ROGER WANG, The First Ten Years [Post No. 1]

2010 is an important year. I’m not referring to Chopin’s 200th birthday [although that’s important too] but this is much closer to home. It’s ten years since Sabah’s own finger style guitarist Roger Wang recorded his first album.

Yep, his album “Double Take”, with Mia Palencia, was released on November 1 2000. Earlier this year, Leslie Loh made a marvellous blog post about Roger’s 10th year:

“roger wang is one of the most humble, easy going, good natured, professional and affable musicians we have ever worked with. absolutely no air, no attitude but with plenty of sardonic humor. you would never hear roger bitches or badmouths about his peers, not even the slightest criticism or negative comment. he always maintains neutrality, level-headedness and sense of balance. we believe all these good attributes come from a good family upbringing and a good education.”

The journey towards that first album with Mia began way before 2000, of course. Roger Wang was born and raised in Kota Kinabalu, and spent his primary, secondary and pre-university school life here. He then went to KL, where he completed a two-year Audio Engineering diploma at Ocean Institute of Audio Technology, and a one year course at the Guitar Institute of Malaysia, simultaneously.

Despite travelling far and wide through his music, Roger chose KK as his home base, where he also runs his recording business RAM Production Sdn Bhd in Damai, is the Vice President of SPArKS (Society of Performing Arts in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah) and Co-Organising Chairman of the KK Jazz Festival. Last but not least, he is very much a family man, often seen with daughter Sara and wife Claudina at music events all over KK.

Roger grew up with music in the family. “My father was part of one of the first electric guitar bands in Tuaran, back in the 50s. So he got my uncles into it, and some of my uncles are actually still performing.

“I definitely always had a musician’s heart,” said Roger. “But back then, music was just performing and teaching, and no-one brought it up as a career option. I knew it would always be a part of my life, but [initially] I thought I would do something else for a career.”

But other areas of the music industry were beginning to develop. “I discovered Wow! There’s this whole new world out there of sound engineering and production. This combined my love for science, engineering and technical stuff, with my passion for music. It also seemed to be something more career oriented, more solid to fall back on, because it was technical. Basically it widened my options.

“I started gigging around pre-U. I played in my uncle’s band. I grew up at a time when my friends were not forming bands. It was the 80s, and music of the late 80s was just electronic music. They were forming dance groups, but there not much interest in forming bands, not like now.

“So I was listening to older music, I had to join bands my uncle’s age. I wasn’t doing any jazz then, I didn’t even understand it. Rock ‘n’ Roll, any oldies, Elvis, Beatles, Shadows; whatever they played. I had a gig at SatayRia, which was kind of like a fast food outlet based on satay. It didn’t last long. They had an outlet in Centrepoint, Wisma Merdeka, so I did a solo gig there. Playing a keyboard actually! And singing. Then I started writing songs. That was about Form 5, I was about 18. I actually submitted a song – a family planning theme song, which I won. All those things were happening at that time, and it was also the time I discovered music production as a career option.

“There weren’t many recording studios then. Baxter and James — which was a studio started by Ian Baxter and Ronald James, they were active then. The recording industry was based on the KadazanDusun albums. Politically, PBS was in power, so there was a lot of sponsorship for KadazanDusun albums. That was the only kind of recording happening, then. The local studios weren’t doing anything for KL, since KL wasn’t looking to KK for anything in those days. In terms of technology and all that, we were just so far behind. It was also still tape based. Not like what we have now.”

Roger studied sound engineering at the cusp on the digital era. “Recording on personal computers was available on Macs — it was the beginning of ‘ProTools’, and tape was also still around. There was still a strong debate — you had a big group of people not willing to change, and another group pushing for digital, since it was getting affordable. That was like, 1993-95. It was the beginning of DAT, and the beginning of the change in the industry also.

“Internet was just beginning, which marked the beginning of the end for a lot of big records companies. That’s when sales started to drop, and the whole thing of downloads and Napster was happening. So if you look at that, it wasn’t a good time to enter the music business! Especially now when you look at it, CD sales are just so bad.

“So you have to look at it the other way round. Music is more vibrant than it has ever been. We are listening to more music now — your average listener is exposed to more kinds of music now than 15 or 20 years ago. Back then we were just limited to whatever we could hear on the radio. Now, because of internet, you can find anything! The music BUSINESS is suffering, but music is bigger than it has ever been!

“So, it’s a double-edged sword, the same technology that’s making music grow is the same technology that’s killing the old way of doing music business. So I think next thing will be like ITunes — eventually we’ll find a new way forward, to find a way to still make music, and make money too.”

Finger style guitarist Daniel Mojina, who studied under Roger:

“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 was more on listening: you have to look for the chords yourself. He was teaching me how to capture things really quick.” It improved my hearing. Like when we listen, we can get chords like that! (Clicks fingers.) If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But everyone’s always like: ‘Oh, you sound like Roger.’ So I need to break free from that too! But I owe it all to him, lah.”

Roger’s wife, Claudina Wong:

“Last time Roger released a solo album was in 2003. Since then, he’s gotten married, became a daddy, become a better musician, become a more experienced entrepreneur, survived a room full of screaming toddlers at his daughter’s playgroup… With these experiences under his belt, Roger is ready to release another solo album. He’s already written several songs for it, he’s working on the concept. But when you’re a musician, song writer, music producer, arranger, financial controller, layout artist, manager, daddy, husband, getting around to finishing your own creative work takes a little longer….”


[This is the first of several posts to celebrate Roger Wang’s first ten years as a pro musician.]



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