Passion and creativity in a label

“We didn’t write ‘Forget Not‘ for a competition,” explained Jessel Yansalang, one half of Digital Licks, which won the Malaysia Merdeka song competition last month. “We made it last year, just because we wanted to make a song!”

Digital Licks

“Ya,” added Chris Pereira, aka Decipher. “We were talking about topics, what to do. This was in August last year. So we were looking for a thing to tie a song in. Then we realised this was two weeks before Merdeka!”

Jessel said they discounted the usual topics. “People keep remembering those dates. We thought, what about the dates before?  You know, what about the people involved BEFORE the dates were even official. We were thinking, what about the soldiers.”

Chris said, “We had a lot of discussion.  We talked about what Jessel’s grandfather went through, and what my grandfather went through, and then we said, Okay let’s do this.”

‘Forget Not’ is an extremely Sabah-centric song. Would they have written it differently if they had it in mind to enter a competition?

“Nah!” laughed Chris. When he thought about entering the song this year for the Merdeka Song competition organised by Homegrown, “I just made some minor changes to the drums, and put it in for the August deadline. I only told Jessel a couple of days after, that I had put it in!”

“I was like, Ah okay, let’s see if it gets somewhere,” remembered Jessel. “I don’t think we thought it would ever win. We just made a Merdeka song that we could share with family and friends, and be able to say, ‘Hey we have some stuff on Merdeka’. Like enjoying the atmosphere.”

On ‘Forget Not’, Jessel played the guitar and bass, and sang. Chris explained, “I did the verse rapping and everything. And we had another friend called Dinoza who did the spoken word as well. He’s the one on the interlude part.”

When they found out they had won, what was their first reaction? “Nothing much — Do we have to go to KL?”  They both laughed.

Digital Licks with the Homegrown team in KL

“You know, they (Homegrown) didn’t know we were from Sabah until they spoke Malay to us,” recalled Chris, “Ya,” added Jessel. “And we came out with all our Sabahan slang. ‘Eh, they’re Sabahan!'”

Chris observed, “You know, Sasuka, that played ‘My Story’ the other day? They won the previous Homegrown competition. In KL, they didn’t believe Sasuka were Sabahan, you know. They flew down here to do a quick interview, to prove that it was actually them playing. Then they saw they were the real deal.”

Sabah is well known for musical talent. Jessel said, “Ashraf is one of our friends, a lecturer in one of the colleges in KL, and actually he made a cool statement. He said KL musicians show reverence to Sabahan musicians. When they hear you are from Sabah they are like, wow.”

“For me,” Chris added, “What was sad was, there was not much reaction to our song in KK. To me, it comes back to Sabahans having double standards about Sabahan musicians. Which is why I always say: That’s it, I’m reimporting myself from KL to Sabah!

“When we first made the song, I did mass emailing, we passed it out to the DJs. Sharing the latest song. People here were just like, okay, yeah yeah.”  No real reaction.

Jessel recalled another time, “We did this one song. This one was a local (musician) requesting a remix. Even with this song, he sang the chorus in English and Kadazan. What really cheesed us off was that  – locally — nobody picked it up.

“But people in KL were commenting on the song. Saying it was fantastic, it was cool!  People came on the forum and asked, Why isn’t this in KL?”

Chris and Jessel formed Digital Licks to have more creative control. Chris said, “For me, I don’t want to spend my time on a song which doesn’t make me feel worth the time, you know? The criteria for that is: First time you meet the person you know whether you two will like each other or not. Whether you can go the distance with me.

“Like with Jessel — we are very particular about what we do. It’s such a disease sometimes! Like for example, ATAMA’s song, the intro, it’s a couple of seconds, right? It took three hours to get that intro done. So I need to know, from conversation with someone new, whether we can gel well or not. Even working with Andalusia, the band, took me 3 hours just to get the bass and drums right.”

Jessel expanded on the concept of Digital Licks. “It’s like a whole new brand. It’s more specific. We are complementary. He’s more digital, and my licks are more live. He co-ordinates the whole song, digitally. I handle the licks, he handles all the rest.”

“The idea of how it works was like, how to do the drums, the structure,” Chris continued. “Jessel would play the guitar, not like your general guitarist plays a recording session. He would technically break it down into parts, and see which parts work where in the song. So he’ll give me something to work with. Okay. Then I say:  I need something else to layer under that. So he’ll play something else.  Nah, it doesn’t work. So he’ll play something else. That’s where the three hours come in — we build up that one section, then go to a different section.”

” ‘Forget Not’ is not something we would say was going to be a commercial song. at the same time, it’s easy to listen to,” Jessel reflected. “Winning this competition turned out to be a positive for Digital Licks, and has given us incentive to finish our projects!”

Chris Pereira and Jessel Yansalang are Sabahans working with passion and creativity: when you see the ‘Digital Licks’ label, you will know that the product within contains quality, beauty and heart.

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