Care­free days are back

Hit maker Care­free is mak­ing a come­back at the Pe­nang Is­land Jazz Fes­ti­val 2010.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By N. RAMA LO­HAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­

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 For de­tails on fringe events, fo­rums and work­shops, go to penang­

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.

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