When you're a major fan of a particular artiste, you eagerly await for any opportunity to appreciate their work, especially if there's a possibility for the act to go beyond their usual scope of work.
Hence, I attended the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas’s (DFP) staging of the DFP Seni Festival, this time featuring two acoustic concerts before culminating in a major finale show. The festival was on for three separate days. Akustika I was the first to be showcased, on Sept 16, featuring indie acts like OAG and MonoloQue.
Last Saturday, Akustika II presented more contemporary artistes. This was split into two sessions, an afternoon slot for what one would suppose are “emerging” stars – Elvira Arul, Hujan, Bunkface – before a night performance featuring Atilia, Ning Baizura and Zainal Abidin.
Alas, time constraints meant I could only pick one of the many sessions and naturally I gravitated toward the evening show of Akustika II purely on the strength of the performers. My decision was also perhaps somewhat influenced by the fact that of late I have been reminiscing about just how great the music that emerged on the local scene during the 1990s was.
To hear the likes of Ning Baizura and Zainal Abidin within the plush interiors of this venue in the context of an acoustic performance was pretty hard to resist. Adding to my anticipation was the fact that I was expecting some new and interesting arrangements from these homegrown favourites.
But sadly that was not to be. The performances were enjoyable and there is no doubt that all three – Zainal, Ning and Atilia – are great singers. However, Saturday’s show turned out to be the case of if you have heard them performing at dinner shows you would have a pretty good indication of what the evening would have been like.
The evening commenced with Atilia. Those familiar with the petite songstress will know that Atilia has a beautiful voice, one that is perhaps most apt for an acoustic performance. She sang four songs, beginning with Sangkar from her debut album, then moving on to Perempuan and Sewindu from her subsequent albums before she closed her segment with a rendition of John Legend’s Ordinary People.
One supposes that programme was conceptualised to present Atilia as a prelude to the powerhouse vocalist Ning. And it worked as it proved to be a study of contrasts, Atilia with her lilting and melodious approach, compared to Ning’s vocal acrobatics and operatic style.
Yes, Ning is a fabulous singer but one assumes that within the confines of the DFP hall, the objective should be to capture the audience with a different version of who you are as a singer. She was certainly in a jovial mood and kept the audience in stitches with her quick wit.
Her performance was typical Ning and included four songs Ke Sayup Bintang, Pelangi Untukmu (her version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow), Bukan Wanita Sempurna and her early hit Curiga. She succumbed to audience’s demand for an encore and closed her performance with Mariah Carey’s Hero.
Throughout the evening, Ning proved that she is a diva with a vocal range that not many artistes can lay claim to. But sometimes the “quiet” Ning can be more poignant and we did get hints of it on Pelangi Untukmu. The thing about Ning is that she doesn’t seem to enjoy performing a lot of her early hits. The audience called out for Awan Yang Terpilu and Kau Dan Aku but to no avail. It would have been interesting to see new interpretations of those songs.
Which is also the main issue with final performer, the iconic Zainal Abidin, who was the highlight of the evening. Again there is no doubt that Zainal is a great performer and when he starts singing, you remember why he is accorded that iconic status. But I suppose it is the process of getting from one song to the next that proved to be quite excruciating. I am not quite sure whether humour, particularly slapstick and especially when it steps out of the boundaries of political correctness, is appropriate for the DFP.
No doubt, he has performed there on several occasions but the DFP requires a certain level of decorum and perhaps performances there should be taken a little seriously. He sang Sabar, Ikhlas Tapi Jauh and ended with a somewhat grudging performance of Hijau. But it was almost as if he was going through the motions, which is a shame because Zainal is in fact such an established performer. He joked about having sung Hijau nearly 3,000 times but wouldn’t it have been great for us to hear a different interpretation of it? I guess it is time to let go of the past.
Upon reflection, perhaps the afternoon sessions might have been more enlightening.