Friday, 28 April 2017

Jamming with Datuk Hattan - Backstory!

14,500 views on Facebook to-date, featured on Astro Gempak and covered by Free Malaysia Today's FMT Ohsem, friends and fans are asking me about how this rock n' raga happened. 

It's a tale of musical experimentation and nothing more:

It was a regular work day. Several projects were on my mind. 

But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a little explosion of tunes and raga phrases in Purvikalyani Raga and Thodi Raga pre-occupied my thoughts. This is completely normal for me and I think most musicians, even if like me, we love our day-jobs. In fact, though silent, occasionally, when I am brave enough that no one was around listening, I'd up the volume. I always thought the genre I sing in would sound alien and at worst, unmusical to my colleagues. It was the same that day. Hence the deftly perfected volume adjustment maneuver was applied. My colleagues I had always thought, simply humoured my occasional bursts of musical expression with their encouraging quips of " kuat sikit plis" or "lagu mana tu?". 

Anyway, back to the story.

Funnily enough, later in the day I was at the Rockanova set and Datuk Hattan peered over from a little away, when I was pouring over something on my notepad. I was at a quiet corner, so I was in deep focus on work but was aware by the corner of my eye that he had glanced over. Maybe a phrase or two unwittingly escaped my humming lips. Or not. I will never know. 

Next thing I knew, I was summoned to stage where Biso Bonar's chorus was being played. The instrumentalists paused when I walked up the stage, and a few voices from the darkness of the unlit audience and control areas, asked me to prepare for a short experiment; an Indian vocalist is to...


Biso Bonar was a creation of Datuk's from 2013. It had some exotic flavour to it and what made it additionally unique was that the lyrics is in the Negeri Sembilan dialect! I knew the song and some phrases crossed my mind in Nattai Raga - or actually, Nattai plus some phrases and note embellishments borrowed from other ragas to suit the melody. 

I think I may have mouthed the words "help" in silence (hahaha!) when a mic was passed to me. I all of gasped when the first sound of pads came on but I knew I had to switch from work mode to performance mode in a second. I always wondered if I'd be able to switch if that ever was needed of me. Here the moment was. 

And the switch felt completely natural. Thank God it did!  

It was an amazing experience in many ways - I had not practiced or pow-wowed sections with Datuk nor the band I had just been introduced to.  I mean I knew of Datuk Hattan. I knew of Shah Slam. But them knowing me by name, among the many folks on set was amazing. 

I think we all just took off with this song from the first sound, and let it flow from there. Shah and his band mates were awesome to say the least and Datuk Hattan was hands down a rockstar to be reckoned with! Though the lights were on us, through the darkness, I felt all eyes on us - from the make up artistes to PAs to senior production staff.

A moment to remember, savour and share indeed. Soon after, the video was uploaded online and the rest is history.

Looking to do more of this here on. Let's see what roads this leads me to and through. Sometimes, that which you least expect can give you new perspective on life and music. 

Basically, experiments have a way of rocking our worlds. True?


Friday, 10 March 2017

How To Go from Singer to First-Time Lyricist in 30 Minutes

Funny how things happen!

A few months ago, I was going about my business when out of nowhere an opportunity to collaborate with Smule-famed Keralite composer, who for the sake of the article I shall name Komposer (a hybrid word marrying Keralite and Composer! Yes, I know. Not very creative for a Creative!). Ok, fine... this amazing talent's name is Murali. He was introduced to me by a friend Mr. Unni, violinist from Kerala. "Thrilled" does not quite describe how it felt, when I listened to the melody which is now of the song ANBE AAYIRAM AASAIGAL. When I heard that Murali had chosen me to sing the song, I was floored.


He wanted me to write the lyrics for this melody of his.

After 5 minutes convincing Mr. Unni that I was not a lyricist, I heard from Murali. I warned him I was no lyricist though he was somehow convinced otherwise. He had spoken to me all of 15 minutes but at the end of it, he decided I was writing Tamil love song lyrics. I watched myself failing every attempt to talk myself out of this uncomfortable 15 minute conversation with a composer who'd never met me except through Smule recordings.

In his impeccable Malayalam, he rattled off his 'top 10 reasons' as to why I would do such an awesome job, writing the lyrics and singing the song, both. I had a feeling he had help from Mr. Unni for some of them, but of course, I speculate. Though above average in conversational Malayalam by Malaysian standards, had to remind myself that I was 120 years and 3 generations behind him every time he used an interesting new word which I had never heard in local usage. 

But I didn't back down! I accessed 'Shogle Translate' (a translation app only available in the brain of a stressed Shobha) from the very start of the conversation. The tension threw me off  naturally, and the interaction went something like this.

Command to 'Shogle Translate': Translate succinct, gob-smacking, powerful arguments from English to Malayalam, to say "no" to being lyricist. 

Brain: ~frozen~ 

I refreshed it. 
"English to Malayalam" Enter.


I waited, I refreshed it.

53485p434k#3  Oh My Malayalam! dfpiofi@456o9%$##^

I refreshed it.

r059u 42@#$ow eifojir302@#^!oskp

With all that "refreshing" you would think I'd have come up with some kick-ass sentences. 

But nothing. I was intimidated by his well-crafted sentences and native Keralite command of the language.

Murali had no clue all this was going on, so he interrupted all this English-Malayalam translation traffic from brain to mouth, along with my self-talk. By now we were on our 25th minute of dialogue and he had already heard a sample of my Malayalam. He complimented 'Shogle Translate' for its 25 or so phrases and sentences. And it seems he was extra impressed with my pronunciation in both, Tamil and Malayalam, after hearing my voiceovers and singing samples!

I sat back and took in the compliment. It was just for a moment!

And then, that fateful moment - I lost focus. I swear it was all of 2 seconds!

But that was enough; it dis-armoured me. He closed with, "Beyond doubt, you can do both the singing and writing. I know this!". In an instant, I found myself releasing that grip I had so firmly held on Not. Writing. Lyrics. 

Yup. I had at the 30th minute, I accepted defeat.

I said yes to writing lyrics for his mesmerising melody. In Tamil. In a week.

At this point of this post, feel free to think that my fear stemmed from not having ever written lyrics. 

But you'd be wrong! 

My state was that lyrics I had written for other songs over the years, were safely preserved, "dodging" release under various excuses. I was never one to "make and release" as soon as I had WRITTEN something. I would spend weeks or months improving it. Critiquing it. Clinging to it. Maybe singing to it.

Sometimes years. Mostly years. 

Ok, ok.... always years. So much so, I'd never released any lyrics I'd penned. 

There I said it!

But with Murali's song this time, I had a mission; to write something that I knew would be released almost immediately. It was not going to have the luxury of morphing from brick, to wall, to house. It was not going to get lost amidst books I'd read over the years, to be found and worked on, later. This one was going to be out there for all to see.

One week of sleepless nights later, the song was out on You Tube. I felt satisfied, having allowed my words to spill from paper, to You Tube, to radio.

A select set of Tamil writers and orators from whom I had sought inspiration and counsel over the years, were the first ones to compliment the lyrics for ANBE AAYIRAM AASAIGAL.  I felt a sense of relief, being blessed with approvals from those who've led the way in Tamil writing and speaking.

But most of all, my thanks to Mr. Unni and Murali, both of whom saw something special enough, to shine some light on!

In summary, it appears that a singer needs all of 30 minutes in persuasive speech, to step into uncharted territory and assume a new role! That was indeed an adrenaline rush of sorts. Hmmm.... But I wonder if I will ever do it again!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

My First Cover on YouTube! - And it's not in Tamil, but Malay!

Dear friends, fans, visitors,

Yes, I know it's been a while. I have no grand excuses or clever stories to explain my long hiatus. Just one word: Life! And amidst all that, this video comes along. If you asked me a year ago, covers were not the first thing on my mind. My family and sometimes even colleagues at work had asked before, "why not explore a Kolly-, Bolly-pop song and do a cover"? Covers somehow felt "less"  - like I was standing on a stool to look over a wall rather than climbing it and earning the scenery for my effort. I felt it wasn't something I can sound unique with. 

But then, I met this song. I met the people behind this song, starting with Krish, who serenaded Mirip's audiences with his compositions. And then there was Toi (who though I've only seen in AF before), whose words felt like they fit the brief of the song like a glove. In summary, it was love at first note. And this cover seemed right. Not less, not more. Just right. 

Another attraction towards Wahai was that I felt for once, I was not peering over the wall standing on a stool, but was BEING the stool. Why? Because I realized so few people were doing covers of this lovely creation in spite of the artistry of it all! It felt right to step in at the time I did, and do this for the artistes who poured into making music. The only cover I found of this song was by a lovely lass called Nadia Fharshah. Check her out too.

If by the time you read this there is another one online, I think it would be like giving the creators of this song, a thumbs up.

Love always, to all striving artistes, 

P.S. I get no ad revenue from this effort. Just your love. And really, that is enough.

Monday, 28 April 2014

TV Reality, Reality TV!

My first memories of being on TV are those from early reality TV in Malaysia. These were the first attempts by Malaysia at creating reality TV content for the Tamil speaking audience; I was on Paadal Thiran Potti 2002.

Like any dejected reality artiste and aspiring singer, I cried hopelessly when I failed the quarter finals. Funny thing is I tried half-heartedly in 2003 and got selected again. In those days, no back story was done, so I had nothing to sell myself with, on the show. The experience was still new to me in 2003, but this time I expected little from a TV show which seemed more interested in ratings than talent. That was a strange concept to me then, but is something I realise only now, was an issue Indian talent programmes in Malaysia grappled with, having no reference point other than AI at the time, no format creation guide and no specialist reality show consultant. Today all that is availed upon an approved budget in TV, I guess.

I was voted out by the then esteemed public-voting method which again, today, is not a preferred selection method at quarter finals in reality singing competitions around the world, including Malaysia. Why? Because the public has gradually realised that it is not as equipped with a skill as fine as that of a specialist in a certain talent, to gauge the artistry of an aspiring actor, singer, model or chef! That and the then weaker economics of digital entertainment. Few people voted  in those days via sms among the Indian masses, which this show was meant to appeal to. But  public voting was used and if the contestant did not prompt tonnes of friends to vote them in, you were only going to garner what I term "genuine" votes, i.e. votes of those who genuinely listened and liked a performer. There was no FB and Twitter, remember?

In any case, once I was out in 2003, I thought I'd lost all chance of being an artiste. I was wrong. Against the odds, again, TV selected me for shows for Merdeka, for shows needing talent in classical Indian vocal music etc. I thought that with such limited opportunity in the Malaysian commercial music scene for vernacular artistes, I'd have to just continue my corporate career until my end. But no - I was 'found' by those wanting a good recording voice. Radio commercial - check. Recording artiste for album - check. Musical theatre - check. Interesting - and there I thought tv viewers voting singers in or out had written me off as a singer. Wrong!

The music education I took on my own ringgit starting 1998 in India, and the various performance opps I considered lessons in experience, paid off when in 2006, I got entry in Madras University for my Masters in Indian Music. The rest of my story up until 2009, when Bernama interviewed me, is here.

It's been a ride worth taking and as time passes, the journey gets even more interesting. Peaks and troughs. Ups and downs. And they're all here to stay.

I finally turned towards music and away from the life of a corporate employee. Or did I?

Today however, I shall say no more. More to come, my friends. I've a feeling I can let my story unravel itself  - in TV, in recording music, in writing, in survival, in prayer, in forgiveness, in humility and in gratitude. But revealing all at once dulls the taste for drama. So here's a piece, no more.

Just stay tuned. ;-)

Monday, 17 March 2014

“Shobha-approved” Top Ten Indian Wedding Vendors 2014

Besides the non-negotiable ingredient, i.e. a loving groom, a bride looks for the best wedding vendors to make her happy on her big day!

Engagement, Wedding & Reception location: Malaysia.
Vendors: Malaysia and India.
Feb, Mar 2014

It appears that every bride goes through a learning curve. I am not talking about the advent of married life hitting you like a ton of bricks. Well, that is inevitable. 

The part I talk of, is the wisdom slowly acquired upon engaging vendors for a wedding. Good ones, rotten ones, accommodative ones, affordable ones, arrogant ones, rude ones, diligent ones, memorable ones and ones you’d rather have not met.
I had three events; engagement, wedding and dinner reception. I cannot recommend all the vendors from all the events as not everyone deserves a Shobha-approved stamp!

So, here’s my list of best bridal vendors in order of superb-ness!

  1. Saree Blouse Designer and Tailor for engagement, wedding and reception - Navira Tailor, Brickfields, KL.  Led by a vibrant Mrs. Rajah, this tailor promised (and delivered!) quality work. She even professionally undid the horrendous work of a so-called celebrity tailor I engaged in Ernakulam, and re-constructed my blouse by using the orginal blouse piece material, with absolutely no visible flaws! Any tailor who can undo the disastrous handiwork I brought back from India (for my engagement, wedding and reception), deserves commendation in my book! Navira Tailor deserves the first “Shobha-approved” stamp! Contact me for her number.

  1. 2.      Venue Decorators at reception – Sareenpaal Creatives. They were not interested in a long sales talk that my bridal deco vendor experience had until then, reeked of. These guys just did their job and did it well. I asked for samples and they did not guide me to any physical studio, which would have wasted half my day. Instead, they sent me options based on my specific deco requests, via whatsapp, with photos! Choosing was thus made easy. They had a positive can-do attitude about my suggestions and did not pressure add-on stuff just to inflate my bill. They respected my love for minimalism and even suggested how I could keep cost low. Now that is a trait every bride and her groom cannot disregard in recommending vendors. Second “Shobha-approved” stamp goes to Sareenpaal Creatives

  1. 3.       Wedding Dinner Saree – Jayalakshmi Silks, Trishur. I know a Textile shop is not a service-based vendor. Or is it?! The service I received at Jayalakshmi in Trishur and Kochi(India) were a notch above the rest in India. The personable staff, impeccable service and choice of dreamy sarees gave me the kind of experience that every bride wishes for, during her bridal shopping. My saree was a hit with the groom, our families, my tailors, my photographer, my makeup artiste, my saree-draper and even my launderette! Everywhere this champagne studded lame gold, thread work saree went, it received gasps! Best part – it cost me far less than it would, to buy one exported out of India. That is, if at all by some miracle, it were available in local stores. Well done, Jayalakshmi.

  1. 4.       Make Up and Hair – I had three different ones, one for each of my events. I attended 6 trials – so I have experienced 6 vendors and dare say I have sampled enough to know what I am talking about. The only makeup and hair artiste I would recommend of them all would be Cut Above @ BV II (artiste/stylist Pink), who did both my makeup and hair for my engagement. The others I considered were typically affordably priced, as she is. But my grouse isn’t on price; Though all vendors’ skills and price were at par with each other’s, Pink at Cut Above beat the other vendors at attitude, service levels, reliability, professionalism and speed.

  1. 5.      Wedding video montage – Mr. Kannan (contact available upon request), came through for us where so many others claimed a week between the wedding and reception was too short to produce a video montage. Jaws dropped at the reception dinner because skeptics had earlier concluded that Mr. Kannan would not be ready given his low prices. They had to eat their words when at the reception dinner, the video montage played on repeat, on a projection screen! His pricing and attitude are bankable. His commitment thrilled my groom and our family members.

  1. 6.      Door Gift was perfect for my groom and me. My groom is an artiste and I am a writer of sorts. I proposed fridge magnets with a variety of wordings thanking my guests, alongside prints of my groom’s had drawn art. The company took the order and produced these within no time. No fuss, no hassle – at less than RM1.50 a piece for 300 dinner guests. And these are items your guests will find useful to pin up notes and lists on their frideges. It also has my personal messages to them so taht they know that their presence is appreciated. Best of all - no mess of handling messy cupcakes or melting chocolates.

  1. 7.      Wedding Cake - Suguna Creative Cakes is owned by an effervescent Mrs. Suguna who revels in the art of making special-occasion cakes. She made us a three tier pink and white butter cake, in theme with my dinner deco colours. I was tied up with so much to do, that I all I did was give her a verbal description of what I wanted. She intelligently  used just that and her own creativity to bake her masterpiece. She kept the cost affordable but gave us the best possible taste that caused guests to rave about her cake on the way home. She also went beyond her call of duty and recommended Magnetking to us. We now call her our  “resourceful aunty Suguna”! 

  1. 8.      Saree-draper - Now this is a service you don’t see advertised very often. But make no mistake, it is big business in Malaysia. Brides needing this service come from modern and traditional families. Typically, those in Malaysia  who have delved in traditional dance forms (whether of modern or traditional upbringing), learn saree-draping as it is woven into their dance lesson. The rest of us, despite being able to boast a strong base in traditional arts such as in singing or instrument-playing, are often detached from the art unless we happen to wear the garment every day! We Malaysian women often get away with moderate saree-draping skills by intermittently opting for other Indian attire such as Salwar Khameez or Lehengas. Saree-draping has been thus not a compulsory skill to acquire. Corp jobs require more pant suits and skirts than the flowing saree. But the occasional traditional occasion throws us a surprise every now and then. Hence the newfound career for many beauticians, in saree-draping. My artful draper did a good job for my wedding and engagement, and draped sarees for many others who managed to queue for their turn once the bride was done. He deserves mention. Here’s to every woman’s best friend at an Indian wedding; Mr. Joseph of Petaling Jaya (contact available upon request)! 

  1. 9.      Wedding card – Often forgotten about once the wedding planning is underway, the card is the first step to kick-starting the event! Shippraas at Brickfields was easy to deal with. We told them we wanted them to print the card as per our design, and they were willing to negotiate on price with us. No delay. No drama. No hidden costs. Tel: +603 22721290
  1. 10.    Catering - We used Little Caterers at all 3 events and had no complaints other than the fact the sales person was usually hard to reach. However, once we got him, he was easy to work with. The food got great reviews and they lived up to their reputation with both, the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

I’d love to name my other makeup/ hair artistes, my AV vendor etc, but really, the names above are the only ones I’d put my money on without a doubt. They are all “Shobha-approved”.

The rest, predominantly one of the makeup artistes, was hard to deal with.  There are also those who never made my vendor list as they were never shortlisted to begin with ;  a card vendor, several caterers, etc.

If I had a list of who NOT to hire, I’d have their names on it, starting with a Malaysian Indian hair / makeup artiste who seemingly made up many television and film stars at her shop in Brickfields. She had skilled hands but was not able to keep appointments, produced only a verbal pricelist, tried to wrangle more money than I had paid for services within her package and was polite only until her deposit was banked in.

I’d love to tell you who she is, but remember I talked about the vendors I would “rather have not met” in my first para? This is one of them. So, I'd rather forget her existance. Well, it depends – if you’re getting married and desperately need to know who she is, so that you don’t repeat my mistake, just ask me nicely….