When these two siblings were studying music, the family was a bit concerned.
Annabel Tiu said, “People were telling me, ‘The musicians sitting on Gaya Street, they can be musicians. Why you have to go for higher education?’ Our parents, aunties, uncles, were all worried. They are always asking, ‘What you going do? How you going to survive?'”
“Can make money or not?” Delbert Tiu added.
Today, Annabel is the cellist for Kombo RTM Sabah, and a professional singer. Her brother Delbert is 22, about to graduate from SIA, and is one of the highly respected guitarists in Sabah’s outstanding Latin band, Quadro Forte. Annabel holds one of the best musicians’ jobs available in Sabah, and the world is open for Delbert to choose his path.
Annabel and Delbert are the eldest and youngest of the four children of Danilo Tiu and his wife Arlene Tombung.
“We grew up in Ranau until 1992, when we moved here. Our first music education started there. Our father (now passed away) was musical. He had a drum set, violin, guitar. I think he was typical band boy, right?” said Annabel.
“He was an engineer and a part-time musician,” added Delbert.
“We didn’t have the freedom to pick our instruments. It was the time when everyone wanted their children to learn piano! Especially in Ranau there’s only teachers for piano or guitar. So my mother chose piano for us!” recalled Annabel.
Delbert said the other sisters liked the music lessons better. “We were both forced to take lessons, and our other sisters did better than both of us!”
Annabel said, “The teacher was telling my mum, ‘I don’t think she’s into this. Her sister is much better. And each week the teacher said to me, ‘What is your brother doing?’ ” They laughed.
“Because my grades never go up. I had to take exams but I never pass,” explained Delbert.
Their mother was the strict one while their father was the funny, softer one.
Delbert said, “Our mum would go out and buy those rattans to beat us to practise! We would go hide the rattan, but she would go out and buy more!”
“Our father, he passed on our inherited interest in music. Our mother, she gave us the discipline. It was she who wanted us to learn in the first place. She would say, ‘Next time, if your job is not making you money, you have something else to fall back into – giving piano lessons.’ But it didn’t work that way,” Annabel reflected.
They competed in a few events in Ranau. “Because in Ranau there’s not that much things to do, so if there was a competition we were all preparing for it,” said Annabel. “We joined singing competitions when we were little. I was always competing with my sister.”
Delbert said, “I was in the Cutest Baby competition, in Ranau…”
Secondary school did not bring out the music in either Annabel or Delbert. Annabel said she used to be very shy and didn’t take part in many school activities. Delbert attended Tshung Tsin Secondary School, which focussed heavily on academic activities. Eventually Delbert went to Maktab. “I left because of the difficult Chinese subjects!”
Delbert was hooked to music earlier than Annabel. “I saw my father playing the guitar. It’s the only thing in the house, so I start playing it. I started guitar by myself in Form 4. No-one forced it on me.”
“His first book was ‘Guitar For Dummies’,” Bel laughed! Then more seriously, she said, “I think he’s much better than I am, because he learnt most of it from a Dummies book. He’s more hands on than me. I think it was the right decision that our mum sent him to Maktab because they’re more on activities, kan? Whereas in Tshung Tsin they’re more on, ‘Do you study or not?'”
Delbert remembered, “I didn’t like studying, so at school I play guitar. I bring my own guitar, sometimes the teacher take it away. I joined lots of bands. I didn’t think, ‘this is what I want to do for a career’, I just thought it was fun. I used to play slow songs. My friends, they like this type of song, and then they used to ask me to transcribe for them, and they pay me.
“When I finished school, the only thing I really liked was music at that time. I wanted to have a holiday because I just finished school, but then my mother brought me to SIA. She said, ‘Son, you sign here.’ When I signed she said, ‘Okay. Tomorrow you go school!’ No holiday!”
Annabel remembered, “But before that she was against it! She wanted to send him to do some business course.”
“Or a pilot!” Delbert laughed.
Annabel’s path was different. “People liked me to sing something for them, and that also made me want to learn a blowing instrument.”
After secondary school Annabel went to International College of Music (ICOM), in KL, which is widely considered the best music institution in KL, with qualified teachers from places such as Berklee College of Music. Annabel spent a year there before returning to Sabah.
“So, by the time I went to UMS, I was already exposed to more kinds of music than some of the students. I think it gave me a bit of an advantage.
“I wanted to take up the clarinet. But Professor Jamal said: ‘No. There’s no future if you take up the clarinet. You cannot make money doing that. Since you’re tall enough and big enough, you can take the cello.’ But the cello teacher is one of the strictest teachers in the school!
“I asked him, ‘Violin?’
“He said, ‘Too many violinists already. You take cello!’
“I asked him, ‘Viola?’
“He said, ‘No viola teacher here. You take cello!’ Okay, lah. I had to sell my clarinet and go buy a cello.
“My teacher was so strict! But in reality it was good, because she made me angry and want to prove something to her. ‘You scold me, now you see what I’m gonna show you!’ It made me practise a lot and I learned how to play the cello well. The class was one-on-one, and all of us cried in class at least once, lah.”
Delbert talked about starting his Music diploma at SIA. “I could play piano and guitar, but actually not that good. When I went in, I was shocked. I see many students’ talents are much better than mine. Some of them also made fun of me. It was a bit hurting, what they said, lah. So I tried to match with them, I tried to follow what they did. Should be okay now,” he said modestly.
Delbert Tiu is one of the guitarists in the acclaimed Latin band Quadro Forte, winners of Prima Akustika 2009. I asked him how he joined that band.
“They were actually my friends already. One day, there was this competition Prima Akustika, and they asked me to join them. But it was the last week already! They gave me a song to learn quickly. It started “Sugar….” I said, ‘Aiya, this song cannot make you win.’
“I heard Jessel (Yansalang) talk about Gypsy Kings once when I was at the Penang Jazz Festival. I had just bought a Gypsy Kings cd and I thought it sounds good. So I tried to force Emman (Emmanuel Christo Mojikon) to learn it. We needed to learn two Gypsy Kings songs in three days! So we all just learn, lah! Like Kevin (Coma’s) hands were bleeding. You can see they were all torn. Mine also. We all worked very hard.
“During the competition, Emman still didn’t sing it [the Spanish lyrics] properly. Actually most of the lyrics I think were the wrong ones. [Laughs.] But we just go on stage and perform, and we won.
“Now is my finals at SIA. I still don’t like studying, but it’s important that I do it now and make my grades okay. Because I want to go further and do my degree. I’m thinking of working for a while, then when I get enough money maybe I’ll continue studying. But not sure where yet.”
Annabel believes in her brother’s talent. She thinks SIA was a good learning environment for him.
“In SIA, people who goes to study music, they really want to do music. Most of them have basic, kan? And they really want to have a career in music. Even if they just want to be a band boy, they’re still really into music!
“When I was in UMS, I also went to join Yap Ling‘s orchestra. I learned a lot from his orchestra. I learned very fast.”
Annabel summarised. “For me, if you want to be a really good musician, you have to do a lot of things and push yourself. Don’t just focus on what your teacher is telling you. Do more.”