“Music is not black and white. Music is creation. More often, the most challenging aspect of being in the industry is to create something from nothing…”

“While working as a music composer, the question I ask myself the most is – what is my place in this universe? What is my purpose of being here? That is my main inspiration to create music that touches the soul.

I started my career in the music industry at the age of 17. The first instrument that I learnt is the piano. In my two decades of both teaching music and composition, I have come to realise that music is all about connecting people and telling their stories. We paint emotions through sound. 

This is one of the reasons why I took a deep interest in the life stories on my band members. One of my music compositions is based on childhood memories. 

One of my fellow team members was born in China and was very close to his ‘yeye’ (grandfather in Mandarin) as a child. But his ‘yeye’ was in the opium business and his parents often disapproves of the fondness he had for his ‘yeye’. 

One day, his family boarded a ship, leaving his ‘yeye’ in China. The journey was tough, but after many rough days, the family landed on the shores of Malaysia. They started a new life, far away from all the people they cared for – This is the story my composition tells through musical notes and scales. 

While my work gives me a lot of pleasure, I am often emotionally unavailable to have open conversations with people around me. There was a phase in my life, where this affected those around me deeply, especially my daughter. She started displaying signs of self-destructive behaviour that sent me into a stage of fear and for a while, I even stopped composition, and focused solely on teaching music and raising my family. Of course, things are different now and I am back composing music that can transcend people into a different universe. 

The most important lesson that my journey in life has taught me is that the path can be difficult, sometimes it can drain you emotionally and mentally, but if you have the passion for it there are clearly no boundaries that can stop you from achieving what you desire. “

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Story by: Nafisa Dahodwala
Photography by: Dao Hong

Leow Yunn is known for her breadth, diversity and flexibility as a musician. She is a trained composer, arranger and producer and has more than 80 projects under her name. 

She will be performing as a part of Spectrum put together by DPAC on September 7, 2018. For tickets and bookings visit the official KLIAF website. 

This story has been written in collaboration withDiverseCity Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival, where Humans of Kuala Lumpur is having their first ever Photostory Exhibition ‘Stories of Malaysia’. 

For more information, please visit: 

Do you have a story? Let us know here: https://forms.gle/ht4HsvbxgSgcKS5h8

(This post was first published on September 4th 2018)

 

“Last year we did a concert called ‘ Seketika Sebelum Merdeka’. We rearranged music from the pre-independence days…”

“A lot of it were Malay songs from Saloma and P.Ramlee times, songs like Kita Manis and Lenggang Mak Limah. I think the old and the young should enjoy more live music.

There’s a certain energy, excitement, with a live band performing. Energy is transferred from live musicians to the audience. It has a different feel to it. I think 8 out of 10 people who have attended events with live musicians can tell the difference from recorded music. 

So that’s who I am now, a musician-for-hire. I have a band, we play together, its called WVC. We have quite a number of albums already. 

And while my parents never pressured me to get a ‘real job’, my relatives did. They used to say, ‘you sure or not can make money?’ I would listen to them, but would continue doing my own thing, despite having studied accounting. 

I did a lot of soul searching and asked myself, is this the right thing to do? Did I make a mistake? 

I love playing music, the saxophone, I love making music with other people, I love performing in front of an audience. The more I performed, the more I got sucked in, not just music as a career, but also as a lifestyle and passion. That whole vibe wiped my doubts away. 

If I can make a living off of it – why not?

In the long run I just knew that this is the right thing, what I was meant to do. 

When I was young I just wanted to learn how to play saxophone. I just loved the sound of it. It attracted me to it. Eventually I got the chance to learn it and go for it. 

Growing up in Kajang there were not many people playing music so I played by listening to cassettes and radios. It wasn’t until college that I could connect to other musicians, through the early days of the Internet, where I started meeting other people outside of Kajang, and we would jam and make music together.

I don’t see myself as an artist per se. Me making music is just like anyone else choosing a profession. I wanted to do this, so I just did it. People who create art still have to find a way to make money, to continue making art. 

As professional performers, we have to play in a lot of different situations – corporate events, weddings or even small places. 

And ‘art’ doesn’t even come into the situation. We’re not thinking if this is artistic or not, but we still perform as artfully as possible. A lot of the work we do isn’t necessarily artistic, but it makes ends meet. 

Some gigs don’t necessarily make money, but I get the opportunity to be out there. If people want a saxophone player, they just called me up. It was a bit of a struggle initially, but things eventually snowballed and grew bigger. We still get to do what we like to do, which is play music.

In the crowd, there’s always someone listening. In my 18 years of playing, there’s always at least one or two people listening. They might be eating or talking, but one ear is listening. 

Even if it’s just for a few hours. When people go home and they feel good, and we somehow contributed to that, it’s nice. 

And that makes us, the musicians, happy”. 
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Julian Chan will be performing An Evening Of Jazz, at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC.) on 6th September 2018.

As part of the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (KLIAF) x @DiverseCity happening in the month of September, Humans of Kuala Lumpur will be featuring talented artists, musicians, actors, designers and sponsors that help make KLIAF a reality.

Humans of Kuala Lumpur (HOKL) will have its first ever PhotoStory exhibition titled ‘Stories from Malaysia’, showcasing portraits of people in Malaysia, alongside their real, personal and intimate stories. 

Located at Carcosa Seri Negara, HOKL PhotoStory exhibition is happening from 1st until 30th September 2018. Come to meet the people behind your favourite stories, learn storytelling from the HOKL team and enjoy art performances, while admiring the mesmerizing colonial architecture of our venue.

Photostory by Amalina Davis
Edited by Mushamir Mustafa

Do you have a story? Let us know here: https://forms.gle/ht4HsvbxgSgcKS5h8

 

(This post was first published on August 31st 2018)

 

“The music school I went to in Beijing, China trains solo musicians. My teacher would hit my hands to correct my mistakes and every little action is being scrutinized to its finest details…”

“They have very rigorous learning processes and I didn’t have the stamina to keep up with 8 hours of practice a day.

One cold, winter evening during Christmas, I had a 3 hour session with my teacher to prepare for auditions. That session felt like 3 full days. It’s even harder to practice during winter because of the freezing temperatures. It’s just too painful that I had to warm my hands near the heater. I broke down in tears at the end of the session.

And after that, I couldn’t get a cab to drive me home, because of the extreme weather. Crying, and desperate, I managed to get on those illegal cabs for a ride home. It was extremely dangerous to do so, but I had no choice.

Sometimes, I would look at my friends back home, that were enjoying themselves in their university days, and asked myself, ‘ why should I have to be here at all?’ 

At one point, I hated my harp so much and wanted nothing to do with it. There wasn’t anybody to motivate me, because all I had was myself. The audition into music school itself is one full year of hard work. Eventually, I realized that the level I wish to achieve doesn’t come in a day or two. It requires a lot of sacrifice to get there.

I embarked on this path right after high school and it has been eight years of training and countless nights of loneliness playing with the Chinese harp, also known as the ‘Guzheng’. 
I was not naturally gifted, nor were my parents musically inclined, so I had to work extremely hard to get into music school.

I have never wanted something so much in my life, so I kept on going.

Now that I’m back in Malaysia, I’m collaborating with people from different cultural and musical backgrounds. We know of their food and celebrations, but not of their culture, art and music. 

It is my personal mission to promote and share about the Chinese harp to Malaysia. If piano is considered the king of instruments in the West, then in the East, this privilege belongs to the Chinese harp. 

I would describe it like a marriage of beauty and strength – tender, yet with an explosive punch. The Chinese harp has always been portrayed as something feminine, like in the movie scenes of classical Chinese drama.

I want people to know that it is no longer the case. Today, it has grown into something versatile and capable of expressing modernity. 

There are a lot of different things to explore with the Chinese harp in Malaysia. We get the freedom to experiment because the community is open minded about it. You get to taste a little bit of everything as there is no right or wrong in music. 

Now, more than ever, I want to show how far the Chinese harp can go, in hopes that the younger generation will learn to appreciate it, and maybe learn it too.” 

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Sara Heng will be performing Xún, which explores different sounds of Guzheng, at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC.) on 9th September 2018. 

As part of the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (KLIAF) x DiverseCity happening in the month of September, Humans of Kuala Lumpur will be featuring talented artists, musicians, actors, designers and sponsors that help make KLIAF a reality. 

Humans of Kuala Lumpur (HOKL) will have its first ever PhotoStory exhibition titled ‘Stories from Malaysia’, showcasing portraits of people in Malaysia, alongside their real, personal and intimate stories. Located at Carcosa Seri Negara, HOKL PhotoStory exhibition is happening from 1st until 30th September 2018. Come to meet the people behind your favourite stories, learn storytelling from the HOKL team and enjoy art performances, while admiring the mesmerizing colonial architecture of our venue.

Photostory by Dao Hong
Edited by Amalina Davis and Mushamir Mustafa

Do you have a story? Let us know here: https://forms.gle/ht4HsvbxgSgcKS5h8

 

(This post was first published on August 28th 2018)