Sunday, July 15, 2012

M Nasir - Saved by Suatu Masa

I came with high hopes, but left the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas with that hopes in tatters.

I am talking about listening (and watching) to M Nasir with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and I thought it was a match made in heaven.

Beautiful songs that you are so used to get from the sifu; beautiful arrangements that are typically second to none in his albums, and a charismatic singer. You can't get anyone better than M Nasir.

I have lived and breath his songs since the late 70s. When I saw his first album with a name that says Mohamed MN, and this young guy in an awkward dancing posture (at the back of the album cover), I thought he was funny - in a not-so complimentary way.


But when he got it big with Kenangan Lalu (sung by Flybaits), I was in awe. This guy could go far, I thought, despite the awkward pose on his first album cover.

The rest, as they said it, is history.

Suatu Masa in 1982 was classic. A song that is totally M Nasir and no one else could do it. His Kembara albums are always in demand; you would find copies of his cassettes at our home during those years. I simply could not miss any of his solo albums either in the 90s.

I had bought the tickets for his concert last year. When I knew that he will be backed by the full MPO to be conducted by Kevin Field, I knew we would be having a jolly good time; or may be moved to  tears during the sad songs. There are just too many songs over the past three decades for us to enjoy such quality performance.

He started off with Andalusia, a beautiful Spanish-influence song about - what else? - Andalusia. But I nearly did not recognize the song.

The arrangement was, well, very different, and the end product is not the Andalusia that I know and love. It did not follow the melody, so much so I found it painful to follow the song.

And many other songs. They were totally un-M Nasir.

What on earth the arranger was trying to do? Showing off the skills of the MPO violinists (that Arif would never be able to do) and kill off the song? Too many 'gorengs' would make me cringe.

But that is not my only complain.

Most of the time, his voice was drowned by the orchestra. Sorry, but make that 'overwhelmed'. The background music accompanying him was way too loud. Mind the work 'background' music; it is supposed to be just that, and nothing more. This is not the MPO that I have came to know - and love. This time around, the MPO sounds very much like the Istana Budaya Orchestra.

Just for the uninitiated, the Istana Budaya Orchestra (whatever they called it) plays along this philosophy - the louder, the better and the louder, the merrier. So they arranged the music in such a way that all instruments would play at the same time. All the time. The drums would be on full blast, so would the horn section. Of course these would drown the string section too.

Oh and if these are not loud enough, they will add the electric guitar too.

Utter chaos.

You would almost always never be able to hear piano or violin solo, and at certain part of the song hear just the string sections. They have to kill it by playing the horn section too.

That's the Istana Budaya Orchestra for you.

Sorry, I digress.

I honestly believe the arrangements made by Loo Shu Chin, Vivian Chua, Luqman Aziz are not up to the MPO standard, and in the end, it reflects badly on the MPO and M Nasir. Unfortunately. They tried too hard to turn these songs into symphonic version with too many 'rolling' or 'gorengs' - excuse my terminology - by the violin sections that made it difficult for us mere mortals to follow.

To aggravate the situations, the arrangers tend to play every instrument that is available; at times it seems to their fancy. Put in everything; these people are world class musicians - that seems to be their thinking process. The horn section to me seems to be playing all the time so much so that when the string section was doing their part, I could barely hear them.

Who are these people, beyond Mokhzani Ismail, Ahmad Muriz and Ruslan Iman? I have enjoyed Ahmad Muriz as a conductor; this time around his arrangements are so so only. Datuk Mokhzani did well with Suatu Masa, while Ruslan Imam, another good arranger only had a hand on one song.

Perhaps some of them should stick to arranging musics for Orkestra RTM!

I thought the original arrangement of Bonda was excellent. I thought the final recorded version was excellent - the violin, guitar, flute and drum made the mood of this song (If I am not mistaken, this song was recorded in Australia, no?).

But Vivian Chua, as she did with Andalusia, spoiled it. To me, the first half (Apokalips, Kias Fansuri, Keroncong untuk Ana (I was paying attention to the wonderful piano rhythm that made this song a keroncong), Mustika, Bonda, Kepadamu Kekasih) is a total lost. I can't hear M Nasir that much that I was wondering what I was doing at the DFP Hall.

Mind you I was seated at the no 2 rows so I could see M Nasir very clearly but I barely hear him that night!

I would not have mind it if they were to play these songs without M Nasir. I would have enjoyed it better in instrumental form. It is wonderful performances by the MPO. But I could barely hear M Nasir; and even if I did hear him, I thought somehow the music and his vocal are NOT in sync, that they are totally alien to each other.

There was little, if any, chemistry between the MPO and M Nasir, despite the banter between Kevin and M Nasir. (Kevin at one stage handed a packet of KitKat, much to laughter of the crowd, and M Nasir after the Mentera Semerah Padi song explained to Kevin Field that Hang Tuah used to sing that song!)

To me, most of the blame lies with the arrangers. They murdered the arrangement of M Nasir's songs to make them sound symphonic, without realizing that they are talking about M Nasir's compositions in the first place. These songs requires little, if any, tweaking.

The sound system at the DFP may also have played a role. May be M Nasir's mike should be made many notch louder than the rest of the orchestra for us to fully embrace his vocal performance, which I thought was quite good.

In the end, as I have said before, too many of the arrangers were trying too hard to turn M Nasir song into symphonic versions. That, to me, is the main fault of this concert; an aspect that I did not really enjoy. I mean, I have been to many pop (and classical) concerts at the DFP and I have enjoyed many, if not all, of them.

But not this one.

I have to be honest here eventhough I have admired M Nasir all my life. In fact, deep in my heart, I want Akmal to be like M Nasir, not much of a performer, but a legend when it comes to song writing. It is a tall order, but that's the level of respect I have for him in my mind and heart.

M Nasir did not deserve any of my criticisms. Actually I can't say only bad things about him and not say all the good part of him being M Nasir. Sure he missed it totally during Keroncong untuk Ana - he was too fast in the first para. He missed a few cues during a few other songs. But hey, even sifu made mistakes; he is afterall human. And I thought he did extremely well on Suatu Masa. Great arrangement; it was perhaps the best tonight. I can always relate to this song, and if I had recorded all the songs performed last night on tape, I would delete them all, but leave this one on.

This song is about the years that have gone by. A different lifestyle then; a lifestyle that would require you to write letters to communicate to someone far away, and I used to do that a lot. Many a times, I would have to do what he did (in the song) and chuck away those letters.

So it is not just for the memory, but for the fact, I love the arrangement simply because it follows the spirit of the original song. Only better - this time in full philharmonic orchestra! I could follow this song, and I could have shed a tears or two, had it continued on for another minute or more. 

That's Suatu Masa for you. It is that powerful.


I have enjoyed The Beatles at the MPO. I have enjoyed the Oscars at the MPO, all the movie themes. I have also enjoyed S M Salim's Asli concert at the MPO, and Kathy (Ibrahim) and Azlina Aziz performing with the PPAG. Beautiful musics all around, I must add.

A sister of mine also did not enjoy the concert. Just like me she was very enthusiastic in the beginning texting to me that she was going to a concert that I have bought tickets six months early. In the end, she said, "I have enjoyed listening to Streisand accompanied by the orchestra and love it. But not this concert."

"It could have been magical," she continued.
The queue for his signature, and the chance to chat and shake
his hand.
But despite that, she went on to get his signature. [LOL]

The queue is way too long for me, but still people would eat anything out of his hand. That's M Nasir for you. He was wondering why he has many fans; why people like him so much. He said he wanted to be a comedian and a dance but he said his jokes made people angry, and I think people do not think much of his dancing style.

But thankfully, as he said it himself at the concert, he became M Nasir!

Thank Allah for that.

During the concert, while he is not much of a talker (or entertainer), the audience were feasting from the palm of his hand. They cheered him loudly; they were dancing to his song at the end of the concert. Really. He managed to get everybody standing and singing to "Dalam baju, ada cinta" (ADA) song through an extended repertoire.

That's M Nasir for you. He could do no wrong to their eyes, and yes, he did no wrong at the concert as far as I am concerned, despite some hiccups from the sifu himself! Sort of. ;))
Hmm, short hair and less beard. This is not M Nasir to me. He lost a bit of his charisma
when he turned up in this shape. I want the old (funky) M Nasir back!
TO me, there is nothing not to like - and love - about him, and his talent. If I could have 10% of his talent, I would be extremely grateful. I do hope Akmal would one day inherit some of his talent. Amin.

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