Coming of age

Newcomer singer-songwriter Awi Rafael’s restlessness and travels have resulted in an album brimming with intimate reflection.

HIS name may not ring a bell to most but young singer-songwriter Awi Rafael is building a steady profile for himself. Despite being a close friend of indie oufit Hujan, Awi wants to be recognised for his own merits.

He has worked hard to make a good first impression with small dues-paying shows and writing as much music as possible in his free time. After months of waiting for a music release, Awi’s efforts seem to be paying off with his self-penned first single entitled Pulanglah riding high on the local airwaves.

Awi’s self-titled debut album, which is out now under Morning Rocket/Warner Music Malaysia, promises to take him further. And after chatting with the 24-year-old in a recent interview, one could see that he has accumulated quite a bit of experience while pursuing his passion for music.

Pulanglah is the first single for Awi Rafael’s self-titled debut album whichcomprises four other songs which he composed and co-produced withHang Dimas of Hujan.

Unknown to many, Awi, whose real name is Mohammad Nabawi Ewan Gunawan Rafael, is not new to the music industry. The Singaporean-born lad might have just settled down in KL six months ago, but he has been gigging for over eights years in Singapore and Australia.

He started out at 17 when he joined indie outfit Bhumi Band in Singapore as the vocalist and was also its youngest member.

“I’ve been involved in the music industry since I was a teenager with the (now-defunct) Bhumi Band. It was a rock-based band ... loads of guitars, which got me going in the scene,” explained Awi, who has a Malaysian mother and Indonesian father.

“After Bhumi Band disbanded, I realised that my passion for music was still very much alive and my stint with the band imparted a lot of invaluable experience.”

After completing his (law & psychology) degree at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore, Awi decided to travel and gain experience abroad. For certain, he wasn’t into a desk job and a chance for an adventure was too good to ignore.

His wanderlust and love for music landed him in Brisbane before he headed down to the hippy seaside town of Byron Bay, New South Wales in Australia with only A$500 (RM1,612) in his possession.

“That’s how I started my journey in Australia. I was supporting myself by busking. It was hard when I didn’t have a place to stay. There was a time when I was homeless and literally living on the beach for three days. Those moments taught me a lot about life.

“The experience made me realise who I am. And I don’t have any regrets because I believe that the journey had its own purpose. In Brisbane, I met with an agent who managed a series of showcases all over Australia. I guess, he was interested in watching me play my music and offered me a job. If not for being ‘homeless’, I might not be here, writing and performing my own music.”

The agent helped Awi secure small gigs in the Gold Coast, Melbourne and beyond. He also explained that his interest in music came naturally as he wrote from personal experiences, elusive relationships and chasing down dreams.

“I remember when I was 14 or 15 and I used music to help me deal with growing up issues. As a teenager who had to move between my parents’ homes (mother in Pontian, Johor while father is in Jakarta, Indonesia), it was like escapism for me.”

Does he remember when he wrote his first tune? He ponders on the question and shakes his head. “I have always been writing and singing my own songs as far as I can remember. It has been my childhood dream (of becoming a singer-songwriter). But honestly, I’m still new in my career in music. There is a lot to learn.”

Despite being new in his craft, Awi tried his best to have his own identity and style.

“Over the years, I developed my own style in writing. Pulanglah – the first single from my debut album – was written at my friend’s place and it only took about 10 minutes to complete. It was a very sad song with a happy and catchy melody. You can call it reverse psychology. The song has a special place in my heart as it encapsulate how I try to live my life (to this day) and to follow my heart,” said the youngest of three siblings.

On his recording deal and debut album, Awi said he owed it all to his long time friend Hang Dimas of Hujan. Both of them were in the Bhumi Band in Singapore.

“Everything started with Hang Dimas. He was the one who told me that it was the time to return to Malaysia and work on my own music. He was also the one who was responsible in getting me signed up to Warner,” said Awi referring to his close friend who also helped co-produce his debut.

Apart from Pulanglah, other tracks in the album include Aku Bukan Bintang, Bukankah Aku?, Bila Aku Jatuh Cinta and Panas, which features a rock-based vibe while employing accessible acoustic trimmings and some indie songwriting savvy. Now that he is signed to a major label, Awi said that he is really happy to find music listeners starting to discover his songs.

“Here I am after one year of busking in Australia, promoting my own album! How do you even script something like that?” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Awi Rafael’s self-titled debut is distributed by Warner Music Malaysia. More info at