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