We’re In Heaven

Pete Teo’s Songwriters Round has entered a new phase, coming back from the despair of no-No Black Tie to the latest KL venue, Alexis on Jalan Ampang.

The last weekend saw two rounds, Friday and Saturday. Friday we had Mia Palencia (replacing Rafique Rashid), Aki, Shelley Leong, and Zahid from Disagree; Saturday it was Sara Lo, Eugene Ng, May-E, and Vima from Qings and Kueens.

The person I’d been really looking forward to (ignorant of Mia’s participation) on Friday was Shelley. I’d caught her on the open mic at an earlier round.

The Shelley Leong song for me is ‘So Good’. Mm. It isn’t just her voice – though if it were just her voice that would probably do the trick too – ifs also the way she moves on stage, hampered by guitar and perched on a stool. And that growly end. Mm again. I wanted to take her home, and not for the conversation. Her songs contain a gentle non-conformism, mirrored in the other acts on Friday.

The first act up was Mia. The first song was marred by the blender backing her. Perhaps that was why she seemed a little off-colour that night, or maybe it was the nerves she confessed to, for replacing Rafique.

When Mia performed the last time I caught her, my only soft criticism was that the way she portrayed herself was as a weak, insecure and, as she put it, ‘constantly dumped’ girl. Sharp contrast to the self-confident feist­ mistress on stage. Mia’s new stuff, however, seems to have left that behind. The first of the two new songs was ‘Finding My Way’, lost souls in a cityscape, children working in the market, the mentally ill 37-year-old who never grows up.

The second song was a musically adventurous ode to No Black Tie – ‘the smell of memories’. It obviously touched a chord with the audience. While we are all thanks to Alexis for opening up to live music, it just isn’t the same. People come to Alexis to eat. For some patrons, the music is a pleasant extra. So you have the dinking and the blending. With accidentally good accoustics. When Pete sang ‘Blue’ later, you could hear it across the deserted Great Eastern Mall.

One person unimpressed by the ode was Zahid from Disagree. last time he was at NBT he was thrown out.

Disagree are doing well at the moment, their hit ‘Crumbs’ is receiving a lot of air-time. And Zahid can sing and write. But I kept feeling like I’d heard it all before. I (later) read in a chatroom that he sounds like Pearl Jam, but it was Limp Bizkit that came to mind.

The other act up was Aki, singing in Mandarin. Generally melodious and sweet, she sang a get-up-and-dance song about a guy she fancied. Her best song, however, was the last, written to relieve her anger.

The star of the open mic on Friday was Az A Samad, son of Sasterawan Negara A Samad Said. He battles with his guitar, in turn coaxing and berating it. Catch him play when you can.

A much speedier, and more fun, round took place on Saturday. Among others, the audience was treated to chest hair comparisons, between Qings and Kueens’ Vima and Eugene.

The round began with Eugene Ng, who had backed Aki the previous night Eugene is cute: take him home and put him a corner and you’d impress all your guests. And he has the most expressive eyebrows I’ve seen. On top of that, he is immensely talented. Singing in Mandarin, I couldn’t understand a word he sang, but you could feel the pain and muted anger in his anti-war song, the heartache in his, well, heart-broken song and the boppy joy in the song he wrote naked after having had a bath.

He both began and ended the night. The last song was a cover (shock!): ‘Heaven’ by Bryan Adams. Mr Adams should hope never to hear just how upstaged he could be.

Next up were a duo from Qings and Kueens, a great rock band. But with only Vima and Paul on stage, the songs lost their edge. They seemed to start following a set formula – slow-ish, almost R&B start, a pause (getting a round of applause every time) and rocky dose, with a bit to test Vima’s lung capacity.

May-E sang a round of Malay songs, mainly love songs, with earthy gusto. Her ‘Matahari dan Bumi’ about a problematic, but essential relationship, was a gem (trans: ‘without the sun, the earth lacks beauty’). She could be a bit more musically adventurous, but carried most of the songs through her vibrant vocals.

Then there was Sara. I’d heard her play once before, and had no real desire to hear her again. She’d been bland, I felt, and couldn’t quite understand Pete introducing her as one of Malaysia’s most promising songwriters. And then she slid into ‘Closure’. It was entrancing, the lyrics, the music and those soft, long-drawn vowels. A performance repeated with each of her original numbers. I humbly rescind my earlier judgement.

Lastly, there was the star-studded open mic: Jason Lo, Adam Farouk, SingleTrackMind and, of course, Pete, singing a couple of songs that didn’t make his album.

There is not only bags of talent in KL’s songwriting scene, it seems to be getting stronger.

First Published: 12.05.2004 on Kakiseni

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