In its second year, Langkawi's own music festival proves that music and the environment do mix. Mallika Naguran finds out what makes it tick, with a peculiar whiskey cocktail in hand.
Langkawi, Malaysia, 4 November 2012. It is not easy to arrive at the right formula in creating a musical event on a languid island that’s known better for its idyllic beaches, ancient karsts and ecological encounters. Langkawi’s Geopark status precedes itself and has drawn tens of thousands of tourists in the last decade. It is a matter of time before Langkawi becomes synonymous to pro-earth music festivals, thanks to the brainchild of Anthony Wong, the proprietor of Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa, and his partners.
Langkawi Live One Earth Music Festival for the second year running put up an incredible show over two days with local artistes fronting the stage. There in lies its niche and strength: showcasing Malaysian talents in a range of genres, from traditional, folk, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, jazz to classic rock. A cultural and musical treat it was, waking up a sleepy island to alternative entertainment on a Friday and Saturday night. The setting was perfect: by the beach, facing the setting sun and breeze, near a well-stocked bar, a restaurant that served organic food, and in the premises of eco-friendly Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa.
The other crucial element was its green identity. From a low carbon footprint in the staging of the concert to focused environmental themes, Langkawi Live One Earth Music Festival set itself apart from other Southeast Asian gigs. This year it hosted a pavilion to feature NGOs in aid of community groups such as single mothers, the disabled, local arts using waste materials like glass bottles, and traditional healing medicine. There were talks by experts as well.
There’s a reason for pushing the environment envelope beneath the noses of the public. “Langkawi is the last island bastion in Malaysia that has not been spoilt and we must maintain it by speaking loudly through music,” explained Anthony. Along with community building efforts, the resort displayed jellyfish art made of trash that illuminates at night. “It’s to go with the Rivers Theme,” Anthony said, referring to the threat of pollution to the waterways and the sea, a problem that pockets of Langkawi were already facing with the lack of safe sewage treatment, waste disposal and strict environmental enforcement.
The festival supported The Rivers Project that aims to keep Langkawi waterways clean, an environmental project by Langkawi Development Authority and the National Hydraulic Research of Malaysia.
Langkawi Live One Earth Festival sparked thoughts of how one could care for the environment at the press conference. Reza Salleh admitted to not being green, attributing it to the lack of environmental education in schools, but had Anthony Wong’s passion for the earth to serve as his inspiration. Saxman Koh was intrigued enough by the festival concept to want to take it home while Michael Veerapan called for more legislation to drive green action on the ground.
Liyana Fizi was inclined to promote issues such as non-violence against women on her social networks. Amir Yussof had written songs that serve as social and environmental commentaries in the past, and does his bit by volunteering with charities, especially with rescuing and rehabilitating animals. He recently registered his own animal rehabilitation centre in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, where he resides. (Coming up next, a chat with singer-songwriter Amir Yusoff and his take on the environment.)
The environmental messaging around the concert grounds and during the show proceedings was lacking, however. There was also an absence of locals among the audience who were mostly expatriates based in Langkawi. This could be due to a fixed ticket pricing at RM60 for one night (RM100 for two nights), a fee that could well be beyond the budget of the local populace. This is a gap that has to be addressed with the festival organisers wanting to reach out to the masses with environmental messaging. After all, who pollutes rivers? If they are mostly locals, then surely the message should reach out to them. If local youths could shape a greener path for Langkawi, then surely the festival should be tailored to accommodate their interests as well.
On the whole, the festival did well to entertain, juice up musical sensations and jazz up Langkawi even with its green agenda. What’s next? Langkawi Live owners Anthony Wong, Patrick Chen and Zarul Albakri hope to strengthen its brand and take it beyond Malaysia, perhaps to London for a start. Apart from taking it oversees by showcasing Malaysian talent, there’s also the possibility of having several local music gigs of different genres within a year under the same brand. Lots of possibilities stirring here, so tune in to Langkawi Live to be in the know (“like” it on your FB for updates).
Malaysia should be proud of having its very own talents: vocalists, musicians, composers and songwriters who are distinctly local and highly original. Langkawi Live One Earth Music Festival featured a few of these, some fresh faces along with iconic Amir Yussof and veteran Michael Veerapen, a vocalist and music virtuoso on the keyboards. A few entertained the crowd with their own compositions – Liyana Fizi, Reza Salleh, Amir Yussof and the attention grabbing Poova Plachciak.
Poova rendered impressive tracks, one after another - a big voice and energetic performance from a lean attractive figure with some nervous energy. She has released an album Ticket to Faketown with her own lyrics and compositions and has a second album ready "if only a producer could come by to pick it up". Her “Four am” single was not just authentic but a heart-rending number.
Doe-eyed Liyana Fizi set the atmosphere for a chilled acoustics evening, a sweet voice that held the kids sitting out in front mesmerized. Lack of musical variety in the set was perhaps why a few older ones retreated to the bar for another top up. Reza Salleh was interesting to listen and watch with his alternative folk and soul riffs on the guitar and original tracks such as What the Hell Just Happened I’m Not Really Sure (check out his songs on his website). The mood was calm with a nice ambience, but Liyana and Reza could do better with greater audience interaction.
Saxman Koh from Thailand stole the show with his electrifying act, whacking his sax every now and then as he jammed with Michael Veerapan, raising the temperature several notches higher.
The much-awaited closing act by Amir Yussof called the house to order, so to speak, with his husky, commanding voice and rockstar demeanor, shoving a hitherto pleasant concert over the edge. He sang a mix of originals with covers as well, one of Ben Harper’s “Excuse me Mr.”, an anthem against pollution and social neglect. With the company of guest lead guitarist Jamie Wilson and Zarul Albakri on the harmonica, the audience was set alive, for once getting off the lazy poolside chairs to boogie the night away.
Make a date for next year’s festival, especially if you have not been to Langkawi yet and taken in by its diverse ecotourism attractions. Most importantly, enjoy the green messaging and activities that the festival puts out along with great local grooves, and with a more familiar cocktail in hand.
Photography by Mallika Naguran.
Langkawi Live One Earth Music Festival was held from 2-3 November 2012 in Langkawi, West Malaysia. Langkawi Live is owned, produced and organised by Langkawi Live Sdn Bhd in association with AOS Conventions & Events.
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