Prior to receiving the completed Hijrah (previously known as Taqwa), I have heard a couple of its tracks, although at that time they were still in their raw forms. We were having french fries and soda at Changi airport as I waited for my flight back to KL. Maman took out his iphone and said, listen to these.
I declined but he insisted. So I listened to only parts of both songs, then I returned the iphone back to him. It was a conscious decision. I wanted to hear the full album on my own accord, at my own pace, in the comfort of my red Klippan sofa.
I challenged Maman’s decision to work on Hijrah several times before the album was completed. I questioned his motivation. I felt it was gimmicky, a little cliched even. The rockstar who finds God and the light of religion at the twilight of his career. I know Hijrah wasn’t that at all and I know Maman well enough to know that he would have worked on Hijrah even if he was at the height of his popularity. But it sure felt like a cop out album. While Maman has always been quirky with his musical directions and he has never written a full flat-out commercial rock album full of pointless love songs, I felt it was out of character. How do I reconcile Maman, the person who wrote Layar Lara and Kasih Ku Pinjam Wajahmu, the guy who sang about girls in their Levi’s 501s, with this Maman who sings about finding peace at the afterlife?
I am sure I am not the only one. Hijrah was a curious album, and a curious choice. As you read this, I am sure you are wondering the same thing.
So it was more than with a little trepidation that I put Hijrah on the spin. That was a week ago.
Hijrah is a fully-acoustic album containing 9 never-before-released tracks and a bonus track of spoken words. With the exception of Anugerah Cinta (Warisan Wanita 2), the rest of the tracks were especially written for the album that took about 2 months to complete.
First of all, I feel Hijrah is a contradictory album and I want to try to explain this. If you break the album into its individual parts and isolate the melodies from the lyrics, what you will end up with is a strong folk-ethnic-rock album written in Maman’s signature style but with a decidedly spiritual lyrics. Now herein lies the twist, spiritual songs are usually written in a soft, melifluous manner. But his lyrics, while poetic, were written in a raw, painfully honest prose – making the album, or the songs rather, conversational and uncomfortably confessional. They were not ’soft’ or graceful. They were stark, devoid of parables, simple.
So what does that mean? To me, it means Hijrah extricates itself from the preachy, motivational mould of a typical spiritual album. Instead, it is an album of journey of sorts, which is apt I suppose, being that Hijrah means the start of a new life, a great emigration for a better, more fulfilled existence. It’s not perfect, it is flawed in its lyrical execution, and in some of the arabic pronunciation. Yet, it’s these flaws that humanised Hijrah and made it accessible; making it a a diary of sorts, a deeply personal one at that. You can almost taste the pain and quiet despair; the humility and surrender to the huge shift in perception that were required in order to write an album such as this.
I asked Maman about the inaccurate arabic pronunciation. The album was closely supervised by the alums from Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah. This should not have even occurred. The producers should have done takes after takes until they get a perfect one. Additionally, Maman is the kind of person who is meticulous about his work. How did this escape the net?
Maman took a moment to answer. It didn’t escape the net. In fact we realized and acknowledged the pronunciation problem right from the start, he explained. But in the end, I decided to use the original take. Why?, I probed. He was quiet again for a good while. Because hijrah, he said, is a personal rite of passage that starts spontaneously, without coercion. In my own case as I was writing this album, I found myself unprepared and lacking in so many ways. I knew I had difficulties in pronouncing the arabic phrases according to its tajwid at the beginning. But as we progressed, more and more I felt Hijrah the album should be representative of the journey that I went through, how I get from point A to point B. Hence in the end, collectively, with the producer and co-producer as well as the spiritual guide that supervised the recording, we agreed to use the original take.
I didn’t feel right packaging everything in a shiny, perfect veneer, he added quietly. People may not agree with my choice to reveal my imperfections, and it was a hard decision to make. But I found that I could not make Hijrah any other way.It is what it is.
So how do I find Hijrah? Do I enjoy it? Musically, yes. While the production quality is not on par with his previous works, which is more of a technical and financial consideration rather than a creative one, it is an album that captures Maman’s character and spirit in equal measure. His delivery is emotive and heartfelt, sometimes I feel almost embarassed listening to the songs due to its deeply personal nature, almost as if I am prying into someone’s private diary while he is in the room. Lyrically, Hijrah carries a simple message. Be brave. Be humble. Remember who you are and where you’re going. Keep the faith. That it was produced as an acoustic album fits its messages perfectly.
There is one last point that I want to make. If you listen to the album from end to end, presuming you do not press the shuffle play button, you will find that the songwriting matures successively from one song to another. In other words, it is like a literal journey. The final track, track #9 as I like to refer to it, or Ruh Alam Semesta as it is called in the tracklisting is a powerful, moving piece. It is haunting and achingly beautiful. As the conclusion to Hijrah, it was a fitting choice because it showed Maman’s flair, sincerity, maturity and, perhaps, most importantly, how deeply he was invested in making the album.
Hijrah is a departure of genre for Maman. If we set aside Maman the ‘acoustic warrior’ as he was once called, and evaluate the album on its own, Hijrah is an accomplished work. It is subtle, it is fragile and in all the imperfections lie its charm. My pick of tracks would be Anugerah Cinta, Ruh Alam Semesta and Titipan Ilahi. Maman was surprised at my last choice. Maybe because the subject matter for it is a song from a father to a child. I told him, the subject matter is immaterial really. I review songs and albums based on the emotional connection.
Hijrah showed a glimpse of a softer, calmer Maman. One that you rarely see. But one that is just as real as the acoustic warrior that you are accustomed to. I am glad he made this album.