“When I had my own children, I wanted to expose them to music, unlike my own parents. I did not give them any options, because I believe that until they reach the age of 15, if you give them a free hand, they will do what they like, which may not be useful to them in later life.” Sylvester Sebastian, father of Daniel and Gina Mojina.
Anyone familiar with the KK jazz scene will recognise 22-year-old Daniel Mojina, finger style guitarist who appears at venues around town and teaches guitar at De Notes music school in Damai. Similarly, his keyboardist and singer sister 26-year-old Gina teaches at De Notes, and performs at gigs and in church regularly.
So, how did music come into the Mojina family? Their father Sylvester Sebastian said: “When I was in school. we had our local kampung band,in Penampang, we called ourselves the Rivals. I was the youngest in the group, drums and percussion. When we did a function, maybe a wedding or a birthday, we would get 150 RM for the whole night! I had my own guitar, and our kampung had a community drumset, donated by the government. Everything was ok for a while, until my dad saw my school report, which was full of multicolours, and he threatened to destroy my instruments unless I put things right, so that was the end of it for me!
“So, when I had my own (four) children, I wanted to expose them to music, unlike my own parents. I did not give them any options, because I believe that until they reach the age of 15, if you give them a free hand, they will do what they like, which may not be useful to them in later life. So we literally forced our children into the music industry, because I recognise that the music industry is growing in this part of the world. Also, playing music is a skill: either they can use it to entertain the public and make it into a career, or they can use it to entertain their family.”
Gina Mojina concurs: “Dad was really supportive of a choice of music as a career, and he told me, if you wanna do music, like a career as a teacher, as long as you get good grades up to high school, then it is up to you what you do, after that. It was a good environment, and we got support from both parents, and they both enjoyed music a lot.
“But they really needed to force us when we were little. You know, when you are little, after 10 minutes you really want to go off, go watch the tv or do something else. But my dad would sit there watching us. He would actually fall asleep after an hour, but I would just continue. I guess forcing a little bit is actually good, then discipline is there.”
Daniel’s musical start was a bit tough, according to Sylvester. “I literally had to force him: ‘Look, you’re back from school, you have your lunch and your rest, you do your homework, but between four to six o’clock, you must be on your piano. Nothing else.’ Well, he showed a LOT of resistance, even at that young age, but I didn’t give them chances to say No.”
The children grew up in Brunei, but their musical paths were completely different. Gina recalls: “I was classical all the way! Initially, my mum took me to have a Yahama foundation course when I was about five. Around eight, I picked up the Electone organ, and when I was 12 my dad asked me to take up piano Around Form 5 I took the performance diploma (Trinity) for piano, it was all classical. I was really interested in jazz and other things, but they didn’t offer courses like that in Brunei.”
Daniel admits he put up a fight! “For me, it was more of a forced thing. My dad would tell me to practise every day and I found that very hard. I started with piano at about age 6. I played a Yamaha organ, but only for about four months, didn’t like it. I asked Gina to help me out, but usually she was screaming at me (winks). Then my dad asked me if I was going to put more effort into it, and if not, he would use the money for something else. And I said: Go ahead!”
Sylvester said: “I believe when you send your children for studies, you must see that there is a certain commitment from their part. Daniel started out with the piano and organ because I really wanted to see which area my children would show more interest. Well, there was one occasion when I decided to come back to Sabah, and the children were here (in KK) for exactly one year. In the kampung, Daniel had his friends and cousins around, they’re all street smart guitarists, and the guitar is portable. You can’t bring a piano around on the streets. That probably encouraged him, starting with a couple of chords. When he came back here, he was in Primary 4. After one year we returned to Brunei, and Daniel met up with his classmates, some Filipino boys, his friends, and they were good guitarists. That inspired him further. So I said that I can’t afford to send him to classes for piano and guitar, and he chose the guitar.
“The only lessons available in Brunei were for classical guitar. So we sent him for two or three years I think, and I was very impressed. He picked it up very fast. But studies in Brunei are limited, so I looked around, and in Sabah I got to know about Roger Wang. I mean, I heard him on the radio, and later on I came to know of his CDs, Double Take and all that, and I got hold of them.”
Daniel adds: “I got really hooked. The first impression when you hear Roger’s songs is that there are two people playing. But when I learned there was only one person playing, I got really interested. and I came back (to KK) to learn from him. I’ve never heard his style before – finger style.
Sylvester said: “I made it a point to fly back to KK and visit Roger’s studio, and there were two options for Daniel, either to learn directly from Roger, at a higher price, or to learn from one of his instructors. Because I was in Brunei and could afford it, I thought why not learn it directly from the master?
“After six months, Daniel gave me a call in Brunei and actually said, ‘Papa, Roger offered me a job in his studio! He says I’m qualified as a guitar instructor, finger style.’ I said, ‘That’s good. If Roger says you’re good, that means you’re good! Go grab it!’ Then I asked him, ‘How much did he offer you?’ and Daniel said: ‘It’s not too bad, 450RM.’ I said, ‘I pay my maid here more than you!’ (Laughs) Anyway I said to take it. Because it’s the experience that is most important.”
Sylvester watched Daniel’s career take off and some artists invited him to go to KL. “Daniel asked my opinion, and I said, ‘No. You are not ready.’ I mean he’s only 22, and I don’t think he’s prepared to meet the challenges in KL, yet. When I say challenges, I’m talking about temptations too.”
Both Gina and Daniel teach music. Gina got a job in Labuan with Yamaha, teaching Electone organ and piano, before teaching for Yamaha in Brunei for five years. “I came back to KK for the family thing, because my parents came back here, and everyone was here except one sister.” She said: “I’m not as in demand as my bro (laughs) ‘cos he’s the heart of the band! So only when they need variation in the singer , if they need someone with a deeper voice, they might call me. I’m not that LAKU! I’ve been in the church since I was about nine. The church is a really powerful place to experience music, there’s a lot of emotions there. For me, it increased my interest in music a lot. It changed how I looked at music.”
Sylvester said Gina and Daniel both had a natural flair for performance from a young age. “Because of that, they had the courage to go up on stage, and sing in front of a crowd, at school functions and church. Gina, I think from the age of 9 or 10, was already a member of the choir, and it came to the point where she was the one who organised the choir, at Christmas and big functions. Some members of the church, after an hour of adoration where Gina played and sang, were in tears!”
When not performing, Daniel teaches at De Notes. “I also go over to my student’s house for home courses. Recently I’ve started teaching at my place, for our people, you know, for kampung people. At De Notes I teach guitar, I teach the basics from strumming to plucking and all that, I also teach finger style, something like what Roger does. It’s a combination of the rhythm, the bass and the melody all in one.”
He recalled the different learning styles he experienced, and what it was like being taught by Roger.
“In classical guitar there are a lot of rules. You couldn’t do this, and you couldn’t do that. But when I came into finger style, it was more like, ‘if you’re comfortable with it, just go with it,’ kind of thing. I learned finger style mainly through Roger, at RAM, and that was three to four years ago. He taught me once a week. Classes with him were very frustrating! It would be like, he would show me something once, if I don’t get it, he showed me a second time. The third time, he wouldn’t show me again! It would be like, more on listening: you have to look for the chords yourself. He was teaching me how to capture things really quick.”
But Daniel wasn’t intimidated. “I found it a challenge. It improved me a lot. It also improved my hearing. Like when we listen, we can get chords like that! (Clicks fingers.) I studied under him for six months. But those six months were nothing compared to afterwards, when he asked me to teach. Then you have to REALLY keep up, because when your student improves, you have to improve even more, so I have to keep learning ahead.”
Gina joined in: “He caught up pretty fast actually. Not everyone can learn as much as he did in six months. Most people are getting the fundamentals. He was The Chosen One! (Daniel makes a face). Seriously, he really worked at it. He took it as a motivator, which is actually an inspiration to anyone reading this, showing what you can really achieve if you work at it.”
Daniel admitted that, this time, he knuckled down. “I really did my homework. I was alone here, everyone else was in Brunei. Guitar was my only activity. Friday was my class. So from Monday to Sunday, I would just be at home practising. After my class with Roger, I would hang out with other teachers and jam with them, and pick up stuff from them. There were other teachers there like Walter Samunting, the guitarist from Rimba. He taught me a lot.” Daniel admits he isn’t impressed with his students who don’t practise. “I try to have patience, but really, I can’t take the lazy ones. There’s nothing I can do about it though. I always ask whether they’ve practised. When they say No, I say, don’t expect to improve without practising.”
Gina said: “With the really young students, it’s obvious that the parents have made them come. But with the other ones, within the first few months, you can tell whether they’re really interested, or are being forced by the parents. Although in KK, most of the kids I teach want to learn! Not like in Brunei where, you know, the parents have a lot of money, and they just put their kids to go for everything. In Brunei, teaching was so pressured. There’s pressure from management, and pressure from parents who want their children to be little prodigies, when the kids don’t actually want it. But here in KK, the kids, even if they have no special talent, they work hard at it, and it’s so much more positive. I really enjoy teaching here. At the moment, I am teaching a lot of teenagers, and the majority of them are vocals, doing pop singing. And I love singing! So it’s Yay for them and Yay for me too!”
Daniel added: “I really don’t like the part where the parents always ask, ‘How long will it take for my son to play really well?’ Because it’s actually really based on the kids’ interest, their drive, how dedicated they are.” Daniel likes to give his students options. “Whether they want to read, or just learn by hearing. I work with adults and children. I know that, when I was doing piano, reading was a big turn off. But I know how to read. I just give an option to my students. I try not to make the faults of my old teachers. If you lose that drive and interest in teaching, you might as well stop.”
Sylvester expressed some views about the future. “Of course, on my part as a parent, I would like them to synergise their talent, and probably have their own music studio, something like that, but that’s probably five to ten years down the line. When we grew up, our parents were basically village people, and they didn’t know much about business and all that. So we didn’t receive much guidance from our folks. But now that we are much better off, I think it is our duty to guide our children. For example, I tell my children, the music industry in Malaysia — especially Sabah — is just growing. So there’s plenty of opportunity, and you guys are young. But the time may come when the music industry here has fully matured, and by that time there will be new young people, better looking than you guys, ok? You guys will have wrinkles (laughs) and probably you will have to go for the niche market, or play for free just because you enjoy music. But to make a living? It will be a bit difficult. You will have to some day look for something which will earn you a passive income, where you work hard today, but many years down the line, you stop working for some reason, but money is still coming in.
The future for Gina? “I’ve been here for a year now, and I don’t want to fall back on the music as a permanent thing. I mean, you never know, something might come up. I’m looking at my future, and investments at the moment.”
Daniel butts in: “She’s losing the passion!”
Gina: “No I’m not! (laughs) But in the next five to ten years, I would like to be financially stable enough to not teach music every day. I’d still like to do it, especially for the tiny ones, but I wouldn’t want to be doing this for the rest of my life. I love performing more than teaching. I get all nervous, but once I get the first note, I know I’m in control then. I enjoy performing with Daniel, and Teddy (Chin) too. He’s another funny character in a good way. I’ve only performed a few times with Moses (De Silva), but with the trio’s support, I think I have improved my performance a lot. They give me a lot of feedback.”
Daniel feels he owes everything to Roger Wang. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As for the future, I would like to be on the same stage as Roger. I have done that a few times already, but I mean, to actually go touring with him, and travelling. Then also, I would like to be able to do my own show. Everyone’s always like: ‘Oh, you sound like Roger.’ So I need to break free from that! But I owe it all to him, la.”
A final word from Gina, “And our dad. We owe him a lot, too.”