YOUNG Malaysians today are quite out of touch with Malaysian music.
Even at The Daily Seni, this has proven to be a huge challenge. As part of our interview process, we get potential employees to give us a list of five Malaysian filmmakers or musicians.
This has often been a near-impossible task for a majority of applicants — everybody remembers Yasmin Ahmad and Yuna… but pretty much nobody else. As a result, the people inducted into our team often end up dedicating themselves to writing about two or more artforms because it’s tough finding interested, young people who have workable knowledge on the local art scene.
It feels like the jump from Generation X to Generation Y has resulted in a lot of data left behind; why is the average under-25 Malaysian less likely to be interested in local artists and creative output? What has caused this gap in interest?
We don’t have the answers, but last weekend’s Konsert Satu Suara Vol. 2 established itself as a pretty big deal despite the times.
An Illustrious Gathering of Greats
Finding parking on a Sunday night in Istana Budaya proved to be a challenge in the rain, given that almost every space near Panggung Sari was taken up. Soon after, we see that audience turnout for the concert was robust; in the main hall, a crowd had gathered a full fifteen minutes before the performance.
The strong response can be pinpointed to an extremely impressive triple bill — Malaysian songstress Siti Nurhaliza, Singaporean rocker Ramli Sarip and Indonesian diva Hetty Koes Endang headlined the night’s concert.
Right off the bat curtains were drawn to reveal Siti Nurhaliza who immediately launched into midtempo ballad “Sendiri”, a cut from 1998’s Adiwarna. Audiences instantly went wild, and we find out that some of her fans have travelled all the way from Indonesia and Singapore for the special night.
Siti was on fire; her spoken material was amusing and she sang like a prized songbird effortlessly. She even teased people for staring at her tummy after walking through the audience for a song; prior to the night, a tabloid speculated that she might have a bun in the oven.
All Hail Hetty
At the age of 58, Hetty Koes Endang had the entirety of Istana Budaya eating out of her hand. Her charisma, energy and sense of humour shone brighter than ever; Hetty launched Konsert Satu Suara into the stratosphere last Sunday night.
Showcasing pipes of steel, the veteran singer’s voice has gained an impressive strength after all these years — there’s a power which sets her live performances apart from her lighter recordings. She occasionally had some difficulty with her delicate falsetto but Hetty was largely en pointe throughout the night.
Her performance of “Hadirlah Kasih” was a joyous celebration; on the Panggung Sari stage as glimmering lights washed over attendees, Hetty riffed on her air guitar and simply looked like she was having the time of her life!
She followed the spectacle with a bossanova version of “Kasih” — a departure from her trademark keroncong spin on the Ermy Kulit classic — in which Hetty brought a fresh, new tenderness and maturity to the melancholic ballad.
It was a nice surprise seeing such an immense crowd mouthing the words to every Hetty Koes Endang song of the night. Active from the seventies to the nineties, Hetty clearly meant a lot to her Malaysian fans who grew up with her over the years. Like her, most of them also bear children of their own now.
Living Legends, Manifest!
Next to Hetty, Siti seemed small.
Siti’s pitch-perfect delivery and vocal acrobatics in every song was highly-pleasing but felt lacking when put beside her special company. This was probably down to experience; Siti, who recently turned 36, remains decades younger than her cohorts.
Ramli Sarip then came on stage and injected a dose of masculinity into the night’s proceedings with his booming, raspy vocals.
After a string of duets with Siti — one of which they attempt Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston‘s “It Takes Two” — Ramli performed two songs solo before reuniting with the ladies for the final time. On Siti’s “Dialah Di Hati”, Ramli’s unique voice brought a new element of tragedy as he takes the baton from her mid-chorus.
He was laidback, casually apologetic and humble, recalling his own encounters with Siti in between songs and occasionally even deviating off script. For the final night of Konsert Satu Suara Vol. 2, Ramli was intent on making the most out of his appearance at the sold-out event.
Like Hetty, Ramli reveled in the spotlight; the infectious energy emitted by the trio made audience participation easy and it didn’t take much for Siti and company to get people standing up or singing along.
At one point, Hetty even crossed the stage/audience barrier to get Dato’ Sri Khalid to sing a line from “Berdiri Bulu Romaku”.
Value For Money?
Unfortunately proving that you cannot have too much of a good thing, Konsert Satu Suara Vol. 2 went on for just way too long without an intermission!
Two hours into the performance, Ramli Sarip has only just appeared. Three hours in, and the trio are doing “Temasya Desa Gemalai” — it was at this point that audience members started exiting.
So while Siti, Hetty and Ramli slowly danced off the stage, at least half of the night’s attendees were already making their way out of Panggung Sari.
It didn’t help that there were barely any upbeat numbers to help perk up sleepy audience members. Despite everyone’s wonderful attempts at banter and audience participation, more than twenty songs were performed and approximately three quarters classify as downtempo love songs.
Surveying The Gap
The most surprising thing about Konsert Satu Suara was its audience.
Mostly consisting of professionals and dignitaries, the performance displayed a side of Malaysia not often seen outside of the performing space. That night in Istana Budaya, at least one thousand people sang along to Siti, Hetty and Ramli and laughed at their jokes.
It was largely an older Malay crowd still charmed by their favourite singers which helped fill Panggung Sari that night.
The number of audience members who sang along to the entirety of songs like “Berdiri Bulu Romaku” and “Budaya” was a thrilling sight — Konsert Satu Suara may have began as a contingency plan to make the most out of delays on Siti’s own musical project but it’s impact was immense.
This writer, who went to Istana Budaya merely to watch Siti Nurhaliza, ended the night with newfound interest for Malay music of the seventies, eighties and nineties.
Now, if only we can get more young Malaysians to watch this sort of thing.
Konsert Satu Suara Vol. 2 took place from 6 – 7 November at Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya.