Carefree days are back
Hit maker Carefree is making a comeback at the Penang Island Jazz Festival 2010.
NOT many bands had bragging rights for a horn section back in the day in Malaysia. However, in the mid-to-late 1970s, Carefree put all its Tower Of Power, Average White Band and Earth, Wind & Fire ambitions into a cohesive musical unit that grooved like the funkiest machine this side of Asia.
No, it wasn’t the only band to feature one, but it was perhaps the band that acquired the most attention for it, to a large extent due to its hit-making capacity, what with the likes of Rindu Bayangan and Belaian Jiwa waving its pop-funk flag fervently.
A quarter of a century has passed since the band’s stock was at its peak, a turn of events “credited” to the evolving priorities of its members and the ever-changing musical landscape, among others.
With three albums cut between 1979 and 1982, Carefree at least left behind a body of work that’s sufficient for it to make a triumphant return, and that’s exactly what reuniting members Charles Paiva, Simon Justin Leo, Boy (Raja Rahman) and Wan (Raja Rashid) can deliver at the Penang Island Jazz Festival 2010 this weekend. The band will be playing the main stage and closing the festivities on the second night (this Saturday) of the fest.
Keyboardist Paiva recently spilled the beans on how one of the nation’s funkiest bands has fashioned a comeback.
“Actually, we never officially broke up, we just focused on our careers. We all have day jobs,” revealed Paiva during a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur when the band was rehearsing for the jazz fest.
“So this is something we’re looking at as our last chance because age is also catching up. We have the luxury to do this at the moment so we just want to have fun and see where it takes us. While we’d like to play every day, it’s just not possible, so one-offs are ideal,” he shared, fully-aware of the strains that often plague full-time bands.
The seeds for the band’s return were sown when it played a benefit show for bass player Jude Fernandez, who currently minds the lower end in percussion ensemble Aseana Percussion Unit (APU) and was once a member of Memories.
“Paul watched us soundcheck before that show and immediately offered us a slot at the jazz fest, so it was too good an offer to turn down,” informed Paiva of how Penang Island Jazz Festival organiser Paul Augustine signed the band up.
Carefree began life in 1975 when guitarist Leo put a four-piece band together, hoping to eventually mould it into one that featured a horn section. The line-up that eventually crystallisedlised also included bassist/singer Jay Jay (Ahmad Fauzi Darus), and the horn section featuring Nana Pawan Chik, Lokman Kimin and Rahim Othman. Like any other young band with aspirations, they hung out, talked music and jammed endlessly.
“Simon was serious about taking the band further, which is when he called me and I helped him bring all the guys together,” said Paiva of joining forces with his cousin. Both men come from musical families with Paiva’s side dominating the keys and Leo’s side the guitar.
The band honed its sound to perfection in the club circuit, treating audiences to its big sound and playing funk and pop nuggets of the time. Carefree got its big break in 1977 when popular Filipino band D’Starlight – which was playing at Merlin Hotel’s Tomorrow disco in KL then – had to be sidelined when its bass player was forced to undergo a chest operation.
The octet seized the opportunity and went on to earn a reputation as one of the most exciting bands in the country, an accolade which put the band in good stead by the time it sealed a recording deal with EMI a couple of years later. Its debut album Kebebasan – which spawned the classic hit Rindu Bayangan – was released in 1979 to a rousing reception.
At the time, the local music scene only saw solo singers enjoying album deals.
Carefree was the first band to record a Malay album, an idea mooted by the band’s then manager, legendary concert promoter the late Mike Bernie Chin. Prior to that, the status quo was very much a 1960s mentality, where it was either solo artistes, or solo artistes backed by named bands, like Jeffridin & The Siglap Five, for example.
“We used to rehearse at this place called Artist Club off Jalan Raja Chulan (in KL). It was a club established by Mike (Bernie Chin) for all the bands under him to rehearse there for free. And we used to play for the tea dances. At that point, Mike was an A&R (artist and repertoire) rep at EMI and helped get us signed. We knew from the start that the English market was non-existent, so we focused on Bahasa Malaysia songs instead.”
While establishing itself as a hit-making machine, the band also backed the top artistes of the time and Paiva singles out the band’s stint with Anita Sarawak.
“That was a great time. She wanted a really good band to back her and we fitted the bill,” Paiva said with pride of those hedonistic 1980s.
All good things must come to an end but Carefree’s was earlier than expected.
“We weren’t happy with our second ( Kebebasan II, the album that features Belaian Jiwa) and third ( Kebebasan III) albums. They didn’t sound like what we wanted them to and it was something that was out of our hands, really.”
While the band is lauded for exploring various musical flavours like traditional sounds and even dangdut, Paiva has few fond memories of that time. “EMI wanted to speed the recording process up and I suppose we became a casualty of that scenario.”
Still, in that time, the band managed a string of hit songs including the likes of Dendangan Laguku, Dengarlah, Kenangan Taman Cinta, Kini Baru Ku Sedar, Kenanganku, Joget Mak Enon, Hentikan Fitnahmu, Anak, Si Baju Hijau and more, all of which kept the band in the public eye.
The club gigs began to dry up for the band, too, because the success gained as a recording act eventually priced the band out of the market. Carefree simply arrived at a crossroads where the band decided that, with priorities lying elsewhere, it was best to just move on individually. Besides, at that point, music served merely to prolong an idealistic adolescence.
“We continued touring and backing other artistes. Then after the third album, we split. The market was slow and there was simply nothing happening in the music scene, really. I feel the live scene is rather the same today,” he said.
Carefree’s complete line-up for the Penang Island Jazz Festival comprises Paiva on keyboards, Leo on guitars and vocals, Boy on drums, “Wan” on saxophone, flute and vocals, new additions Nadza on bass, Akmal on trombone, Wan on trumpet and flugel horn and Aziz on vocals and percussion.
Conspicuously absent is JJ, whom many regard as the face of the band and often erroneously identified as the band leader/founder. And to set the record straight, Leo wrote and sang Belaian Jiwa. “We approached him but we came to the amicable decision that juggling between his solo career and the reformation of the band was going to be too taxing,” Leo informed.
The guitarist provided a sneak peak into the band’s set list for the festival: “We’re gonna do some jazz funk rock stuff, so you can expect to hear stuff from the Average White Band, Buddy Miles, some Kool & The Gang ... we’ll also be doing Ides Of March’s Vehicle, and we’ll be playing Belaian Jiwa in English and Malay,” he revealed.
This will be the first time the hit Belaian Jiwa will be sung in English before an audience of this scale.
It seemed Carefree’s fate was sealed when the band pulled the plug on itself a quarter of a century ago but the band’s current renaissance promises to reopen the pages of its own history book. There are many pages to be filled yet and the Penang Island Jazz Festival merely marks the first of many new chapters ahead. Penang Island Jazz Festival’s main stage programme takes place at Bayview Beach Resort in Batu Ferringhi on Dec 4-5. Tickets cost RM60 per night. Doors open at 6pm. Hotline: 03-7880 7999. Browse www.ticket pro.com.my. For details on fringe events, forums and workshops, go to penangjazz.com.
Comeback trail: The reformed Carefree, (from left) Nadza (bass), ‘Boy’ Raja Rahman (drums), Charles Paiva (keyboards), Wan Raja Rashid (saxophone/flute/vocals), Simon Justin Leo (guitar/vocals), Akmal (trombone), Aziz (vocals/percussion) and Ridzwan (trumpet/ flugel horn).
Supermen need their capes, as Carefree realised back in the late 1970s. – Picture courtesy of EMI
Carefree’s classic debut album.