KUALA LUMPUR: For anti-drug abuse activist Khai Aziz, music has always been his inspiration, passion and weapon.
The lead singer of local punk band Second Combat combines music with art, fashion and even creative writing in his tireless battle to help young people stay away from drugs.
For this, he has been chosen as one of the winners of The Star’s Golden Hearts award, which celebrates a diverse group of Malaysian heroes who above all work to make life better for others.
Khai, 38, founded the Drug Free Youth Association (DFYA) Malaysia. It’s a very personal crusade for him as he has watched drug addiction suck his friends and brother into a black hole.
While the experiences of his own family and friends have always spurred him on, the pivotal moment that changed his life and charted his path came in 2010 when he and his aunt went to a fishing village to save a little girl who was about to be sold by her father for drug money.
As a young boy, he experimented with the substances himself, and it’s this personal experience that makes him an effective advocate for the cause. Instead of speaking from a high horse, removed and unaware of the reality of the issues, Khai’s feet are firmly on the ground.
“I know it’s not easy to stay away from drugs. I started smoking and drinking at 13, and have tried drugs. But I left that all behind when I was 21,” he said.
Khai’s truth is simple: He has realised that for young people, staying away from drugs is easier if they have a mentor to support them.
“Drugs are everyone’s problem. There are no bad kids out there, only lost ones, and that’s where the DFYA comes in,” he said.
Today, he speaks – and performs – in schools and colleges under the DFYA banner. In the course of leading this sober revolution, Khai has found that about 30% of students are involved in substance abuse, with at least 10% on drugs.
“Ice, or crystal meth, is the most dangerous drug on the streets right now because it is so widely available and because of what it does to your brain cells.
“I have even heard that college kids are taking it to help them stay awake and study. They don’t realise what it does to their brains,” he said.
Khai was a speaker at TEDxYouth@KL in 2014, and organised several concerts for the young local bands he works with. He is building and connecting a drug-free network, relying heavily on social media, and is looking at expanding the platform for the mentoring that will provide the support for young people to stay away from drugs.
“In December, we are planning a drug-free camp for teenagers aged 13 to 17 from five schools in the Klang Valley, and we have joined forces with the Health Ministry for that,” he said.
“We want to help young people who might be in trouble, especially those who don’t have anyone else to turn to,” he added.
Khai says he walks the Straight Edge path.
Often denoted as sXe, Straight Edge is a subculture born in the hardcore punk scene of the early 80s. Its name is derived from a 1981 song from American band Minor Threat.
When following the Straight Edge lifestyle, adherents stay away completely from drugs, alcohol, tobacco and promiscuous sex. Some even extend it to a vegan diet and abstain from caffeine and even prescription drugs. It’s going completely clean with the hard edge of punk as a soundtrack for life.
“Second Combat was the first local band to pledge to become Straight Edge back in 1999,” Khai said.
“Straight Edge is a way of life. It is cool, and so it has an ‘edge’ in the fight against drugs. Kids connect and identify with the music, and they look up to the bands.
“We are mentoring several bands, all of whom have pledged to stay away from drugs. But my favourite is called Break Free because they are also Straight Edge,” he said. Break Free’s members are between 14 and 21 years of age.
Currently, Khai is working on a compilation album featuring 15 bands which will be released at the end of the year. It will feature a drug-free anthem written by him and performed by Second Combat.
He adds that he plans to distribute packs consisting of the CD and a booklet to youths.
“The money from the Golden Hearts Award will go towards supporting the bands, this album and a video for the anthem.
“I think it’s important to get it out there ... we’re hoping the packs can be distributed in schools as well.”
Khai has also written a book on his experiences. Called Aku Anak Punk, it’s expected to be out in major bookstores soon.
Khai’s fight has been intensified by personal tragedy. After a long and hard-fought battle against drug addiction, Khai’s brother passed away a few months ago.
“My brother wanted to join me in my work, but being based in Kelantan, it was difficult for him,” he said.
In his brother’s memory and honour, Khai soldiers on.
“Once you are addicted, quitting is very difficult – not impossible, but certainly not easy,” said Khai.
“That’s why the DFYA focuses on prevention, pre-empting the addiction, by reaching out to the youths who are at risk. That’s what will be more effective – helping them to stay away in the first place.”
That his message of clean living still echoes the rebellious spirit of the punk movement itself also makes it more effective.
“Punk is about rebellion against institutional tyranny. We believe in rebelling through better living.
“Being truly badass is about standing up for the good.”
> This year’s Star Golden Hearts Award is supported by Gamuda. For more articles, go to thestar.com.my/stargoldenheartsaward