Kuala Lumpur Skyline
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – I am never let down by my trips to Malaysia, and despite being hit from every which side from the jet lag on this trip so far, and despite very little planning in advance, KL has again proven to be one of my favorite destinations on my worldwide musical journey. I decided to pass up on any idea of a musical joint on Wednesday night, but I then ended up playing in three completely different venues on the following three nights, and hung out at a fourth – one of the most interesting – without playing.
Shaneil and band at Timbre open mic in KL
I have always been amazed at the level of talent of the musicians in this country, and what’s really freaky too is that while I am so used to travelling the world and hearing people for whom English is not their native language singing and composing in English, here you might THINK it is not their native language, but English IS one of the main languages spoken in Malaysia. This comes, no doubt, from something like colonization, but despite the presence of so many other languages – notably Malay – I hear almost exclusively English being spoken in KL, the capital city.
first at Timbre
And that means that when people sing and compose in English here, it is not just in order to try to achieve some illusion of worldwide success – it is to express themselves. So it works. Furthermore, this is a country full of fantastic, velvety singing voices. I have no idea why. But who cares.
second at Timbre
Heading out to Shah Alam for the Lorong BlackBox
My first stop was at the new venue of Atraz Ismail in Shah Alam, which is about 45 minutes drive from downtown. This is a combination of a street food vending operation along with a small back of the room, tastefully decorated dining and music playing area called, “Lorong BlackBox.” Atraz is the man behind that place where I had such an amazing time five years ago, called SENYAP – which means “silence” – and which burned down a few years ago, causing Atraz to forget about such ventures for a while.
third at timbre
Thursday was not an official musical evening at Lorong BlackBox, but I had my guitar with me, so I was invited to sign few songs for Atraz and his cooks and whoever else happened to be there. I ate a magnificent rice meal and played my heart out. I wish him great luck in the future with this place, and its location in a back alley in this interesting conglomeration of restaurants and boutiques – reminiscent somehow of images I’ve seen of New Orleans (I’ve never been there!) – promises some cool stuff, like a kind of music festival Atraz plans for the back alley and is currently seeking permission for.
sixth at timbre
Another Open Mic at the Merdekarya Hang Out Venue
Friday it was off to the open mic night of the venue that I have not missed for several years now, where I attended one of the best open mic nights I have ever attended anywhere, a few years ago. That is Merdekarya, which is also located fairly far outside KL – although only around 20 minutes’ drive this time – and is also located in a funky food stall kind of area, on the floor over a neat Asian semi-outdoor restaurant. They hold an open mic several times a week and you can sign up on the Merdekarya web site for an open mic slot well in advance.
The open mic this time was not quite the dream it was on that first dream-like evening I spent there, but I enjoyed visiting Merdekarya again, of course, as it has such a feeling of a “scene” surrounding it, and indeed, it DOES have a scene. It’s not only the favorite open mic venue of many young musicians in KL, it is also their favorite hangout. One of those people is Sheneil Devaser, who was there on Friday night and who runs several open mics around KL. He invited me to attend his new Saturday night open mic at Timbre, in the center of KL, despite his list already being full.
trombone at merdekarya
Finally, it was on to the Open Mic at the Timbre
But before I turn to Timbre, I have to mention that I met up with Andy Peterson, who is one of the world’s greatest bass guitar players – in my, and many other peoples’ opinions – at Merdekarya. Andy is Malaysian, but he travels the world playing bass in both the studio and live performances, for a wide variety of musicians and bands, and he has also released his own absolutely fabulous CD of compositions.
second at merdekarya
Andy said he was going off to the Backyard Pub after Merdekarya and asked if I wanted to join him. So I gladly and thankfully agreed, since Backyard is also one of my all-time favorite music destinations in KL. The musical director, Edmund Anthony, has impeccable taste in music, and always has a list of fabulous bands at the venue. Backyard is known as one of the top music venues in the city, and when you hear the level and variety of the music, it’s no surprise. Edmund has lately been staging his own band on Tuesday nights, by the way, and it sounds very original…. We caught up on news, as it had been a few years since I was last there, having spent most of my time in KL attending open mics, rather than listening to other bands – although I did do a set once at the Backyard.
Saturday is was off to Shaneil’s open mic at the Timbre bar and restaurant, which is located in downtown KL, not far from my hotel near the twin towers. It is located on a street that has begun to be a magnet of new bars and restaurants, and Shaneil has started up this open mic that features several musicians playing their singer songwriter stuff before the feature band plays for the rest of the night. Last night, Shaneil’s band also did a nice long set, and that was really rich, and nice to hear a full-fledged rock band with some nice melodies and cool guitar, featuring Shaneil’s strong vocals.
I had a fabulous time singing on that huge stage with a great sound system and a sound man permanently there to adjust the levels. Rich in reverb, I didn’t even need more than a single pint of beer to feel relaxed and safe behind the mic.
A great three nights so rich in experiences that I realize once again how much I like KL and its musicians and its music. Oh yes, and music is so prevalent, I have seen buskers all over, and I even saw some kind of impromptu outdoor music and dance moment just before the open mic at the Timbre – which I made a little video of….
Dancers in the street in KL
PS, I just realized I said nothing about the heat and humidity that I mention in the headline – and little about the jet lag. That just shows that despite this horrendous heat and humidity and jet lag, if you have enough amazing musician moments to distract you, then you don’t notice those things so much….