The plu­ral­ity and pu­rity of mu­sic is what keeps fu­sion out­fit AkashA ahead of the game.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By SHARMILLA GANE­SAN

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.

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