I had already considered this trip to Kuala Lumpur a musical success after I played at Laila’s bar on Wednesday, at the Frontera restaurant on Saturday – read about that below – and also received an invitation to play tonight at the Backyard Pub and Grill. But my friend Emily Brown, the woman who runs the All-Nations U-Bar open mic in Australia, when she saw I was in Kuala Lumpur decided to ask a Malaysian musician she knows in Melbourne if he knew of places for me to play.
He suggested Doppelganger open mic, which I know about but which has nothing while I’m here. And he also suggested a thing called SENYAP. I sent an email to the SENYAP address asking if there were any events for me to play at and I received a response yesterday, saying I could come around and play that night – or Tuesday, but that Sunday would be best.
I had a huge day at the office – read, race track – and I was late in getting away, late in returning to my hotel, and then late in arriving at the so-called “Hub” where SENYAP put on its musical and other artistic events. It was located in Shah Alam, out in a suburb, in a place called “Extreme Park,” which in fact was a skateboard and other extreme sports meeting place. The Hub was like a mix between a cafe, bar, pub and musical theater, with a fabulous stage, spotlights, good quality sound system, and a lot of people sitting at chairs drinking non-alcoholic local beer-like drink – flavored peach, pomegranate, raspberry, etc. – at oil barrels for tables. The walls were black and covered with sayings and signatures and autographs written in chalk. Cool? All part of the cool concept of SENYAP (which means “silence” in Malay).
“We’re an underground movement,” I was told by Atraz Ismail, the genial and charismatic organizer of SENYAP and owner of the locale, when I asked him what kind of place I had come to.
Indeed, it took me a while, but I eventually caught on. SENYAP is a DIY group that exists to promote grassroots arts in Malaysia, mostly music, but also other arts. This particular “Hub” has only been open for a week, but the concept has existed for a couple of years, and in various forms.
The group takes in musicians and gives them a venue and helps them develop and advertise and gig and grow. Very cool indeed. And what was, on top of that, so much cooler for me personally was not only that I was allowed to play in this venue and did a nice half hour gig of my own and cover songs that were pretty much all warmly received. It was also the quality of the other musicians present, and the young bands who dropped by to take in the sounds and speak to Atraz. Among them were a band called The Tick, which has grown up through SENYAP and has a CD, and a Singaporean musician named Tengku Adil.
Unfortunately I only just barely heard Adil, as he was playing just as I arrived and I had to run out immediately to grab a Burger King next door since I had not yet eaten, and it was nearly 10 PM. But Adil gave me his CD and I listened to it later on a car CD player and it sounded nice.
The truly cool thing, though, was the presence of the singer who I did hear when I came back to pig out on my Burger King. This was Andy, of the band Flop Poppy. As I listened to his set – just him on the guitar and vocals – I could hear instantly that this man had his own style and presence. I could also hear and incredible audience participation in his songs, with applause coming as certain songs were introduced, and the audience knowing all the lyrics.
As I ate the burger and videoed the man I thought, this man must be known here. They know all his songs, and he has this assured presence and sound. I would learn that indeed, Andy, the main man behind Flop Poppy, is a local rock star. The band was a trailblazing band in the Malaysian indie music scene in the ’90s and early 2000s, and has, in fact, sold millions of records.
Andy is a friend and supporter of Atraz and his SENYAP movement, and he said that after his years of performing at the top, he has recently returned a lot to his roots, playing in smaller venues – as well as continuing in the big ones – and trying to be as close to the people as possible.
So here we get to the really nice part. In addition to interviewing all these people for my open mic film, I again found myself in a situation as I have so often where the musicians are intrigued by my guitar. Andy just had to try it out. So I gave it to him as we sat at one of those oil drums and he played and sang a song. As I went off to interview Atraz, Andy got back on the stage again and played for another 10 or 15 minutes with my guitar.
Then Adil took the guitar and played it too.
Yes, a few days ago I reported that I had broken the Seagull, and that is true. It is broken. But the splinters are holding together, and the guitar seems to sound about the same as before. So I will get it looked at by a doctor (luthier) and hope to give it a new lease on life. This is the guitar that has been played around the world by so many different musicians, including many famous ones, that I cannot bear the thought of retiring it. I mentioned this to Andy and he said, “You should make a video about ‘all the people who have played my guitar’.” Hey, that’s what SENYAP is all about, a creative melting pot.
The night before I played at the Frontera Tex Mex restaurant. Did a half hour gig there, as it was not exactly an open mic. There too I met some very interesting people – and the Bollands were also there – and spoke in front of the camera to the Malaysia group, Sue & Her Boys – Chapter 2. Sue is a teacher and her boys are her students. They’re studying media, but they do the music for fun. A little over a year ago, they started an open mic themselves mainly for the students, but it has grown into an international affair as well, with bands from all over.
Clearly the Malaysian music scene is vibrant and growing. Gotta get ready now for my gig at the Backyard tonight.