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A LOW-KEY TOUR DE FORCE

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Antares encounters The Dalcha Duo at SOUNDZ OF THE KL UNDERGROUND

Az Samad, flamenco-flavored lyricism

Never heard of The Dalcha Duo? Not too surprising, considering they came into being only a couple of months ago. Before that, they existed only as a couple of highly skilled and remarkably dedicated young guitarist-composers named Az Abdul Samad (pictured above) and Hardesh Singh. Both recently earned themselves Cameronian Arts Awards nominations for best solo performance and best original composition in a musical outing called Viva Voce, presented as part of the Music Circus KL series of concerts showcasing fresh musical talents.

A great deal of their charm stems from their refusal to take themselves too seriously  – even though they seem truly serious about their music. Calling themselves The Dalcha Duo, for instance: What’s dalcha? A mildly spicy Indian veggie stew. And using a rubber frog as a mascot for their performance, which, at one point, featured synchronized cellular phones in a number engagingly entitled The Mamak Symphony (inspired by the electronic beeps and ring tones playing spontaneous fugues at outdoor tea-stalls).

At 22, Az Abdul Samad (youngest son of well-known poet A. Samad Said) qualifies as a guitar prodigy of sorts. His flair and passion are almost Latin and are revealed in his penchant for Latino jazz rhythms. An ardent admirer of the late Michael Hedges, who pioneered the “new age” sound that established the Windham Hill label, Az paid tribute to his musical hero with a witty piece called Echoes of Bangsar – a quirky exercise in percussive harmonics and unpredictable chord progressions. His other compositions tend towards a dreamy, contemplative lyricism evoking a gentle, quiet inner strength. Occasionally tossing back his head of long, wavy hair with the hauteur characteristic of all flamenco guitarists, Az manipulated his acoustic-electric Takamine with the nonchalant ease and flamboyance of a matador.

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Hardesh Singh, disciplined multi-instrumentalist

Hardesh, 27, came across as the more musically eclectic of the duo, deriving his inspiration from genres as diverse as classical Indian and jazz-pop-fusion. An accomplished guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, Hardesh anchored the groove with his trusty red Yamaha, switching midway to gambus and tabla on Jalan Yang Jauh – an extended exploration of cultural pluralism written by Az. He appeared a mite shy (perhaps because his mother happened to be in the small but appreciative audience) – but this could also be due to Hardesh’s predilection for control, precision, and technique. Undoubtedly useful skills, but definitely no substitute for spontaneous expression and feel. Quite possibly, Hardesh is one of those who can only relax after a couple of beers – but his grasp of music as a craft is utterly impressive.

Az and Hardesh are certainly well-matched as The Dalcha Duo. Indeed, the dynamics between them – and the generally high level of musicianship – reminded me of a spectacular concert I witnessed in Munich years ago that featured Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin on the same stage, performing dazzling solos and explosive duets.

I was reminded, too, of heady days (in the mid-1980s) when guitarist-composers like R.S. Murthi and Rafique Rashid performed their own works to rapt audiences at the British Council.

Something brilliant and breathtaking was happening at Soundz of the KL Underground, for sure: I could sense that local musical history was being made, that these young virtuosos were destined to make a lasting mark on the scene.

The Dalcha Duo was ably augmented by 17-year-old Ahmad Rafiyuddin Mohamed (“Just call me Byrd”) on congas and Nokia 3210 cellular phone; and 19-year-old Lim Hui Chieh (“Just call me Bambi”), on gu zheng (Chinese zither) and saron (bronze xylophone). Ms Lim, from Sabah the Land of the Winds, was allotted a bedazzling solo during which she played up a storm (the piece was descriptive of a typhoon and its aftermath).

I was disappointed to see a mere handful at the Actors Studio Box for the Sunday matinee. Many people didn’t make it to the show apparently because so many roads were blocked for the Tour de Langkawi bicycle race. This only served to make The Dalcha Duo’s low-key debut performance more intimate and captivating.

Going by the technical sophistication of the material presented, the event was indeed a refreshing musical tour de force. These Music Circus KL concerts jointly presented by SoundWorks and The Actors Studio are an ongoing project, so keep an ear open for them if you’re interested in where contemporary music is headed in Malaysia.

13 Feb 2003

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About Antares

Author, illustrator, actor, musician, composer, arts reviewer, blogger, Abominable Jungleman. Also a stargate activator, ceremonial guardian, interdimensional gatekeeper, pendragon-in-exile, and retired deity.

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