As far reunion concerts go, the legendary Kembara rolled back the years and more with its Istana Budaya shows.
M.NASIR rarely shares the spotlight when he is on stage. But when it comes to folk rock group Kembara, which he helped form in Kuala Lumpur in the early 1980s, he is more than happy to be a team player. On the occasion of Kembara’s reunion shows at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur last weekend, the 57-year-old music legend was a figure of youthful zest and joy as he rolled back the years with his bandmates A. Ali, 65, and S. Sahlan, 57, who made up the group’s original trio.
Truthfully, mere words cannot even come close to describing the musical feast that was unleashed on the media night of Konsert Hati Emas Kembara at Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya last Thursday. For a solid two-and-a-half hours, this concert brought Kembara’s music to a broader audience, while the group itself played its biggest show to date – complete with a horn section, backing vocalists and a percussion section.
While Kembara did a well-received “test run” at the Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore last March, the shows at Istana Budaya were significantly bigger and proved that the group has been greatly missed in the Klang Valley since its last show here in 1986.
Arguably the best local concert to be staged this year at Istana Budaya, the sold out three-day event – produced by M. Nasir’s production company Luncai Emas in collaboration with Axiata and Bombay Productions – saw Kembara members (from various group incarnations) reunited.
Fans young and old were treated to the band’s beloved music which was known for its poetic lyricism, working class edge and strong folk-driven backbone.
It was the best show for many reasons. For those who grew up listening to songs such as Hati Emas, Gerhana, Bas No. 13, Nusantara, Rupa Tanpa Wajah, Duit and Perjuangan, these made up the soundtrack to their lives as they struggled to make a living.
Whether while commuting in Kuala Lumpur in those nifty yet notorious mini buses in the 1980s, or feeling the homesick blues, there was a Kembara song to lift the spirits.
To put it into perspective, these songs where mostly written by M. Nasir when he was in his early 20s, a restless and exciting time for this Singapore-born singer-songwriter.
Personally, this recent concert was special because it reminded me of the first interview I did with M. Nasir in 1993 while he was working on his third solo album Canggung Mendonan in his Ronggeng Studio, Luncai Emas in Sungai Buloh, Selangor. He spoke fondly of his early days with Kembara, the idea of writing music from the heart and how the group’s “street” appeal has transcended the times. It was one of the handful of M. Nasir interviews that stayed in my mind in my 20-plus years as an entertainment journalist.
Working man blues
On the Istana Budaya stage last Thursday, it was Kembara in fine form as it frontloaded the setlist with some real-deal classics.
Much to delight of the fans, who filled up the hall to the brim, the reunion concert kicked off with the infectious Ekspres Rakyat performed by Zoul (who is also Nasir’s younger brother).
Honestly, who else could have possibly composed a song detailing the KTMB’s Ekspres Rakyat train service plying daily to and fro between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur? Signed to Philips/PolyGram Records in 1980, Kembara was the group to restore blue collar themes in the heady post-disco era here. It wrote about real life experiences and struggles, and, most importantly, always imbued dignity in the music. Express Rakyat became instant hit in 1981 and is still relevant more than 30 years later.
The concert saw Kembara’s founding members – M. Nasir, S. Sahlan (singer) and A. Ali (singer, guitarist) – taking turns in the spotlight, with solid support from musicians like Cheman Suri (bassist), Zoul (lead guitarist) and Md Shah Othman (keyboardist), who all have a slice of history in the group.
Kembara took the fans down memory lane with songs most familiar – but there was a fresh rhythmic life with these new arrangements. For instance, the night saw a crisp version of Senandung Buruh Kasar, a catchy tune telling the tale of a labourer who constructed roads and big buildings in the big city Kuala Lumpur. There was also the rugged roots-based Kolar Biru, which spoke of standing apart and not being bound by society’s expectations.
Every lyrical twist and turn was meaningful, especially when it came to the sublime lyrics detailing romance and relationship. Love songs were always a shade “deeper” with this group. M. Nasir dug deep to deliver beautiful versions of Malam (1981), Kepadamu Kekasih (1982) and the haunting Keroncong Untuk Ana (1984).
Elsewhere, there were rarely played songs that made a return, including Oh Bulan, Bunga Bakawali and Ayahku Dan Angkasawan.
A man of few words, M. Nasir took over the microphone amidst screams and loud applauses and continued with Impian Anak Jalanan (1984), Siapa Orang Kita (1986) and Sesat Di Kuala Lumpur (1986). Despite being touted as Kembara’s reunion concert, it was fairly obvious that M. Nasir pulled the audience along with his charismatic and commanding stage presence single-handedly.
Out of 27 songs performed that night, a majority of the songs were sung by M. Nasir while Johor-born A. Ali performed four songs – Senandung Buruh Kasar, Oh Bulan, Ada Sepasang Mata and Di Perhentian Puduraya. Malacca-born S. Sahlan delivered two wonderful cuts (Impian Seorang Nelayan and Ayahku Dan Angkasawan).
M. Nasir joked that Kembara was way ahead its time when the group composed Ayahku Dan Angkasawan three decades ago when nobody thought about sending a local astronaut into space. The night also saw Kembara backed by top-notch Malaysian musicians, including Raffi (guitar), Ujang (drums), Paan (percussion), Romli (gendang) and a brass trio led by saxophonist/composer Jari. Originally with members from Singapore and Malaysia, Kembara has come a long way with seven albums (Kembara Seniman Jalanan being the last release in 1986).
Prior to the concert, M. Nasir did say that he hoped that the Kembara concert series would create excitement for the fans and music lovers in general. He was hoping that people would have a renewed desire to experience live performances and to keep close to their favourite bands. It was pretty obvious this concert achieved all that and more.