Sunday, October 6, 2019

Kuching Waterfront Music Festival 2019: Jazz with No Borders

Haze or no haze, the show must go on. 

Heck, even the famous white cat monument in Padung was wearing a mask while we were in Kuching. But the Kuching Waterfront Music Festival did go on as scheduled last September 27-28, 2019. From the waterfront, it was moved indoors to the MBKS Community Hall, just around five or so minutes by shuttle bus or taxi from the original venue. 

The haze from Indonesia cleared alright but as it was a day away from performance night, it was logistically impossible to move it back outdoors. Still, the festival enthralled audiences with a curious mix of performers from the region and as far away as Australia. 

Our Pinoy contingent of two (me and my buddy, Ferdz Decena of got into Kuching on the eve of the second conference. This 3rd iteration of the jazz festival marks the second time it is featuring a Filipino artist. Sitti Navarro was an interesting addition to the lineup, bringing a taste of bossa nova to the proceedings. Sitti thought we were Kuching residents (fact: there were not a lot of Pinoys here, nor is it a frequent destination for Filipinos, tourists or expatriate workers). She was buoyed by our presence, telling us "Ganito pala pag nasa ibang bansa ka,"  to express finding elation in bumping into fellow Pinoys abroad.  
Rhythm of the Sitti
She got onstage on the second night, nursing a cold (I think I must have gotten my share of sniffs from her during the press conference LOL) but you wouldn't know it.  I first met her many years ago in an event I was involved in and she has grown and matured into a really engaging artist.  Performing barefoot (she dumped her high heels early in her set), she used every inch of the stage launching into Filipino ditties (including a memorable rendition of Yeng Constantino's "Ikaw" which we found out was popular in Kuching, some bossa nova standards, then capping her set with a Malaysian song re-arranged to a bossa beat.  Was she a hit with the crowd?  You bet. 
Ning Baizura
Anyway, I would like to share some highlights from the two nights of performances. Well, we missed some of the performances as we were in Kuching for some other matters and on the second night, had to pack for our trip to Mulu but here goes...

Ning Baizura is a Malaysian powerhouse, having been a household word for the past 27 years or so as a singer, actress, and later as a record producer.  The way she sang and connected to the audience tells me she've had been performing for a long time and yet she looks youthful.  I take note of one particular song she sang because it's akin to the Tagalog phrase, "Ikaw at ako" (You and I).  Another highlight of her extended set was her duet with Indonesian veteran, Harvey Malaiholo.  My personal favorite though was her tender rendition of Maxwell's "Whatever, Whenever, Wherever."
Saxx in the City
Sax trio Saxx in the City from Indonesia bookended the first night.  And what a way to cap the first evening, uptempo and high-energy all throughout their set.  They dished out some original music reminiscent of the Average White Band's 1977 epic "Pick Up the Pieces".   My personal pick was their foot-stomping rendering of their Earth, Wind & Fire suite.  I was singing and bobbing my head all throughout, a reminder of the power of a horn section to move the crowd, whether young or old.
Q Sound
Q Sound gave the proceedings a hefty dose of R&B and hip-hop.   Their 3-piece horn section (4 if it includes lead singer American Marques Young) provided an aural backdrop of high-energy music that got the crowd moving as Marques admonished "side-to-side".  Their jazz-hip-hop version of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" was a big hit, getting kids who weren't even born yet when the song hit the charts in the early '80s into the groove.
Nisa Addina
Nisa Addina is more than a Malaysian phenom, she's actually a homegrown talent.   The Kuching native is Berklee-educated, returning to the Kuching stage to wow the locals and foreigners alike with her incredible talent.  What Clapton did to the guitar (make it weep), she keeps doing with her violin, reminding the audience that violin music is not just about classical performances that only get played in big halls, accompanied by an orchestra.
Z Yan
Z Yan, Dawn Wong and the Shanghai Jazz Club, Ushera and Xanaduduo comprise four acts with female lead singers, each one bringing a different taste of jazz.   Z Yan gave a sultry performance, dressed up in red.   Dawn Wong and her band performed sassy, playful numbers, Chinese brand of jazz singing and playing.  Xanaduduo reminded me of smoky clubs and thoaty divas accompanied only by piano, singing their hearts out.  And finally, Ushera took jazz to the Latin vibe direction -- moving, muscular and danceable.
Ushera provided that Latin vibe
Dawn Wong and the Shanghai Jazz Club
We regret missing the second part of the Sunday evening performances, Harvey Malaiholo, Dave Brewer and the DooDaddies, plus the grand finale as we it was getting late and we had to pack up for our next day trip to Mulu.   Still, the performances we did caught gave us a wonderful glimpse of the jazz festival's power to draw even non-jazz audiences and give them a melange of musical tweaks within the genre.  If anything, the performances show that jazz, indeed, knows no border, and two decades into the new millennium, a musical genre that traces its origin to African-American musicians in New Orleans, has no color.

Special thanks to Place Borneo Sdn Bhd and the Sarawak Tourism Board for the giving us heprivilege of experiencing this jazz spectacle in person.


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