country to study. She was my closest companion in school and I felt very sad. Hence, I had the urge to write a song for her. I recorded and sent it to her.
How did studying theatre in University of Malaya open your eyes to the world of performing arts?
Those three years of my life were interesting. Perhaps we’ve watched too many Hollywood flicks or Broadway musicals, so we had a certain expectation towards performing arts. But in Malaysia, it’s way tougher – it’s not always like Broadway.
Sometimes, you have to do really raw, stripped down, and even traditional plays. In a way, it broadened my horizon because I always thought I wanted to be a musical actress, but then I realised that performing is not just about singing and acting. It’s a lot of other things – you need to know how to work the props, lighting, and all the technical bits.
How does your background in theatre influence your music today?
It helps in the way I express myself, especially during live performances. People have commented that when I perform, I have a certain persona with one song and a different one with another.
What’s your opinion on the local independent music industry, as a newcomer?
More and more people are doing music independently. There’s definitely more variety, more shows and it’s more interesting; there are new faces all the time. So far, I feel that everyone is very supportive; we usually talk to each other at gigs and have a good time. The circle is still really small and everybody knows everybody. But I’m glad that it’s expanding. People are also more open about cross-genre music.
What has been your most memorable performance to date?
When I performed with Dae Kim at Findars’ ELECTRIC DREAMS back in August. It was a small event, but the attendees were very relaxed and open-minded. When I jokingly asked everyone to stand up for my song, they actually did! They moved along to my song Pedicure and stuck around chatting with each other after the show. It was a very heart-warming show which we don’t get very often, to be honest.
Favourite coffee beans: Kuda Mas.
Musician you look up to: Little Dragon.
A purchase she’d make with her first million: A house by the beach.
Favourite beats per minute (bpm): 120.
No love songs for her
Article from the Sun daily by Jessica Chua (posted on 27 September 2016)
TAKAHARA Suiko aka The Venopian Solitude’s first attempt at writing happened when she was griping about her brother on her blog using metaphors. She was only 14 when she learnt how to mask her words. Little did she know, she was paving the way for songwriting.
“It’s a horrible way to start writing, but it taught me how to be creative,” said the 26-year-old.
Despite her growing interest in music, Takahara took up electronic engineering in Japan to appease her parents. But as she was about to finish her diploma, she concluded that studying engineering became a chore, and she just wasn’t cut out for it.
So Takahara returned to Malaysia to focus on creating music – producing a number of EPs along the way, and even released her first full-length album Hikayat Perawan Majnun in 2014. The singer-songwriter dabbles in various sounds and genres, but one thing’s for sure: she doesn’t write love songs.
“I tried to but I couldn’t. It’s just too personal. Even if I did, I wouldn’t put it out,” she said.
Takahara recently hit another milestone as she’s the first Malaysian artiste selected – among thousands from over 100 countries – to attend the esteemed Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal this September.
“I'm trying not to let the pressure of being the first Malaysian alumna get to me because it will definitely distract me from learning as much as I can, and to some extent, basking in Montreal while I'm there,” she divulged.
Could you recall the beginning of your affair with music?
I started composing music in standard two or three. I wanted to take up piano but my mother didn’t allow it. So I started making melodies using my father’s phone instead. That was when phones had monotone sounds you can play with. I never had any exposure to musical instruments except for the recorder in school. So it was either that or the phone.
How would you describe your music?
It’s really loud and annoying. I say that because I don’t know what kind of style it is. It changes from song to song. If you don’t agree with that and you happen to like it, then good for you. I scream a lot when I perform live – it’s necessary to convey the emotion that was written for that part of the lyrics or song.
What is music to you?
Music is something as natural as breathing and eating. I don’t pride myself in doing music because it’s like having pride in eating and breathing. Everyone does that. But it comes naturally to me that it doesn’t become a thing that I focus on. Like eating and brushing my teeth afterwards, music is something that I have to do, whether I like it or not.
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received.
There are several but the one that I really remember is by Fynn Jamal. She told me to make my own path, and that I cannot follow other people’s paths because I’m different. While everyone else walks down a certain path, it was actually easier for me to make something of my own because the other paths were already crowded. To me, that was a revelation.
What is your main goal?
I would like to experience a black hole. I guess that’s the metaphor of my dream; to understand something that I don’t understand, and to understand as many things as I can.
Where do you want to see this industry go?
All fields have to collaborate to make every field relevant to each other, which can foster appreciation. People are starting to appreciate some form of art now, like a nice-looking tudung or a locally made T-shirt. To me, that direction will head towards performing arts as well. For example, Yuna incorporated a silat artist and ballerina in her recent music video. But right now, it’s too early to say whether or not it’ll work. It will take time. But what matters is that we keep doing it.
Favourite time of the day: When she goes to bed.
Childhood ambition: Doctor.
Currently on repeat: Yuna’s Unrequited Love.
Where to find her: Takahara Suiko (YouTube), The Venopian Solitude (Bandcamp)
Better for Borneo
Article from the Sun daily by Rachel Law (posted on 20 September 2016)
ALENA Ose' Murang may not be very good at maths – her elder brother's got that covered – but she's profoundly inspired, and equally inspiring. The 27-year-old is an artist, musician, dancer, strategist and social entrepreneur all rolled into one; armed with a mission to bring about positive changes to society and the environment, and preserve her Borneon heritage.
She was born to a Kelabit father, but it was really her English-Italian mother – an anthropologist – who nurtured Alena's interests and identity in Kelabit culture, traditions, and their way of life. Growing up in Kuching, Alena took ngarang (dance in indigenous lingo) classes; learnt to play the sape (a traditional twostringed lute), weave and make costumes; even studied songs of the Kenyah tribe, and the language of the Penan people.
Although she has a management degree, Alena pursued an arts foundation course at Singapore's Lasalle College of the Arts in 2014. But her dreams of becoming a fine artist were dashed, when her lecturers told her she wouldn't make a happy one.
"They told me, 'Fine artists are selfish and inward-thinking; while your work is all about your community and heritage.' I was quite troubled by that for a few months, but then I started ART4 (i.e. art for) – as a hashtag, initially – promising myself to use art as a medium for social impact.
"Eventually, I started taking commissioned artwork and performances to ART4 (www. alenamurang.com). I also do management consulting, and the revenue I get from those I channel into cultural heritage and environmental impact projects," explained Alena.
This Saturday, the multi-talented lass is hosting a public launch for her debut EP, Flight which was released last month.
Have you explored your English and Italian roots?
I studied in the UK for five years, but I was a bit naive. I didn't like England because I didn't see any culture, which to me, meant colourful traditional garbs, beads, celebrations and dances back then. Only when I was a bit older I realised culture is effervescent.
I've never lived in Italy, but I try to go back every year. I really connect with where my grandma's from, which is Naples in southern Italy. It's rich in history and culture, and in a lot of ways people there are very similar to Malaysians. They love their food, and park on yellow lines. I do want to explore that side more – I just haven't done it yet.
How is storytelling through painting, dancing and playing music different for you?
Honestly, painting is my first love. I feel that I do music more, but I'd rather paint – it's my ultimate form of expression. With the sape, I don't write my own songs so I don't express all of myself through it. I use it as a medium to tell stories of my roots. I do traditional dances to keep the art form, so the only stories I tell are why and when we used to dance.
Which was the most interesting project you've done under ART4?
In January last year, we collaborated with Biji-biji Initiative to upcycle a helipad in Genting Highlands. It wasn't used anymore so they wanted an art on it. We painted a big bird, where one of the wings came out as a 3D sculpture – made using metal parts welded by Bijibiji.
About 80% of everything we upcycled were from Genting. We rummaged through its waste management area, and found old casino chairs, pots and pans; and took apart an old Transformer – it was like a playground for us! But it was taken down early this year, because Genting is going through a transformation programme. Outdoor art is almost always ephemeral.
Tell us about your EP, Flight.
My music is quite traditional, but I want to make it relatable, so that people in the urban setting and people who don't know anything about Sarawak are able to associate with it. In Flight, I play the sape and sing, and it's backed by other instruments such as violin, harp and some percussion.
Spirit animal: Hornbill.
Dessert of choice: "Dark chocolate anything!"
Favourite scents: Freshly ground coffee, or freshly mown grass.
Inspirations: Parents; social entrepreneurs Biji-biji Initiative, and Build for Tomorrow.
Favourite artists: Vincent van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and Cilau Valadez.
Fear factor: Lizards. "I can handle snakes and scorpions – just not lizards."
Songs for the soul
Article from the Sun daily by Joyce Ang (posted on 11 Dec 2015)
FROM learning the piano at the tender age of three to graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, music has always been a prominent part of Najwa Mahiaddin’s life.
“Ever since I was little, I have always been intrigued by music. It always makes me feel something; it was a way for me to express myself,” said the contemporary writing and production graduate.
Now 29, the songstress has performed on many renowned stages, and received some of the most prestigious awards in the Malaysian music industry.
However, even with all that she’s achieved so far, what matters most to her is the impact of her music on people.
How did you get started in this industry?
The very first time I got a gig was actually through Mia Palencia. I was still studying when I attended one of her workshops, where I got to sing one of my originals.
After the performance, she approached me and told me that she liked my performance, and invited me to be featured on one of her projects, the Bedroom Musician series. That was my first show as a singer-songwriter playing my own music.
It was a nice feeling, just me on the keyboard. Then, Reza Salleh, one of the pioneers in the Malaysian singer-songwriter scene, came up to me and offered me another gig.
From there, I was offered more gigs on various stages and at different venues, including No Black Tie.
Describe an event that shaped who you are today.
There was a time when I was going through a lot of things that I was unhappy about, and I was using music to make me feel better.
Ironically, however, I did not write many sad songs at that time. That was when I knew for sure that I wanted to do music badly.
The moment my parents gave me the green light to pursue music was a turning point in my life because music has finally become more than just a hobby. I was enrolled into music school, and it was then that I felt like I was where I was meant to be.
From that day forth, I cannot think of anything else that I would rather be doing. Had that not happened, I would have been really depressed.
Can you share with us some of your accomplishments?
As an artiste, I want to give people a moment away from what they are going through and to give them hope despite everything, as well as to help people heal from past experiences.
For example, every time I perform After The Rain, a lot of people come up to tell me that the song resonated with them. To me, accomplishments are not just about winning awards. To be able to touch lives already makes me feel like a winner.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope to travel more. I hope to spread my music to more places, experience different cultures, and to collaborate with people from all around the globe – a privilege I had while I was at Berklee, without all the travelling.
I would also like to bring traditional Malaysian music to other parts of the world, and educate the rest of the world about the music that we have here.
Tell us more about your latest song, "Sama Saja"?
The song is about how we are all different in culture, opinion, et cetera, but essentially the same at the end of the day. It’s the first time that people were invited to watch and be part of the video shoot, so I’m very excited about it.
Ultimate comfort food: Mum’s cooking.
Favourite festive season: “I’m Malaysian, so it’s hard to choose one. I would say all of the festive seasons!”
Favourite musicians: Lalah Hathaway, Emily King, Little Dragon.
Favourite movies: Grease (1978) and Mary Poppins (1964).
Article from the Sun daily by Jessica Chua (posted on 4 Nov 2015)
ONE of Josh Kua's earliest memories in violin training involves the Suzuki method – which has nothing to do with the famed motorcycle company, if you're wondering.
"It is a learning method to practise good posture, how to listen and play by ear. I started with an empty cereal box with a ruler taped to it, and a wooden spoon for the bow, to master holding a violin," explained Kua, who grew up in Australia and started training at the age of four.
Most people may assume that trained instrumentalists would further their education in music, but in fear of losing his passion during the studying process, Kua decided against the popular belief. Instead, he obtained double degrees in law and commerce.
His career path took a huge turn when he went on his first mini tour in the Philippines during his third year in university. Since then, his music has gone on to reach audiences around Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and currently, China.
Speaking of his personal style, the 26-year-old shared that "less is more. I like lyrical music. It is like my singing voice, except I don't sing. I gravitate towards acoustic music, acoustic pop or alternative rock because that is the kind of music I grew up with."
Have you always been confident about your musical talents?
I didn't foresee a career coming out of it. It was something that I did just for fun, but I guess I knew that I was better than average. One of my strengths is improvisation. I usually have a rough plan of what I'm going to do when I perform, but no two performances are ever the same.
Does being a musician give you a different outlook on life?
I would say I'm extremely lucky to be able to travel for my work. It has changed my way of thinking because I've been exposed to different cultures and environments. I think when you are stuck in one place your whole life, your mind gets used to thinking in a certain way. So I've been very lucky to travel and work, and open my mind to different ways of life and thinking.
How would you define music?
Music is definitely a universal language which I experienced while travelling to different countries. It is a way for me to express to the world and for us to understand each other. I find it very fulfilling when I perform and people get touched by the sentiment that I was conveying through my music. It doesn't matter if they interpreted it differently, in fact it makes it better because I have spoken to them in a way that I never thought I would.
What do you want people to hear or see through your music?
I want them to see me. It is important for me to be authentic in my performances; maybe that's why I am more inclined towards stripped-down kind of music.I never like to focus too much on image and I don't like gimmicks. So I like to show who I am – less is more.
If you could impart one lesson to your peers, what would you say?
Practice makes perfect. Whether or not you were born with a gift, anything can be earned as long as you put in effort and work hard for it. Nothing comes easy. So if you're discouraged and you feel like you're not getting anywhere with whatever it may be, just put in work and be smart. Get to know the right people, make them believe in you, and just do your best.