[This originally appeared in, and had been taken off from, Killing Time, in a slightly different narrative]
I have multiple interests that led me to maintaining several blogs and fansites. This is one of them. It’s long overdue though.
I started to listen to Maman not entirely out of accident like what happened with Mr Children. My appreciation of his music grew almost at a snail’s pace. At the time when Maman and his former band Teacher’s Pet was conquering the local airwaves, I was oblivious to their existence.
At the beginning, there had been many attempts by friends and family to get me to listen to him. Everyone immediately thought that his work would be something that I would love. Til today, I don’t know why I resisted. Ina once remarked, after watching Cinta Kita’s music video, that all love songs should be written this way. Short. Simple. Honest. You should only say what’s necessary, and trim away the rest.
It wasn’t until Layar Lara OST was released that I became aware of his music. One of the main reasons was because my then housemates were completely enamoured by Maman’s portrayal of Shak in the movie and insisted that I play the songs Seringkali and Kasih Kupinjam Wajahmu on the guitar again and again. When I protested and said I didn’t know those songs, one of the girls bought the soundtrack. I had to transcribe the chords and figure out how to sing these songs and it was then that I realized what remarkable compositions these really are.
It took me a while to finally bought the album for myself. I then attempted to find his other albums including those during his Teachers’ Pet days but all of them have been sold out and there was no plans for reprinting by his then record company (Warner). A friend gave me Eh…Keras Tu as a gift but no one I know has a copy of Di Suatu Hari Di Suatu Waktu, which is a very good and well produced album.
I am listening to Eh…Keras Tu as I am typing this. In 1994, I was 19. Ina and I were both doing our foundation studies in University Malaya. Back then we were still following the Brit system so every year we would have a long summer holiday. Like the previous year, I worked in Japanese company in Shah Alam; while Ina was doing something or the other. Both of us stayed with Alan like we always did.
1994 was a strangely wonderful year. I remember it vividly because 1995 was the year I had my heart broken for the first time – though later on in life I learned that there are far darker things that could reduce you to many little pieces than a simple case of heartbreak.
1994 was the year I started to write songs and perform to larger audiences. I was in a steady, albeit long distance, relationship with someone that I liked. I had a great school year, played some hockey (though I met an accident shortly after and couldn’t use my left arm for a while), made new friendships, and had a lot of old friends from BP coming over to college for a visit; which I found oddly surprising because I wasn’t by any means the popular kid on the old Balik Pulau block. Notorious, yes; but definitely squarely placed in the unpopular category. As I said it was a good year. I felt lucky, and most importantly, loved.
Anyway, one Friday afternoon Ina called me on the phone. She said you must watch HMI tomorrow night. For you Gen-Ys that have no clue what HMI is: HMI stands for Hiburan Minggu Ini. It is a one-hour entertainment/variety show that was broadcast ‘live’ by RTM every Saturday night. A typical format would feature a main singer/entertainer and a few guest artistes and they would sing, or do little sketches, play games et cetera. Before you scoff and dismiss it as lame, remember that Siti Nurhaliza was a product of Bintang HMI so the show was not as ancient as you thought it would be. During its heyday, HMI was what Akademi Fantasia is to local music fans today – minus the drama, fake tears and sms scandals.
But I digress. I asked why would HMI would be interesting to me? I must elaborate a bit about this. Around early 90’s I started to develop my own preference towards music. Thanks to the fact that grunge and alternative songs would not get any exposure on local airwaves, I gradually stopped listening to the radio completely and would scour music stores or begged my friends who were overseas to help me buy albums that I liked (Don’t Tread by Damn Yankees was one of them). Once, I even went as far as Kajang to look for CDs that I could not find anywhere else (Dulcinea by Toad the Wet Sprocket and Throwing Copper by Live). That’s 4 bus-changes away from Seksyen 26, Shah Alam – thank you.
On the local front I had been listening to a lot of traditional music and more contemporary folksy stuff by M Nasir, Kopratasa, Zubir Ali, Ramli Sarip and Rausyanfikir (remains one of my favourite bands of all times; rest in peace the late Esham Jamil). I realized even back then that I was turning both inwards and outwards; and that music is becoming an important part of my identity.
I need to tell this backstory because I was genuinely not aware of what was going on in the local music industry. So, understandably, my response was ‘so what?’ when Ina said ‘Maman and Teacher’s Pet is playing and you would love this band,”.
I didn’t watch that HMI. Ina told me later that Maman walked barefoot on the stage and that he sounded just as good ‘live’ as he was on the record. She then sang a few lines from Warisan Wanita Terakhir. I told her it doesn’t ring a bell.
The next year Windows 95 was launched. I bought my first computer, a Compaq Presario and opened my first ever email account with tmnet (though Pakcik had signed me up on several web-based email providers prior to that). Ina and I shared a room in 4th College – a secluded room at the end of Block B (thanks Ji, for the correction), with our own private entrance and bathroom. We had a little red TV, a small makeshift kitchen and a sporadic band (Capella, Wadie, Raphael, Andi and strangely at the very beginning, Tawau. Later this band was expanded to include Rina, Farah and Alex). I made even more friends – some of whom until today only knows me as Ariel6 or KA54.
One afternoon while I was doing something on the Compaq, Ina remarked, “Why does songs like this never make it to the top of Muzik-Muzik?”. I stopped what I was doing and turned to look at the TV. A video clip of Maman singing Cinta Kita was playing. Muzik-Muzik is a TV show that searches for the top 20 songs of the week as determined by votes – back then you do it the old-fashioned way i.e. cut out the listing from the daily newspaper, put in your votes and mail the form to TV3. Every week 3 new songs would be introduced, you vote and the results would be broadcast during the show. A spruced-up version of Muzik-Muzik still airs till today.
I watched the video in silence with Ina till it finished. Then I told her, “Songs like this don’t win because people like you and me don’t vote.” She said “What a pity”, I nodded and went back to work. That year, we were so determined to make ‘lagu-lagu puisi’ (loosely translated: folk songs) more acceptable that we rallied the college and Pusat Kebudayaan UM to support us in organizing a nationwide amateur songwriting competition. Later that year I ended my long distance relationship, wrote the lyrics for what ended up being a song called Maafkanlah by Alex; then left 4th College to stay with a group of people who were in the same faculty as I was.
1997 was the year that I listened to a lot of Jewel, Alanis Morissette, The Corrs, Live, Edwin Mccain, The Verve and Third Eye Blind. Having easy access to internet meant I grew even more disinterested in local pop culture and began to resent the many hip hop and rap acts that mushroomed all around the country.
Then, a movie called Layar Lara was released. I watched it twice – once with my close friends and another with my housemates. One of them bought the soundtrack and played it all the time. They would hassle me incessantly to play Seringkali on the guitar – back then I didn’t have my own so I used this old gitar kapok that one of my housemates owned (ironically she didn’t know how to play!).
One night I was talking on the phone with Malau and I mentioned Maman and the Layar Lara soundtrack. He said, “Maman also sang Malas and Warisan Wanita Terakhir.” I went blank. Again, I genuinely didn’t know what he was talking about.
Then someone gave me a copy of Teacher’s Pet’s first album called Eh… Keras Tu (the one that I am listening to right now). That was when I heard Warisan Wanita Terakhir for the first time.
Maman’s maturity as a musician was steep. While Eh…Keras Tu was playful and a little juvenile with that typical, reckless youthful abandon of a group of boys who were living the rock n’ roll dream, his sophomore effort Di Suatu Hari Di Suatu Waktu was a complete departure and presented a body of work that was sensitive and thought-provoking. The arrangements were more complex, the singing more thoughtful. It is inconceivable to think the same person sang Talipon Punya Pasal (literally means Because of the Phone) and Without You. In a short space of time, Maman found his niche and his voice. By the time Layar Lara OST came out, he was regarded as one of the finest neo-folk musicians in the country. I couldn’t disagree.
I am not sure how other people feel when they listen to Maman’s songs. From the very beginning, I’ve always felt there is a certain sadness underlying his body of work. The first time I sat down to really listen to Kasih Kupinjam Wajahmu, for instance, I could not even finish it because I felt so uneasy and disturbed.
His songs are deeply personal and imbued me with a sense of guilt for intruding and listening to them. I am embarassed at the raw honesty, a little awed at the way the emotions are presented and stunned at the simplicity and illusory ease these songs are presented which belie their complexity and true nature.
Let me make this clear, I don’t pity Maman. I envy him. For having this gift, the ability to be able to move people, strangers that don’t even know his real name (do you?); to be able to express so eloquently in the most beautiful way the basic of human emotions.
Listening to him makes me appreciate the exquisite beauty and depth of Bahasa Melayu, and the uniqueness and quiet strength of neo-folk compositions (or Neo-Nusantara, whatever the term they call it these days). He embraces his roots, traditions, culture and heritage with pride and makes it accessible to the rest of us who are less inclined. If someday everything else about him is forgotten and all that people would remember is Warisan Wanita Terakhir, that alone would have been a tremendous contribution the Melayu musical archives.
To date Maman has released 2 full albums as Teacher’s Pet, and worked on multiple OSTs including Layar Lara. He also sang in tribute albums and released a special mini album called Beramal Mesra di Hari Raya that contained the excellent Di Wajahmu Kulihat Bulan (also featured in the Perempuan Melayu Terakhir OST) and Keluhan Rasa.
All these are no longer available in record stores but you may be able to find MP3s of his earlier works being shared on various file-sharing networks. In recent gigs Maman has been previewing new materials like Selamatkan Dunia (Save the World – how’s that for irony?) and Suri Dewi Chinta, which you can listen to at Maman’s YouTube channel.
Maman can be reached at the official links that I provided on the blogroll to the right of the screen.