Monday, November 24, 2014

Kembara - The Legendary folk group

I have a confession to make.

Kembara is not really my kind of groups. I love ballad and sentimental songs, and they are certainly not Alleycats. They don't normally sing about love, falling in love, unrequited love - my kind of love songs. Their songs were normally soft-rock or folksy, and they sing about train rides, about blue collar workers, they celebrate hard-core labourers, about being in prison, about corruptions, and other social issues in the 80s.

Uh oh, and I am supposed to sing along?

Don't get me wrong. I am sure I have listened to enough Kembara's albums to call myself a fan. I thought each one of their albums is excellent, high quality recording and compositions, and are very different from any other group that existed in the 80s.

They have good melodies and good lyrics, and with the charismatic M Nasir at the helm, they were bound to be legendary. They could have taken all of M Nasir's songs (given to Alleycats) and become THE Alleycats themselves. But that they did not do. They did not take the easy way out. They took on social issues and ground them into soft- rock songs that bore no similarities with any other groups.

That's Kembara to me.

You know, I have been disappointed with last year's M Nasir concert at the philharmonic. Even with first class musicians, he did not sound like M Nasir, and his songs became detached. Listening to him at the MPO was a chore. My mind was strained so much trying to figure out the songs that were played then, so much so I did not enjoy them at all.

You can read about my take here.

But this one is different. This Kembara concert is perhaps the best M Nasir concert that I have attended. M Nasir sounds exactly like - well - M Nasir, and Kembara sounds like Kembara in their albums. His voice is not a strain from trying too much and he sounded very natural, as if he had turned back the clock of time.
Taken by MStar

With apology to S Sahlan and A Ali, of course, since this is supposed to be a Kembara concert. I thought they were excellent themselves.

In fact, I thought it is because of A Ali and S Sahlan in their support roles, M Nasir is free from the burden of expectancy. This is the time he can become one with his friends, who understood his music.

Or perhaps in the absence of those Berkeley graduates, who messed up M Nasir's songs big time trying to westernize or philharmonizing them, M Nasir and Kembara were simply able to be themselves. Kidding, kidding hahaha, Dato. Love your Suatu Masa arrangement!

I would declare that this is the best concert in a long, long time at the Istana Budaya.

You know exactly what to expect from the trio, and it makes the concert more predictable.

You know the intro, you know the key, and you know exactly when they are going to sing, stop, or hit the high pitch.

And that's why I love this concert.

M Nasir is back at his best, to be honest. He was all over the place, and he made the stage his. It is so wonderful to see him so energetic and with a voice to match. I remember him saying many years ago how he could not get back the spirit when  many of his songs were written - after 30 years have passed. I can understand that - then he was young, naive perhaps, fresh, single and definitely looking for love. Life was full of idealism and energy. 30 years on, you may get a beaten-up-by-life guy, though I am sure that's far from the case for M Nasir. But he is back at his best. As far as I am concerned, he is the young M Nasir who could hit the high notes as per all the songs in Kembara's albums. And he did not have to try very hard at all.

A Ali was a bit more subdue; but he played his part with his low pitch voice. I really love di Perhentian Puduraya. So sad to remember the iconic bus station of Kuala Lumpur is still very much around after all these years. Or shall I say, so happy that it is still around, which is uncommon in Malaysia?

I thought the banter between A Ali and M Nasir was hilarious.
Taken by Arif
And S Sahlan? What can I say of this unassuming man. He was the perfect foil for M Nasir; a real anti-thesis of M Nasir; everything that M Nasir is not, and he filled up those remaining slots on stage.


The moment they stepped out with the sunken stage raised, I knew I was in for a treat. Even for sentimentalist like me. The music starts filling up the small concert hall; I knew most of the songs, though not necessarily all the lyrics. And with the background montage, we were all set.

Ekspress Rakyat was filling up the concert hall. 

The party is on.

Their music is normally for you to start swinging your body. You are not supposed to sit passively on one's seat, and wallow in one's grief or agony over that unrequited love. There was no such song. We are supposed to be celebrating about everything. You need to move. You need to sing along. And you got just that with Bas no 13, according to M Nasir is the bus he would need to take to go to Geylang Serai, never mind that it would be the second bus (no 12) to be taken from his home. 

It is a catchy song.

(I did take Bas no 13 (and No 14). But is from Ampang Jaya. And it was bas mini No 13, of course.)

I guess this is what is wonderful about Kembara's songs. They told a story and the story is not necessarily the boy-meets-girl love story. It is not even a significant story to be told; but nevertheless, it is a social story for M Nasir. It is his story and the history of Singapore and Malaysia.

I wonder who is Wan  Chu and whether she is still alive today?

So they wrote songs about a bus, and a bus station. And about those nameless labourers? And anything about insignificant daily events, and we paid them tonnes of money to watch them perform in 2014?


Akmal, let's write songs about our trip to Tapah, about starting up a company, about facebook page, about Air Asia, about Monash and Sunway, about mee goreng and roti canai. I am not sure if anyone would want to hear us at all.


Anyway, let's get sentimental a bit, shall we? Malam to me is perhaps the best ballad that night. I would cry listening to M Nasir crooning about the darkness of the night. I really would. He sounds exactly like in the original song, and it is full of longing and yearning.

What else can I say about this song? [sigh]

And what about Keroncong untuk Ana, and Kiambang? Wonderful ballad from a soft rock group.

But I thought the best song would be Kupu-Kupu. I barely remember this song to be honest, but once I hit play at Youtube, the night before, I know I am going to love this song live by M Nasir. This song, to me, is ahead of its time.

The composition, the arrangement and the lyric - awesome.

Having said that, of course the highlight of the night would be the theme song Hati Emas. M Nasir really milk the audience into singing along with him. And the audience was willingly being milked by him. (Yes, milk us, milk us, says my sister who was there the next day.) We were all eating out of the palm of his hands. The song was played like for eternity.

I thought if it went on for another couple of minutes, the panggung sari would collapse from the sheer sound of a full house audience singing at the top of their lungs, feeling very sure that they all sounded like M Nasir himself.

I thought too I was that good, to be honest. I thought at that moment that night, I sound like M Nasir. I am sure Arif and Akmal sitting beside their dad had noticed how their dad had transformed into M Nasir!

To be honest, I would have watched them twice. Ot thrice, if someone was to sponsor me. They are that good, and remembering the good, simple time of 1980s is too much for me to handle on a single night. I want to experience it again, and if possible, re-live the 80s all over again.

If I could, I really would.

Taiping, and Kuala Kangsar.

Mak, and bapak.

Melbourne and Perth.

Kuala Lumpur, Ampang Jaya, Ampang Park, Pertama Complex and minibuses.

Monash Uni and Chemical Engineering.

Being single. Err.

I did not have a car for most part of the 80s. I traveled by bus, or even cycled to most places. I must admit that I have little money then. Well, may be not exactly true. I have lotsa money from scholarship that I receive as a student. Relatively.

I was not flushed with money. It is hard to come by. But I have little commitment, if any.

Certainly we had enough. Life then was simple, and cheap. Fifty cents would get you going anywhere in Kuala Lumpur by taking the mini buses. You struggled with the crowds, and the twist-and-turn and sudden stop.

And of course the smell of the sweating passengers, including yourself.

I didn't dine at 5-star restaurant or at hotel. I ate at warung tepi jalan. I didn't pay top notch money to watch a concert in a glittering concert hall, unlike on Friday night. i only listen to cassette or radio.

But that's life then.

We were happy. Much happier. Or at least, I thought I was.

Welcome back, Kembara. Let's turn back the clock. As I have said, I would have watched them all 3 nights. I really would, if I did not realize that I am over 50s and have just recovered from near death experience. So I did not. I thought at this age, I should at least heed to Kembara's song about being sesat di Kuala Lumpur, about poverty, about corruption.

And being big hearted - being Hati Emas.

And not spend money on my own personal enjoyment.

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