The plurality and purity of music is what keeps fusion outfit AkashA ahead of the game.
There couldn’t be a better name than AkashA for the local group of musicians who have gathered quite a following for themselves, both at home and abroad, through their dynamic and inventive style of world fusion music. roughly translated as “space”, the Sanskrit word is an apt moniker because each musician is given ample space to explore their respective genres and instruments.
And as far as their inspirations go, the sky is the limit for these music-makers. Besides Malay, Chinese and Indian music, AkashA’s repertoire blends and incorporates diverse genres like funk, blues, rock and jazz with everything from African grooves to Celtic jigs.
Made up of Jamie Wilson (guitar), S. Sivabalan ( mridangam, kanjira, kunnakol), Greg henderson (bass), Kumar Karthigesu ( sitar), Vick ramakrishnan ( tabla, kunnakol), Mohd Nizam Aziz (world percussions), and eric Li (piano), AkashA has had a change in its line-up since its debut; Mohd Nizam, who excels at the cajon, rebana, dharbouka and djembe, replaced former percussionist Badar Ben Taleb.
The group, formed in May 2008, initally made a name for itself through consecutive performances in 2008 and 2009 at the rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak. Since then, it has been busy performing gigs, both local and international including at prestigious festivals such as the Ulsan World Music Festival (South Korea), Tubac World Music Days (Arizona, USA), Vancouver Folk Festival (Canada), Jazzmandu (Kathmandu, Nepal) and National Arts Festival (Grahamstown, South Africa).
In fact, AkashA has so far done 62 performances in two years – quite an achievement considering the members also have their own commitments and careers.
The reaction and international profile they’ve gotten from the audience, however, has been worth all their effort.
“The reception we’ve gotten has been fantastic!” enthused Sivabalan during a recent interview. “It’s a real surprise to see how well we are received in all these places.”
Back in Kuala Lumpur, AkashA is set for its debut performance at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in KLCC on Monday. AkashA will also be joined by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s Sonia Croucher on the Chinese flute and piccolo.
It’s a test to see how long the audience in KL can stay in their seats when AkashA is grooving it up on stage.
“It’s encouraging to know that our music works everywhere,” added Wilson. “especially since we’ve worked quite hard to make sure you can enjoy yourself even if you don’t know anything about music. It’s great to see when people who are sitting back at the beginning of the show, stand up and scream for more by the end!”
During their show in Ulsan, for example, the normally reserved Korean audience were on their feet moving to the music, something the band hardly expected to see.
“And in South Africa, as we left the venue after our show, we saw a group of people playing our CD (which they bought after the performance) in their car, and just dancing right there in the middle of the road. It was amazing!” said Sivabalan.
A string of awards and accolades further testify to the group’s success: it bagged the Voize Independent Music Award (VIMA) for Best Instrumental Act of 2010, the BOh Cameronian Award for Best Original Composition for its piece Bourbon Lassi and the Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) 2010 for the Best engineered Album for its debut album Into ... AkashA.
After the success of its first album, which was released last March, the band is raring to introduce its second recording, expected to be out next month.
The concept of the new album, according to Sivabalan and Wilson, can be likened to them writing postcards back home during their travels, the sum of all the experiences they’ve had on their journeys.
Wilson, who composes the band’s material, said the second album uses a broader palette than their first.
“For example, we’re using very traditional Chinese classical sounds as well as African highlife music. There is a piece that has a very epic Malay ballad sound which then shifts into salsa, and a piece based on the sape. We also use quite a lot of kunnakol (South Indian vocal percussion), which is very popular with our audiences,” he explained.
Sivabalan noted that they’ve also used many instruments that they haven’t before, such as the violin, guzheng, harmonium and djembe.
Just like a rock outfit, roadtesting new material has been a big help for AkashA in gauging audience reaction.
“The new album also has a few songs that we’ve been playing for about a year now, composed after Into ... AkashA. Pieces like Zapin For Mariam, Ipoh Hor Fun and Chasing The Camel are well-loved numbers that our fans have already heard us perform live,” he revealed.
AkashA’s sophomore effort will see the group collaborating with several guest artistes. Among the most prominent names is popular American-born, Taiwan-based singer and musician Wang Leehom, who played the violin on one of the tracks. Another composition features the red Chamber, a traditional Chinese fusion outfit from Canada.
Coming up for the band is more touring – it is already looking into performing gigs in egypt, Croatia, Australia and Thailand. What it is continously looking for, though, is support, both from private entities and government agencies, in its quest to spread its uniquely Malaysian form of world fusion music. Currently, much of the expense of touring comes from the band members’ own pockets.
Beyond just performing music, AkashA has also been involved in bringing music education to those who can’t afford it. Together with the GlobalSoul enrichment Programme, the band has set up a full scholarship programme for 2011/2012 that provides underprivileged children with the opportunity to learn instruments such as the mridangam, tabla, sitar, piano and guitar.
While the children will learn at selected schools of learning, the AkashA members will function as tutors as well as mentors, taking a cue from “Big Brother” programmes.
“This is a way to ensure that as many people as possible get the chance to experience music. You don’t want your music to just die when you are done,” said Wilson.
AkashA will be treating fans to both well-known tunes from its first album as well as new material on Monday at the DFP show.
Concert-goers will also receive a free mini album of the band’s new material with each ticket purchase. n AkashA will be performing at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, KLCC, on Monday at 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at RM48 and are available from the box office (% 03-2051 7007). For more information on the show, log on to http://www.dfp.com. my. For information on AkashA, log on to http://www.akashamalaysia. com, visit its Facebook page, http:// www.facebook.com/AkashAMusic, or e-mail the band at akashamoozik@ gmail.com
Talented lads: AkashA comprises (from left) Greg Henderson, Kumar Karthigesu, Vick Ramakrishnan, Eric Li, Mohd Nizam Aziz, S. Sivabalan and Jamie Wilson.