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!