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Merdekarya, Malaysia, Open Mic Revisted, Cool as Ever

March 29, 2015



Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Even halfway through the evening at the Merdekarya open mic in KL last night I could not remember for sure if I had been there one year ago, or two years ago, so fresh was the feeling of my last visit. It was only in consulting my blog this morning that I confirmed it was actually two years ago that I experienced Merdekarya this best open mic in Kuala Lumpur the previous time. It came back to me that last year I had some last-minute interviews to do in my job or something, and had to cancel out at the last minute. Last night, as I flailed around central KL to try to get a cab to this “suburban” open mic, I almost gave up.

But in the end, I got a cab, got back to the Merdekarya, and was so thankful that I pushed myself to get that cab: Over the last two years this exceptional open mic has grown even more exceptional, with a format that includes a concert by a featured band, and an open mic, almost every night of the week.

It is located in Petaling Jaya, which is kind of far from downtown KL, but it’s well situated if you live in Petaling Jaya! In any case, this year, a nice working air conditioner and some other building works done since I last visited meant that the loft-like location of the open mic was more comfortable than two years ago. But the vibe was the same.

You may be located in what appears to a foreigner like “the middle of nowhere” but once inside the venue – which is located above an open-front street-food-like restaurant, you feel like you could be in a New York City loft. And then when you hear some of the local musicians with their often exceptional vocals, you feel like you’re in a very with-it NYC loft. I still cannot understand quite why the pop music of Malaysia has not made a bigger splash internationally. The level of musicianship, songwriting and vocals here in Kuala Lumpur is exceptional.

OK, now that Merdekarya runs an open mic every night, my choice of attending on Saturday night was not the best in terms of the performers turn-out numbers. Still, there must have been five or six of us performing in the open mic and then the 1-hour long concert by the featured band, The Cotton Field Scarecrows. Apparently Friday night is the most popular night for the open mic. You can check out in advance by signing up for a slot on the Merdekarya web site in advance, with a well-honed system that ensures you don’t have to wait long for a confirmation.

The format now is that every month there is a rotation of featured artists playing once a week on a given day, with the artists changing each month. The Scarecrows were quite exceptional, even in what I was told afterwards was a stripped down version of the band, with only a bass, lead and acoustic guitar and vocals. Normally there are keyboards and drums, too. But I actually thought the stripped down, minimalist version had a fabulous haunting quality to it that I assumed was done on purpose. It was so strange to see what amounted to Americana – even in their original songs – being played and sung by Malaysians in this loft in a suburb of KL. Check it out for yourself with the videos I took….

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