Tuesday July 18, 2006
TOAST OF THE TOWN
The KL Sing Song 2006 Festival, which ended last weekend, held on to its ambitious two day schedule and received an impressive turnout considering the relatively unknown quantity on stage.
THERE were many moments that left an impression after the close of the KL Sing Song 2006 festival last weekend at the KLPac. But one particular image stood out. It was veteran Malay folk singer-songwriter Meor carting his guitar case and looking for a seat outside the arts centre grounds to soak in the excitement of what had transpired at the venue’s Pentas 2 hall on Saturday night. Despite a bad smoker’s cough, Meor was in an upbeat mood, cracking a half smile that clearly betrayed his contemplative musical outlook. His spirits seemed re-energised as he mentioned to those within earshot that he hopes to be back next year for the festival.
Giddy enthusiasm is not something you would associate with someone like Meor, a street busker and DIY musician, who has been plying his trade for nearly 20 years. His story has been one of constant struggles – a Nusantara artiste unwilling to compromise his art. A brush with the authorities last year after a street busking operation forced him to rethink his music career.
But when a good thing happens – you feel it.
The KL Sing Song festival was one of those things.
But he wasn’t the only one with a bounce in his walk. The other younger performers on the night like Broken Scar (or Kevin Teh to his mum) and the lovely ladies of Rhapsody were practically bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm backstage – and they looked like they could have gone on stage for a few more hours.
This script had a sickeningly drippy feel to it, but take nothing away from the two-day KL Sing Song festival, now in its second edition, that presented a persuasive case for the depth of a young music community and a devoted following that seemingly sprung up like mushrooms overnight.
A total of over 350 punters showed up for the festival across two evenings. Who would have thought Malaysians would dig an event filled with artistes without a catalogue of ring-tones to boast? Driven by word-of-mouth support, the KL Sing Song held on to its ambitious two-day schedule and received an impressive turnout considering the relatively unknown quantity on stage.
Well it wasn’t quite the warm settings of the wooded No Black Tie club in downtown Kuala Lumpur, but vibe-wise this singer-songwriter festival comes pretty close. Programmed by the Troubadours Enterprise, a local folk music collective, the festival featured 12 singer-songwriters that hailed from diverse backgrounds but surprisingly fitted the festival’s overall settings.
The coincidence of a purple patch for local singer-songwriters now and the emergence of new talent have produced riveting results for this music community that is barely five years old. The Malaysian acoustic folk circuit is freakily fashionable at the moment but most tellingly, it could eventually suffer from the trendy bandwagon jumper syndrome and scene politics that ruined other young music communities here (remember what happened to hip hop?).
But let’s not be pessimistic. Back in 2001, you could count the attendance on both hands at such acoustic shows – and some of those that followed such gigs as fans have made themselves vital voices in the current circuit (including the Troubadours gang).
At the KL Sing Song 2006, the selections were inspired ones with crowd-pullers Shelley Leong and Shanon Shah sharing the spotlight with returning favourites Meor and Pete Teo. These enduring veterans and homemade stars are the established names in bright lights.
But between both evenings, the unsung heroes also came to light and artistes like Mei Chern, Ariff Akhir, Reza Salleh, Broken Scar and Rhapsody made a case for themselves as more than just an impressive back-line of artistes. Also banish those thoughts of this circuit being an exclusive middle class preserve – Malay folk artiste Pak Pandir and the eccentric Fathul of Fathulistiwa Soundscapes were the unlikeliest of highlights at the festival and credit must be given to them for getting themselves engaged in the broader scene.
On Saturday night, the one voice that stole the show belonged to Mei Chern, a reclusive singer-songwriter who made quite an impact in the final set – sharing the stage with Meor and Teo. Singing with an unforced genuineness that warms and deepens every song, Mei is hardly a wallflower. Instead her turn of phrase was at once literary and confrontational, especially with the lyrical sketches of concern on Do You See Me Like You?, lifted from the Alice Lives Here documentary, leaving the audiences hushed at KLPac.
On this impressive performance, Mei’s reputation can only grow further.
To give the KL Sing Song a sense of occasion, the seemingly contrasting music of Meor and Teo came to prominence once again.
Collectively or individually, both of them mean an awful lot to acoustic folk fans here. Funnily, both men have been out of the scene for quite a bit – Meor on a self-imposed exile and Teo busy recording his new music. On stage for the first time in several months, the bare-footed troubadour Meor was a man comfortable in his own voice, delivering introspective tales of love and loss.
On the other hand, Teo had a nervy start but he has evidently amassed quite a following. The singalong session during his set was a sign that showbiz has crept into the singer-songwriter domain without anybody noticing. However, one of the most noticeable things about this bloke’s return was the uplift in his moods, a clear indication that Teo’s forthcoming album won’t alarmingly be all about heartbreaks and bad livers. Thankfully.
If anything, the most curious development at the KL Sing Song 2006 was the endorsement by the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry. With the streetwise savvy of the Troubadours and the government funding combined, the KL Sing Song series might have just paved a route for a hip and secure future for singer-songwriters out there.