Styles and smiles

AkashA puts the fun back into fu­sion with an un­for­get­table show at the De­wan Fil­har­monik Petronas.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - by SHARMILLA GANe­SAN

FOR a group that doesn’t seem to take it­self too se­ri­ously, AkashA sure has some se­ri­ous skill when it comes to per­form­ing... and that is def­i­nitely part of its ap­peal.

The home­grown band may be all about the ban­ter and care­free mu­si­cal style, but once those in­ti­cate gui­tar runs, si­tar raa­gas and pi­ano scales start fus­ing with some se­ri­ous per­cus­sion, you know you’re in the pres­ence of some fine mu­si­cians.

And if the world fu­sion mu­sic out­fit’s re­cent one-night-only stint at the De­wan Fil­har­monik Petronas (DFP) is any in­di­ca­tion, AkashA’s fans are def­i­nitely on­board for their unique style of mu­sic. From the moment the notes of the gui­tar and si­tar be­gan to bat­tle each other in the first num­ber of the night, the new num­ber Karako­ram High­way, the full-house crowd was en­tranced.

Cou­pled with ex­u­ber­ant per­cus­sion sounds, the piece was a jour­ney into the heart of what AkashA’s mu­sic is about – and man, is it one fun ride!

The sec­ond piece was an im­me­di­ate shift in mood to the sul­try Da­m­as­cus, from their de­but al­bum Into... AkashA. Deftly blend­ing smooth Mid­dle East­ern melodies with Latin­sound­ing gui­tar, the hyp­notic num­ber starts low-key be­fore swelling into a crescendo of per­cus­sion and strings... one of their more ex­otic and slightly darker pieces.

Prov­ing their po­ten­tial to con­tin­u­ously sur­prise its au­di­ence, Akasha’s next num­ber, Rondo Kir­wani, was noth­ing if not un­ex­pected. While it had a def­i­nite East-meets-West qual­ity, that is en­tirely too trite a de­scrip­tion. Fus­ing the feel of an old-school Malay rock bal­lad with a salsa sen­si­bil­ity, it needs to be ex­pe­ri­enced to fully get its yearn­ing, emo­tional un­der­tones. Def­i­nitely one of the night’s high­lights.

The rous­ing Bafana Bafana was next, an ode to both the group’s per­for­mances in South Africa as well as the re­cently-held World Cup. The in­fec­tious num­ber in­cor­po­rated African high­life mu­sic with tra­di­tional In­dian per­cus­sion sounds, show­ing that the mri­dan­gam and tabla can be as play­ful and fun as the djembe!

Watch­ing the group per­form live, the chem­istry be­tween the seven band mem­bers is un­de­ni­able; it’s ap­par­ent that AkashA’s strength lies not only in each in­di­vid­ual mu­si­cian’s (ad­mit­tedly su­pe­rior) skills, but also in the abil­ity to work with each oth­ers’ styles.

Rang­ing in age from 29 to 44, each is an ac­com­plished mu­si­cian in his own right: Jamie Wil­son on the gui­tar, S. Siv­a­balan on mri­dan­gam, kan­jira, and kun­nakol, Greg Hen­der­son on bass, Ku­mar Karthigesu on the si­tar, Vick Ra­makr­ish­nan on tabla and kun­nakol, Mohd Nizam Aziz on per­cus­sions, and Eric Li on pi­ano. Cou­pled with the su­perb com­po­si­tions by Wil­son that bring to­gether di­verse mu­si­cal styles and in­flu­ences, it is no sur­prise that AkashA’s mu­sic has gath­ered such a fol­low­ing in the rel­a­tively short two years.

One of the high­lights of the night was the ap­pear­ance of guest artiste So­nia Croucher, a flautist with the Malaysian Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra. Her col­lab­o­ra­tion with AkashA on one of their pop­u­lar num­bers, Ipoh Hor Fun, added spice to an al­ready fan­tas­tic com­po­si­tion that fea­tures play­ful, lilt­ing Chi­nese sounds.

Croucher’s lovely melodies, while light and melo­di­ous, were def­i­nitely tricky, and she han­dled them with fi­nesse. It’s not dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why this happy piece is such a crowd favourite – you can’t help but smile while lis­ten­ing to it.

It is the mark of a good per­for­mance when one and a half hours pass by in a flash, and that was cer­tainly the case with AkashA’s con­cert. Fa­mil­iar num­bers like Javaraaga, Bom­bay Bossa Nova and Ants in my Tur­ban were greeted with en­thu­si­asm, while an­other new one, Bi­son Blues, whet­ted the crowd’s ap­petite for the re­lease of the group’s sec­ond al­bum in Jan­uary.

Be­fore we knew it, the last num­ber, Chas­ing the Camel, which can be de­scribed only as a com­plete rock out brought the evening to a close.

The night wasn’t over yet, how­ever. In Wil­son’s tongue-in-cheek words, the band “spon­ta­neously came back to do an en­core they pre­pared for.” As the group per­formed two more crowd-pleas­ing num­bers, Ir­ish Jo­get For Si­tar, Gan­jeera and Tenor Ukelele, and Bour­bon Lassi, it was ob­vi­ous that its de­but per­for­mance at the DFP was a tremen­dous suc­cess.

The crowd rose to its feet in a stand­ing ova­tion even be­fore the last notes faded away, and if their smiles were any in­di­ca­tion, each au­di­ence mem­ber still had their favourite AkashA piece play­ing in their head as they left the hall.

World fu­sion mu­sic band AkashA, fea­tur­ing Malaysian Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra’s flautist So­nia Croucher (left), per­form­ing at the De­wan Fil­har­monik Petronas.

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