Jonathan Tse is a fighter in the best sense of the word. In 2009, he launched his concept “My Story – Tales of Local Talent” at Halo Cafe, in City Mall. Every two months, he unfailingly put on a show about our local artistes, some better known than others. They talked about themselves, played a bit. It’s very personal, because the audience knows these guys!
Then Halo underwent some management changes, and Jon took “My Story” to the City Mall main lobby entrance for his “My Story – Christmas Edition”. It was a tough challenge: the venue was big and impersonal, and he had zero control over the Mall’s noise level. But he delivered a good Christmas show (here it is if you haven’t seen it).
Jon was determined to recapture the friendly atmosphere of the earlier shows, and two months later, the venue for “My Story #5” was Starbucks in 1Borneo.
Was he running out of guests to feature? No way! Jon brought on Meteor Crates, a band formed in 2001, inspired by Nirvana and Silverchair. With a female vocalist, three guitarists and a violinist, they played their original material: one song was about the war in Gaza, another was about life’s challenges. One guitarist did several extended solos, and the violin was a nice touch, although they sat so close together I was worried the violinist’s bow was gonna poke someone in the eye! But it all went well and Meteor Crates is working on their EP. Good luck to them.
Sisters Joan, Amy, Didi and Erika – whose initials make their namesake JADE Sisters – had Starbucks whooping with their opening number, an original song called “Mr. Stranger”. These gals wore checked shirts, and together with their guitars, had a lovely wholesome girl next door appeal (and if you live in Tamparuli, then they are the girls next door to you!).
Their powerful voices were great both in harmony and as soloists, as they grooved to covers of Wonder Girls’ “Nobody”, a medley of “Single Ladies” and “Stand By Me”, and Corrine Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On”.
Joan and Amy are teachers, while the younger two are still in school. They play a variety of instruments, although for this evening they were backed by two guys from Tamparuli, Chris on acoustic guitar and Wilson on bass, who are in a band called The Breathers.
Since then, a rapper friend of mine mentioned that he is meeting up with these ladies. So maybe we will be hearing more from them, out of a studio, perhaps?
Starbucks was now standing room only, and people spilled out into 1Borneo’s arcade walkway. The crowd sparkled with several of our local music luminaries: Eloise Lau (singer-songwriter, guitarist), Nadia Hong (RTM Sabah keyboardist) , Annabel Tiu (RTM Sabah cellist), Yvonne Chung (Head of Music at SIA, flautist), plus students from SIA, and All Saints school.
Everyone was getting ready for some Sabahan hip hop action, as Atama Katama – a big name in the local hip hop scene, worked through a couple of tracks from his Bakakuk album: “Haro Poh Logot Logoton”, and “Sompori Pori”. This guy was so relaxed, it was very impressive. He sat on a stool, wearing his signature big shades, smiled and talked to the crowd while feeling the beat; he felt no pressure to fill the gaps with unnecessarily words.
Then – from his debut album My Tribal Roots, he did “Can’t Stop The Sumazau”, and the whole place erupted. Everyone stood up, doing the Sumazau, mating calls filled the air. I turned round and saw Jon Tse’s young videoman, Sam Vun, in the middle of a happy, rowdy crowd, arms outstretched like the wings of a bird. It was completely awesome.
I thought: “How do you top that?”
RTM Kombo leader, bass player and violinist Moses De Silva appeared next, accompanied by the very popular singer from Ranau, Alvin MY. Moses then called on some quality musicians: his long-time friend, keyboardist Damian Desi Paul, and awesome Kombo RTM guys Sonny Bahari (acoustic guitar) and Suhaimie Jamli, who brought his DARBUKA drum with its blue transparent skin, and which he bought in Jeddah last year.
Before starting his set, Moses paid homage to Ronald James, who was in the audience that night: “Without the help of Mr. Ronald James, many of us here would not be musicians today.” He then acknowledged fellow bass player Timothy Tang in the crowd.
One noisy group of people were clearly big fans of Moses, they must have been his students at SIA. If you didn’t know, Moses is not only the Kombo Leader for RTM Sabah, but also a lecturer at Sabah Institute of Arts.
Jonathan asked Moses what his favourite type of music was, jazz?
“Not really, I like all types of music,” he said. But he did say that jazz bassist Marcus Miller was his hero.
So these music heavyweights eased into their first song, an original composition by Alvin MY called “Learning You”, which is also the title of Alvin’s new album, due out about now. Moses is one of the musicians on the album, which Alvin separately said aims to capture the “raw” essence of his musicianship. Sonny Bahari grimaced and grooved as he let fly some beautiful guitar riffs, and this elite band was the backdrop for Alvin’s impressive vocal range, on this very sweet song.
Then Moses said: “I wanna call my good, good friend, Jessel Yansalang. Or, as I sometimes call him, JZELL…” After some reluctance, Jessel came up and sat on a high stool. When he started to sing, I swear, his voice was liquid gold. They performed Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”, and there isn’t anything to say except Jessel is a world class singer. Why were we listening to him in Starbucks 1Borneo for free? I don’t know. But “My Story” is very, very good value.
While we were all spellbound, Jessel made a quick exit and Moses started a bass line improvisation, inspiring Alvin to take the mic and fill the room with bird and wind sounds, while the other musicians followed Moses’ lead, adding their own hues.
Moses then called a last jam. Atama stepped up, as did our local rapper Decipher and a brother-in-arms from KL, Jin Hackman. Moses threw out some song choices to the audience, and Timothy Tang, who was sitting next to me, shouted (right into my ear!) ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. So they started the Bill Wither’s song, and this really was a show of kings. Suhaimie’s fingers tapped and patted across the skin of his darbuka, changing the texture and colour of the song, and after the first verses were sung, they broke to solos. Rapper Jin Hackman was first, striking out with remarks about people in the room. He made a lyric about a girl texting in front of me, and I thought: this guy thinks so fast! I wonder if rappers are like jazz musicians? Jazzers usually have favourite licks which they draw upon when they solo. Are rappers the same? Do they have collections of lines to call upon when it suits? Maybe Jin will tell us here.
After several more rounds of solos by musicians and word smiths, the guys turned the spotlight on Jon to finish up. Jon passed on the invite to rap, but came in strong with the main tune again, and they wound up an absolutely excellent “My Story” session. Tales of local talent is so right! SABAH BOLEH!