5th Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival 2011: Day 1. A Dream Come True

KK Jazz Festival 2011 Day One was a fairy tale. Thirty minutes after doors opening, it was standing room only, although standing around the spacious and beautiful Sutera Harbour Marina Golf & Country Club covered tennis courts was a pleasure in itself. Faces happy with anticipation were illuminated by Mega Boogie’s excellent lighting.

And the music? Well….

ELIXIR was the classiest of hosts to the KK Jazz audience, opening the festival from the center stage. Singer Gina was statuesque and beautiful in a white, flowing gown. Edward’s resonant bass kept a thick, jazzy pulse, while Teddy’s sax growled with extra attitude. Daniel’s beautiful fingerstyle guitar is always melodious, always just right. The guys wore black and Elixir was the quintessential nightclub jazz band that night. Gina’s voice is rich and full of feeling, so when the band played Gershwin’s “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” I’m sure those pretty notes and Gina’s warm smile would have stolen someone’s heart away in a tender heartbeat.

After a long, opening drum solo by Ahmad Aziz, our own Sabahan blues band MOMAIN BLUES delivered up a rockin’ blues, with Malay lyrics which the guys have previously described as, “The everyday words that come from a Sabahan’s mouth.” After a while they brought on saxophonist Gavin Lawrence.

This young man has so got it. With him, it’s not How fast can you play? It’s How much can you feel? He’s young, but stands solid with enough maturity to give his music space. He gives you the time to love the gaps, as well as the notes.

Gavin filled his lungs, blew his heart into his instrument, and shared his soul with us. He’s at the start of his wonderful journey as a musician, and it did my heart good to be able to see him up on this big stage, to witness his early years.

It was Ahmad’s night too, as Momain played several of his original songs. In one of the choruses, Sonny and Nazri sang in fifths; very nice… very dark… maybe this is called Ominous Blues? Then they let rip with their happy, fast, twangy, Sabahan blue grass blues! The wrap was bringing back Gavin for a straight Rock ‘n’ Roll; I imagined people twisting through the last half century to this type of music, and thought, “Well it ain’t ending yet, and now we got our own spice on it.” Go Momain Blues!

AGUNG BEAT greeted us with an original song by Musical Director Lee Haji Wahid (Rafiqa Roslee), a happy, lilting Calypso. These mostly UMS students were in cultural dress, and were a visual delight. The gamelan instruments themselves are carved works of indigenous art. Gorgeous. People were swaying to the Calypso groove, either in their seats, or while they milled about under the expanse of canopy beneath a perfect, Sabah night sky.

5th KK Jazz Festival kota kinabalu Sabah agung beat gamelan instrument band

Then the mood changed. Guitarist Safri played solo; a simple haunting melody. Singer DAYANG NORAINI walked on stage, and their voices entwined in a duet of long, spiritual, beautiful notes. Guitar and voice – their notes hung in the night air, clear and hypnotic. It was completely magical. Dayang was a feast for the eyes; her small, perfectly shaped body embraced in a close fitting dress of Earthy Red. Shimmering cymbals and percussion lifted their song like a magic carpet, carrying it across the harbour and out to sea like a Sabahan prayer. It was absolutely exquisite. I was honoured to hear it.

Agung Beat took us out of that lightly, gently, and then a harder edge entered their music. A rock edge. The two guitarists took up a rock stance, gamelan instruments rang out bold and proud, the two percussionists wore faces intense with passion, and Dayang’s voice was suddenly a powerful crescendo, a command to listen. She was a red, Rock Goddess now, framed by glorious lights, surrounded by little angels in gilded costumes and painted faces, who played unique sounds from our Land of Borneo. It was an ultimate fusion of music and culture. Sayang Kinabalu was among a few more songs to show us that the multi-dimensional heart of Sabah really beats in this very special 20-piece band, Agung Beat. I loved them!

“We work so hard for it, especially the students. We hope you will appreciate our compositions, even though a few songs we are playing are covers, but they’ve been rearranged in the Agung Beat manner, as 16 of us play the gamelan, so it’s totally different from the original song. The name Agung comes from the instruments, gamelan instruments consists of a lot of gongs. ‘Beat’ means we try to integrate as many interesting rhythms as possible into our performance.” Lee Haji Wahid (Rafiqa Roslee)

“For me, music is about having fun, and this is a real beautiful gift to share with people. If you have a lot of fun doing what you love, people feel that, and if you can let people walk away with that feeling, that’s just beautiful.” JUZZIE SMITH said.

Keyboard, guitars, harmonica, and beat box….Juzzie Smith plays them all, very well, and all at the same time. Yes, it’s amazing, and his songs sound fantastic. Roger Wang had said earlier that the festival organisers decided on a centre stage this year, because of Juzzie’s one man show. “We wanted the audience to be close enough to him to feel the intimacy of it,” he had said. It was a good decision, and the rapt faces turned up towards Juzzie spoke volumes. Sometimes he took them on a journey of steel strings and harmonica blues, on the driving beat box rhythm, with wailing harmonica licks as dry as a rattle snake sliding across desert sands. Other times he was light and folksy, and full of fun and games. Juzzie is a master. He played two sets yesterday and more happening tonight. A truly unique performance.

WVC TRIO +1‘s pianist, Tay Cher Siang said that the band writes songs to express their feelings about the human condition. “I would like the audience to use their own imagination, listen to our music, but at the same time relate it to their own experience and feel from it. It’s a bit abstract, but everybody has the privilege to feel, to imagine,” he said. Who could not use their imagination listening to this inspirational band? They were full-on passion and intelligence. Saxman, guitarist, pianist and drummer – they were all grinning at each other from ear to ear, as their rich musicianship burst out on the stage, like euphoric madness. They filled the night with modern jazz, modern sounds, modern moods, all to lift your heart. And the pianist killed me: whether it was a tenderly painful melody, or uplifting giddy happiness, he was fantastic. Does WVC Trio+1’s music reflect the human experience? Indeed, it does. The whole spectrum of it. Marvellous.

LUCKY OCTAVIAN is clearly a very big star. This Indonesian R&B singer graced KK with the smoothest, most professional of shows, with the confidence of someone who can really entertain people. He had the audience up and dancing, and my friend said he’s her most favourite singer. Lucky sings soul the way people all over the world try and sing soul – but he really does it: smooth, powerful, he’s The Real Deal. He said, “For me, jazz is all about passion and freedom.” His singing conveys all of those wonderful qualities, because he has the talent to open his heart and really express all of that in his music. Sutera Harbour was a mass of grooving people as Lucky walked – no, ran – all over the venue bringing the crowds right into his music.

It was a fine way to end the most perfect event you could hope to be involved with. SPArKS and The Rotary Club must be so happy with their fifth KK Jazz Festival, Day One. Between the spectacular stage, light and sound systems provided by Mega Boogie Sdn Bhd, the unbelievably top class musicians of such variety all falling under the umbrella of Jazz, and the full house of satisfied people eating, drinking and grooving into the night, it was the successful event story one dreams of.


SabahSongs and Nasier Lee wish to thank Mega Boogie Sdn Bhd for giving us the opportunity to see a festival event from a new perspective, by allowing access to the stage site from the first day onwards, so that we could make these posts:

SabahSongs wishes to thank photographer Nasier Lee for working day, night, and dawn, to produce timely, beautiful photographs for these blog posts.

Thank you to musicians everywhere but especially in Sabah, for sharing their beautiful work, to be documented here in an online legacy for Sabah’s music industry.




  1. Thank you for your well written entries. We are honored to be invited to the KK Jazz Festival, at the same time we are glad that you covered it so thoroughly in your blog. Keep it up!

  2. Hey! You are so welcome. I will write a bit more about WVC Trio + 1 in Day 2, since you supported Bossa Princess, so that will be nice. Sad that we didn’t speak, but I did have a good chat with your bassist Vincent. Keep in touch. Joanna

  3. This is the best musical event I have ever been to. Great performance by artist, smooth flow of the event. I would love to go again for the 6th. 😀

    1. Yep Rungitom, I tend to agree with you. The music was right up there! Great line up! And sound, lights, stage all so beautiful. Probably see you there for the 6th, then. Take care 🙂

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