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Tuesday August 27, 2013 MYT 6:00:00 AM
Tuesday August 27, 2013 MYT 8:19:57 AM
by terence toh
Man of many faces: 'Something I Wrote' is part-documentary and part-musical about the multi-talented, indie-spirited Azmyl Yunor. – Five Arts Centre
An upcoming theatre production pays tribute to the works of one of the nation’s most prominent independent musicians.
SINGER-songwriter Azmyl Yunor has been called “the hardest gigging folk troubadour in Kuala Lumpur”, “the man with too many bands” and “the Malaysian Bob Dylan”.
The man has performed with multiple bands playing diverse and seemingly divergent genres of music, from punk to noise to post-rock and more. He is also a lecturer in film, media and cultural studies; and an academic who has written about subcultures and the media in Malaysia.
And now, his work is going to be made the subject of a theatre performance.
“I was interested in the diversity of Azmyl’s interests and ‘output’ – his subject matter, characters, stories, different ways of writing and performing,” says Mark Teh, director of Something I Wrote. “Having been a fan of his music for years, and recently becoming a colleague of his, I think, especially with his lyrics, he is not just one of Malaysia’s best singer-songwriters, he’s one of our best storytellers, period.”
Described as “a wild singing, strumming, swashbuckling show about being Malay/sian, metropolitan & Merdeka”, Something I Wrote is part-documentary and part-musical, a new, original and bilingual (English-Bahasa Malaysia) theatre performance. Azmyl’s songs will form the base to trace the singer-songwriter’s journeys, observations, and creative and critical choices through the changing Malaysian socio-cultural landscape since the 1990s. The play was devised by Teh and its performers, and is produced by the Five Arts Centre.
Teh is a researcher, educator, organiser and performance director, whose work includes Baling (membaling) (2006), Dua, Tiga Dalang Berlari (2007) and Gostan Forward (2009). He has also served as a co-producer on 10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka (2007), PopTeeVee’s online programmes The Fairly Current Show and That Effing Show, and Liew Seng Tat’s participatory art installation Project Angkat Rumah (2010).
Teh says some of Azmyl’s most well-known songs would be in the performance, with the focus being his solo output.
“Songs such as Coming Home, Makan Gaji and Anak Dara, which span across his Tenets EP (2005), and Warga (2010) and Wilayah (2012) albums, speak of displaced characters, the changing urban landscapes and ‘under the radar’ stories.
“Other scenes will relate to his busking days in Australia, his academic investigations into the ‘Black Metal’ scare of the mid-2000s, and his views on Malaysian identity.
“There’s even a scene where Azmyl proposes what he would do if he became a Member of Parliament!” Teh laughs.
Teh says the performance will feature several “Azmyls” – the character Azmyl Yunor will be played by seven performers: Ali Alasri, Alia Ali, Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri, Imri Nasution, Mervyn Raj, Roger Liew, and Syamsul Azhar.
“They will portray Azmyl at different points in his journey. In the songs, they suggest the characters in the lyrics. They also play Black Metal-heads in one scene; in another they play singer-songwriters at an open mic night in KL. As the performance is episodic, the performers will change characters from episode to episode, but return to ‘play’ Azmyl,” Teh explains.
He says the idea for this unusual performance came from several influences, such as the 2007 biographical musical film on Bob Dylan I’m Not There (which has a slew of big names playing Dylan, including a very believeable Cate Blanchett) and 1999’s Being John Malkovich (in which Malkovich plays a fictional version of himself).
“But in actuality, the idea also came about because Azmyl joked that as, an academic, he was interested in writing a paper in which his academic self interviewed his musician self. I was intrigued by this idea as a frame for creating a show,” says Teh.
“On another level, Malaysia has had many nostalgic musicals in the last few years – usually about politicians or musical legends who have passed away. I was interested in making a performance that had music elements but with very contemporary subject matter, with very contemporary characters.”
Musical director and performer Alia Ali – a multi-instrumentalist for many critically acclaimed KL-based bands such as Furniture, Dizzy & The, as well as Azmyl Yunor & The Sigarettes – says she was attracted to Azmyl’s works through the raw energy of his live performances and the imagery of his lyrics.
Asked about the development of the music for Something I Wrote, Alia says it has been about seeing how far she could take a song yet still have it be recognisable. “I had ideas that I’ve always wanted to execute whenever given a chance to do covers, and here I was with a whole body of work to play around with. We whittled the songs down to about a half dozen, then figured out what worked in what style. Turns out one of his songs makes a pretty interesting Broadway-style number. Who knew?” Alia laughs.
Alia says she enjoyed working on Anak Dara the most, as it has always been one of her favourites songs, and she wanted to convey the deep longing and complexity of the original in a new way. The most challenging song, though, was Lena – “Mostly because it’s the closing number, and also because of the instrumentation I decided to use for the rearrangement. Not going to say what it is just yet, it’s still being worked on!”
Something I Wrote will be performed at the Black Box, MapKL@Publika (No.1, Jalan Dutamas 1, Off Jalan Duta), Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur, from Thursday to Sept 1. Shows are at 8.30pm (Thursday to Aug 31) and 3pm (Aug 31-Sept 1). Tickets are RM43 or RM23 (for students and senior citizens). For more information, call 03-6207 9732 or find mapKL on Facebook.com.
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Entertainment, Entertainment, theatre, Azmyl Yunor, man of many faces, Something I Wrote, tribute, Five Arts Centre
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