Backstage with... AkashA

Updated: 20 Mar 2013

World music is a rather underrated subject in our local music scene. A genre that encompasses traditional beats and sounds of nature survives from only a small appreciative community - all before AkashA came into the picture. Known for their spirited and contemporary take on the world music genre, AkashA has graced numerous local and international stages, pleasing even the most youthful crowd. Ahead of their performance in the Penang World Music Festival 2013 (PWMF 2013), the group's percussion and mridangam player, Sivabalan chats with Cheng Sim about AkashA's musical influences and their possibility of adding a female member.

AkashA is a veteran on both local and international stage. Is there pressure to bring something different in every performance?
Some what. As every musician is known for his/her/their style of music, there are times they want to hear the familiar and then new takes from you. We have to deliver. Being a world fusion music instrumental band, the challenge is always there as we communicate solely by music without lyrics. In South Korea, we took a whimsical take of Wondergirls's 'Nobody But You' and in Austin, Texas, U.S.A., we made a go at ZZ Top's 'Le Grange'. In honor of Michael Jackson's passing in 2009, we belted out 'Beat It' at the Rainforest World Music in Santubong, Sarawak. If I need to sum it up, we try and keep the needful above pressure of performance. One element is always retained - fun!

Who are your musical influences?

The composer of the music in the band is Jamie Wilson (guitarist) and he often cites Clapton, Hendrix, Knopfler, Santana and many more as as his musical influence. I suppose playing with AkashA itself, the ethnic musicians playing from many years of training does serve as an in-house influence itself. Jamie has a knack of writing music to each individual's capability and stretching them to their limits!

AkashA during one of their performances.

AkashA is a huge group, there are eight of you. Is it fun travelling in a group?
We have had our fair share of run-ins, to be frank. But four years later, we now know each other thoroughly and we know how we work. Its great fun travelling, definitely. The scheme of things change. A hundred over performances later, it's been a fabulous journey.

So, who takes the longest to get ready for a gig?

Jamie...most definitely!

As an all-male group, any plans on recruiting a female member in the future?
Incidentally, this question comes days after International Woman's Day! Actually, the question is if AkashA would look at recruiting any new members at all? Being an eight-member band (seven artist and a sound and lights manager), the band is large enough. Having said that, AkashA's original lineup when we started in 2008 had a female keyboardist but citing family obligations, we then looked at a new keyboardist who happened to be male. In more recent times, we have often collaborated with female musicians. A piccolo flautist from the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Sonia Croucher comes to mind immediately! As recently as January 2013, we collaborated with three females: Grammy winning folk duo instrumentalists Cathy Fink, Marcy Marxcer as well and Barbara Lambert as part of the CROSSROADS concert organised by the Embassy of the United States, Kuala Lumpur.

AkashA's collaboration with Grammy winning folk artists Cathy Finx, Marcy Marxcer and Barbara Lambert.

AkashA dabbled with various music genres from African to Cuban jazz. Does the group have a personal favourite?

The group often finds the myriad of musical possibilities a fascination. It's always splendid to find how a simple joget rings a tune in South Africa even. Music is global. We take it as it comes.

What are your thoughts on the support on world music today?
Quite frankly, better than it was. Grammy's however have made the genre smaller in terms of recognition but the springing new world music days, festivals, concerts and performance stages now made available for world music has flourished. There is a basic difference though, world music - practicing original traditions of lineage and world fusion music - stretches boundaries. There are some stages and events that caters to these separately. World music will never be mainstream but it has its due support. Coming from a country like Malaysia, the best export of music is exactly this, world and world fusion music. Thus, in this nation itself you have two world music festivals. Support is growing.

What can the audience expect from AkashA in the PWMF 2013?
Expect the crazy good fun - AkashA style!

AkashA will perform in the Penang World Music Festival 2013. For more info, see listing.

Tags: Features