Tuesday, September 27, 2005


When Peter Hassan Brown organised the Acoustic Jam series of gigs at Commonwealth Club back in 1999-2001(?), it really made an impact on the music scene in KL. Granted it didn't always feature singer-songwriters. But it emphasised two things that still resonate five years later: that people will listen, even if you're just a voice and a guitar. And that you can play your own material, you don't have to play a fucking cover to get respect.

Meanwhile, over in No Black Tie, Joe Kidd's Unclogged series which happened less frequently, made it clear that the drive of the individual to expression could not be hemmed in by musical genre. That perhaps the most punk thing one can do is actually say 'fuck off' to the electric gee-tar and the whole band thingy and just do it yourself. Acoustically and independently.

Those two paved the way for Pete Teo's The Songwriters Round, which also happened at No Black Tie. This was an even more concerted effort to put solo acoustic performers in the limelight. There was something magical about seeing four singer-songwriters on stage taking turns to perform their own material. There was a sense that, yes, the solo singer-songwriter did not have to be fodder to fit in between bands. And that perhaps there is a community of singer-songwriters out there working beneath the veil of haze that is KL, producing songs worthy of people's attention. Many of the more established singer-songwriters in KL have played at The Songwriters Round. For a brief time in 2002-2003, it seemed like a renaissance for KL singer-songwriters.

There were other gigs too worthy of mention here: Valhalla,
organised by Jasmine Low at Liquid, Paul's Place and NBT, similarly mined the singer songwriter circuit as its main feature; Apuke, a poetry and music event organised by Buddhi Hikayat that was popular among the literate Malay crowd also featured singer-songwriters. Not to mention band-oriented gigs such as KLue's Urbanscapes 2004 and Sapu-Sapu 2004 that gave space to singer-songwriters.

Of course, the singer-songwriter scene did not suddenly pop up just like that, nor was it really ever a solid entity. The pioneers of the scene - people like Rafique Rashid, Karen Nunis Blackstone, Amir Yusoff, Prema Lucas,
Meor and many more - courageously underwent the slog of having to play to unappreciative pub audiences. The later crop of singer-songwriters - people like Shanon Shah, Mia Palencia, Shelley Leong, Mei Chern, Ariff Akhir and others (including my fellow troubadours Azmyl Yunor and Tan Sei Hon) - are both lucky and kind of unlucky in comparison. Lucky in the sense that the audience they're playing had already been primed by the pioneers. But unlucky in the sense that, like their older counterparts, they're still struggling to find a captive audience. And the same goes for the latest crop of singer- songwriters - Reza Salleh, Izzy, Jasemaine Gan, etc.

But maybe this is because of how the the singer-songwriter scene came about. Despite the fact that most of the performers knew of each other in passing, it was still very much fragmented. Also the attention span and sympathies of the audience could only be sustained for so long. Not to mention the stress this put on the organisers to deliver the goods on a regular basis.

Peter Hassan Brown gave up on Acoustic Jam after having had enough of poor attendance. Unclogged has been on an extended hiatus since NBT closed down. Meanwhile, The Songwriters Round has bravely continued, happening intermittently at Alexis Ampang, though losing some of its original intimacy. Our debt as singer songwriters in KL to these three acoustic and singer-songwriter-focused concert series is immeasurable.

And I guess here's where Troubadours comes in. Pete Teo has made his admiration for local indie filmmakers very public. (We backtrack a bit. The local arts community has always been rather close-knit. Individuals associated with the theatre, film, music, art and literary scenes in KL have always been rather supportive of each other's work. In fact, most people involved in the arts are multi-disciplinarians.) And it's been quite a trip, really, for all of us, to watch the rise of the indie film scene. From terribly low budget features to international recognition, it's worth studying how the indie film scene have pooled their resources and made themselves seen and heard by an ever-growing public.

Pete suggested if perhaps the same thing can happen for the singer-songwriter scene. If only we could pool our resources and strengths in the same way, perhaps we could overcome this pessimistic feeling that Malaysia is not ready for its singer-songwriters to be successful. If I remember correctly, Pete said that: "One superstar singer-songwriter does not a scene make." Meaning we can't expect the audience to single out any one singer-songwriter and expect this to lift the profile of the scene as a whole.

To that end, Troubadours was set up in the spirit of community. We wanted singer- songwriters to come together as a sort-of united group, to show that we can be stronger because of what we do. You may or may not agree with this. Sometimes I wonder myself if this is the right thing. But doubt is good I suppose. The singer-songwriter genre, by its nature alone, is not something that's an all-out popular genre. It takes a bit of getting used to. These naked songs can be hard to digest. But we're trying to turn this perceived weakness into a strength. What if the things that make us 'difficult' to listen to - our personal stories, our acoustic approach, our DIY spirit - become the very thing that people want?

You know, I don't mind appearing on MTV or whatever. You can call me a publicity whore or whatever. But at the end of the day, it's really about getting the music out there. And for what? It's so that we can sustain this enthusiasm to create more music. There have been many instances where I see musicians just give up because they don't see a future in it. That's a personal choice, yes. But I can't help thinking that maybe if there was a glimmer that, yes, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that there would be more reason to stick with this art, this craft.

To me, the audience can come and go. But the singer-songwriter, the artist behind the song, the human that is the song, has to continue believing in the power of the music. It doesn't matter if the lyrics are ugly, or if the talent needs a lot of polishing, or that the music may come across too pat or bloodless, what matters is that the scene is there to receive the lightning when it strikes.

Jerome Kugan, singer-songwriter

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Hey, have you been to a Troubadours gig and taken pics of the performances? We're looking for photos to put on this blog. Sorry for sounding so slack, but none of the Troubadours has a digicam. We know, we know. What's wrong with the world? Maybe when we strike it rich, we'll get ourselves one. But for now, we'd appreciate it if you could send any photos, plus who you'd like the photos to be credited to, to us at: hutan.hitam@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Check out the FERNS bandsite. And what they have to say about their experience playing Troubadours.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Played a nice gig

Sunday 18 Sept 2005 - Played at Troubadours feat. Ferns, Furniture and Izzy

How much fun can it be to play akustik? Lots, it seems. Was just like playing in our own living room. Enjoyed all performers' sets. Highlight of the show: Jerome's !sexcellent! set. Ronnie flashing his shiny new iPod Nano & Ronnie counting money from Furniture album sales.

As for us, we all enjoyed FERNS set very much. FERNS music is intricate but breezy and wistful. We can imagine it'd be very nice to listen to on lazy Sunday afternoons or driving home at night.

The band is also recording their stuff at the moment. According to Warren Chan, the lead singer, there's about 3 more songs left to do. We expect nothing but greatness.
Who's behind Troubadours, you ask?

We are:

Tan Sei Hon, 30. Visual artist, academic, singer-songwriter. Jangly, witty, wistful.

Azmyl Yunor, 28. Makan gaji, wanderer, singer-songwriter. Folksy, wired, rocky.

Jerome Kugan, 30. Writer, poet, singer-songwriter. Haunting, punky.


And the legend goes like this...

We've known each other now for about five years. We met around the same time, when each of us gravitated towards Peter Hassan Brown's Acoustic Jam series at Commonwealth Club. We saw each other play, were impressed, and became occassional acquaintances. Later, we saw more of each other performing separately at Pete Teo's The Songwriters Round and Joe Kidd's Unclogged.

Some of our collaborations with each other include:

TSH formed a duo called Nightdrive with JK, with TSH on guitar and JK on vox. Wrote some songs, performed at Unclogged, Apuke, and some other places. Recorded several home made tapes. Still waiting for the right moment to go into studio.

TSH, AY and Wolf performed as the three amigos for a promo campaign for a chain restaurant.

AY is a member of the Experimental Musicians and Artists Co-op of Malaysia (EMACM). JK is occassionally a guest member. EMACM is the brainchild of Yeoh Yin Pin. Other musicians associated with EMACM includes Goh Lee Kwang, Lau Mun Leng, Ron Khoo (of Furniture), Tham, Yandsen and the elusive Aziz. Every now and then, AY, RK and AZIZ appear as Ciplak.

JK organised a little gig called Merdeka Madness at Rumah Pena in 2003, where he invited TSH and AY, among others, to play.

But the cementing of the association was in 2003, when AY asked TSH and JK to go down to Singapore to play two gigs. It could've been better but it was a nice opportunity to play at the Esplanade park. Down in Singapore, the three troubadours realised that the singer songwriter scene in KL needs a big push. We discussed possible plans for the future, including going up to Ipoh, Penang and Bangkok.

Later, back in KL, TSH and JK wrote a proposal to Arts Network Asia to get money to fund a project called KL Sing Song, a regional singer songwriters dialogue and workshop. We got the money. ICOM said yes to becoming our venue sponsor. AY was one of the eight local and regional singer songwriters featured in KL Sing Song 2005.

Since then, all three of us have appeared separately at KLue's Starbucks Chill Out series. Performed at Notthatbalai Arts Fest (both). At the Sapu-Sapu 2004 series, organised by AY, at Paul's Place. Many other places around KL.


AY is the only one of the three who has released cassettes and CDs. His latest release is the "Tenets EP". You can get it at Troubadours gigs. Also available are recordings of AY's work with The Maharajah Commission, Ben's Bitches and as Thunder Coffee Club. You can read more about AY and his songs and adventures at http://www.azmylyunor.com : or just google Azmyl Yunor

TSH is in the middle of recording his album. News is that AY and JK and other musicians will contribute. We eagerly await the end product. In the meantime, you can read up on his JK is about to start recording a new batch of songs. In 2002, he pulled the plug on a CD called "Pink Spirit". You can read about it and download some of the failed tunes at his i-bands site: http://www.i-bands.net/audiovault/bands/2129/

Troubadours is a series of monthly live music gigs featuring singer songwriters playing original material. We're based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and we strongly support local musicians, especially those who write and perform their own material.

We started in April 2005 at Paul's Place, KL, as a supporting event for KL Sing Song 2005. That first night was a major singathon featuring not less than 18 local and visiting singer songwriters. It was crazy but beautiful.

In June 2005, we set up residence at La Bodega KL, Tengkat Tong Shin, sharing the space with Doppelganger (which is an open, open stage night for local performers). Doppelganger happens every 1st Sunday of the month. Troubadours happens every 3rd Sunday.

Since June 2005, we've had five shows at La Bodega KL, including two joint shows with Doppelganger. When we do joint shows, we call ourselves Troubaganger (haha geddit?). Check out the Troubaganger site

Over the past months, we've had up and down attendances - sometimes packed out, sometimes just comfy, sometimes a bit spaced out. Since we happen on a Sunday night, we usually get a very relaxed crowd. But it's good. We've had several shows where people stayed until the wee hours cause they wanted more and more music. It's been an incredible response so far.


Here's a brief gigography of previous shows.


6 April 2005, Paul’s Place
Featuring: Ariff Akhir, Azmyl Yunor, Jerome Kugan, Peter Hassan Brown, Reza, Ron, Sei Hon, Warren Chan, Meor etc. With guests June Somsiri Sangkeow, Kelvin Tan, Oppie Andaresta. Over 18 singer songwriters. Crazy.


June 5, La Bodega KL
Featuring: Mei Chern, Reza Salleh, Prozac Nation and lotsa open mic acts.


June 19, La Bodega KL
Featuring Soft Touch, Lied and lotsa open mic acts.


July 17, La Bodega KL
Shelley Leong, Tragicomedy, and lotsa open mic acts.


August 23, La Bodega KL
Featuring: Meor, Azmyl Yunor + special guests The Sofa Sessions and Euseng.


August 30, La Bodega KL
Featuring: Shanon Shah, Reza Salleh, Jerome Kugan, Azmyl Yunor, Zalila Lee, Hanafi, Hannah & Nell. Plus readings by Bernice Chauly, Pang Khee Teik and Jasmine Low.


September 18, La Bodega KL
Featuring: Furniture, Ferns and Izzy.


As you can see, our list of performers is rather eclectic. We're not really bothered by genre, fashion or style. Some of our performers play very smooth and mellow, more mainstream stuff, some are more confronting and alternative, some are just plain dreamy.

What we want to promote at Troubadours are singer songwriters who have got something to share with the fledgling community or musicians here in KL.

Hence, our tagline: "Real people. Real music." Also, it's a chance for the public to hear the impressive repertoire of original music that's being written by local singer songwriters.

At this point, we'd like to thank La Bodega for their wonderful continuing support. We'd like to thank KLue, The Star, www.kakiseni.com and friends who have helped promote the shows. Last but not least, we'd like to thank all who came and contributed to the warm and friendly atmosphere at Troubadours.


Watch out for our next show on 16 October. We're still confirming our featured acts but we may get Love Me Butch and Sara Lo to play. Keep watching this space!