neo-soul na­jwa

Neo-soul singer Na­jwa Mahi­addin is tran­scend­ing her in­spi­ra­tions and start­ing to sound like the gen­uine ar­ti­cle.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE -

Doe-eyed mu­si­cal debu­tantes may be the prover­bial dime-a-dozen these days, but few can lay claim to Na­jwa Mahi­addin’s raw charisma and golden pipes.

draw­ing favourable com­par­isons to the likes of Bil­lie Hol­i­day, erykah Badu and Ali­cia Keys, Na­jwa pos­sesses that spe­cial qual­ity that cuts across gen­er­a­tions with a sound that’s both clas­sic and con­tem­po­rary.

The In­ter­na­tional Col­lege of Mu­sic (ICoM) Berklee Trans­fer Pro­gramme stu­dent may well be Malaysia’s fore­most ex­po­nent of neo-soul. And given the dearth of such like­minded lo­cal artistes (in the lin­eage of Sheila Majid and Adibah Noor), au­di­ences cer­tainly have re­sponded in droves.

Na­jwa, 24, has gone from open mics to an­chor­ing sold-out show­case events within a rel­a­tively short time – and she’s just fin­ish­ing work on her de­but al­bum. Set to be re­leased by her own la­bel Nada Biru Records, In­no­cent Soul is due in mid de­cem­ber. The al­bum was recorded in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. As a cul­mi­na­tion of four years of gig­ging in the lo­cal scene, Na­jwa’s new sin­gle Sweet Oc­to­ber pre­miered on lo­cal ra­dio this week.

The stage is set for this Kuala Lumpurraised singer with a packed sched­ule of ac­tiv­i­ties ahead be­fore she heads to the United States later this year to con­tinue her stud­ies in mu­sic.

“It’s go­ing to be busy for me in the next few weeks. The sin­gle is out and the al­bum is set to drop in de­cem­ber. I’ve got to work around what­ever time is left to get the word out be­fore I pack my bags for the US,” said Na­jwa.

“I will def­i­nitely be back for the hol­i­days and will hope­fully keep a pro­file in the scene de­spite my ab­sence,” she added with a laugh.

She’s even been in­volved in high-pro­file col­lab­o­ra­tions with hip hop mav­er­ick Malique (ex-Too Phat) on tracks like Kau Yang Punya and Senyum and with all-girl su­pergroup The Ram­lees fea­tur­ing yuna, Liyana Fizi and Mira (of Tilu) on Itu­lah Sayang, a track off Astro and XFM’s P. Ram­lee ... Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti: Satu Indiepre­tasi com­pi­la­tion al­bum.

Tonight, Na­jwa will be per­form­ing with her back­ing band Thing one at the Sweet Oc­to­ber show in con­junc­tion with Kuala Lumpur jazz haunt No Black Tie’s 12th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

We re­cently had the chance to speak to Na­jwa about her rise to promi­nence. You’ve been touted as the “youngest soul per­former in the coun­try.” Do you think your rel­a­tive youth is the rea­son that you’ve man­aged to garner a fan-base as var­ied in age as yours?

Some peo­ple say I have an old soul and pro­duc­ing some­thing I love at my age is co­in­ci­den­tal with be­ing the youngest soul per­former in the coun­try. That’s in­ter­est­ing to learn. I don’t think it’s my age – well, at least I hope it’s not (as to) why my fan-base is of var­i­ous age groups. I guess peo­ple are start­ing to re­alise that there are other forms of mu­sic to ap­pre­ci­ate in this coun­try, es­pe­cially for the younger set of lis­ten­ers. For­tu­nately, I fall in that cat­e­gory of “other form”.

The more ma­ture au­di­ence will be fa­mil­iar with this sort of mu­sic and I think their com­pre­hen­sion of it is due to the fact that they grew up with sim­i­lar sounds in the past. I un­der­stand and was told that the 1970s and 1980s had favoured more black sounds more than ever. I just hope there will be a re­vival of these sounds. Why do you think it’s taken this long for neo-soul to per­meate the lo­cal scene?

I guess it’s a mat­ter of per­sonal in­ter­est of the type of mu­sic peo­ple like to write and play. The mu­sic’s been around and there are some per­form­ers like elvira Arul, who has per­formed soul­ful mu­sic. But writ­ing and pro­duc­ing this type of mu­sic seems to be clouded by sim­i­lar gen­res such as R&B and jazz-pop. I guess un­der­stand­ing and com­pre­hend­ing the con­struc­tion of this type of mu­sic may also be a rea­son why many have not re­ally ven­tured into it. What ex­actly does neo-soul mean to you?

To de­fine it, I guess it’s a jux­ta­po­si­tion of many sounds. Soul, R&B, blues, jazz and funk and fu­sion all in­ter­twined into one. Per­son­ally, it is an ex­pres­sive form of mu­sic that is per­fect for me. Neo-soul hasn’t seen the level of pop­u­lar­ity, at least since the hey­day of prac­ti­tion­ers such as D’An­gelo, Erykah Badu and Maxwell. What’s your take on how to keep the sound and scene fresh and ex­cit­ing?

Just keep ‘em comin’ I guess. No one and I mean no one is and will ever be bored of those names you have men­tioned. To keep it fresh and ex­cit­ing? I guess to keep on pro­duc­ing beau­ti­ful mu­sic that you feel peo­ple will ap­pre­ci­ate and favour, whether you pro­duce it in its tra­di­tional form or fuse it with what is cur­rent. The bot­tom line is – it’s gotta sound sweet. Are there any newer artistes that in­spired you lately?

(Bri­tish soul acts) Rox and Mama’s Gun are a cou­ple of artistes that I find quite in­spir­ing. es­pe­cially Mama’s Gun’s take on Fire­flies, which I per­form, just funked up to an­other level. What can we ex­pect from your de­but al­bum In­no­cen­tSoul? Any no­table col­lab­o­ra­tions?

It’s gonna be an al­bum I hope that peo­ple will ob­tain for keeps. It has songs that I have writ­ten over the years – through­out my teenage life un­til present. I love the al­bum. It’s re­ally just the way I wanted it to sound like.

Col­lab­o­rat­ing with some of the re­gion’s best still numbs me. I’m just priv­i­leged to work with them. Ini­tially, try­ing to de­ter­mine the right peo­ple to work with me was a real chal­lenge. I have had some names in mind and ba­si­cally re­duced it to just a few.

I worked to­gether and closely with Widi Pu­radiredja, a no­table pro­ducer who has pro­duced for Maliq & d’es­sen­tials (of which he is a part of), Twen­ty­first Night, Boo­giemen, Soul­vibe and Renita – all soul­ful and funky mu­si­cians and artistes from the In­done­sian achipelago.

I de­cided to work closely with him from lis­ten­ing to what he has pro­duced in the past and was quite cer­tain he would un­der­stand and was ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing the type of sound and style of ar­range­ments that I aimed to achieve.

The both of us man­aged to pro­duce it col­lec­tively and mu­tu­ally agreed that that it was the right style and sound that was re­quired to make In­no­cent Soul the way it is. Widi then had the daunt­ing task of se­lect­ing the right mu­si­cians to play in the al­bum and the per­fect en­sem­ble came into be­ing. How was it like work­ing with Malique on both KauYangPunya and Senyum?

It was fun. His tal­ent as a per­former and a

pro­ducer is ex­em­plary. Al­ways evolv­ing. Al­ways cre­at­ing mem­o­rable mu­sic. It was al­ways fun work­ing with him and I ap­pre­ci­ate how he would al­ways in­cludes me in his pro­duc­tion. I guess in a way we com­ple­ment each other’s art the way it should be com­ple­mented. Heard you recorded with The Ram­lees while you had a bad in­jury. What kept you go­ing, and how was it like work­ing with the other girls?

My, news does get around in this city ( laughs). yeah. I had a sprained an­kle. Could hardly walk. Had to be piggy-backed up two flights of stairs (to the Ka­mar Seni stu­dio in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur). It’s al­ways a priv­i­lege to work with my fel­low com­rade-in­arms. We weren’t at the record­ing stu­dio to­gether but we do per­form oc­ca­sion­ally – though not of­ten enough. These are tal­ented peo­ple.

We may be per­form­ing to­gether as The Ram­lees at the launch (of P. Ram­lee ... Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti: Satu Indiepre­tasi) on Nov 3 at Hard Rock Café in KL. How do you fore­see your sound evolv­ing?

It would prob­a­bly be sim­i­lar to what I am do­ing now. How­ever, af­ter learn­ing the ropes fur­ther on sound and mu­sic dur­ing my up­com­ing ed­u­ca­tion at Berklee, I may learn tech­niques that may sur­prise you. It’s too early to say. Let’s keep an open mind on this one. n Na­jwa per­forms with Elvira Arul at Sweet Oc­to­ber – No Black Tie 12th An­niver­sary Cel­e­bra­tions tonight at No Black Tie, 17 Jalan Me­sui, off Jalan Na­gasari in Kuala Lumpur. Show­time: 9pm. Cover charge: RM40. For more info, go to noblack­tie.com.my.

Rare breed: ‘Some peo­ple say I have an old soul,’ says Na­jwa Mahi­addin. – Pic cour­tesy of Hal­imi Saidi

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