Miri International Jazz Festival : Day two

Event: Miri International Jazz Festival 2009
Venue: The Pavilion, ParkCity Everly Hotel
Date: May 9, 2009 (Saturday)

Being in my second jazz festival, I still find it hard to get used to seeing the media having normal conversations at the table with the musicians. I was always under the impression that musicians are a kind of celebrities that are unreachable. You know, the type that will only talk to you during press conferences and only when you ask questions that they like to answer.

So, it was nice to have breakfast with Mia Palencia, or lunch with Raphael Geronimo, or drinks with Pascal Seixas, exchanging pleasantries and making conversations and laughing at bad jokes.

At the ParkCity Everly Hotel’s restaurant, we were not media people nor musicians. We were just normal people, who happened to be at the same place and at the same time, sharing the same interest in music.

Friendships were formed too amongst the musicians. There was even a friendly football match between the Frenchmen and Australians that afternoon, and surprisingly enough, the Aussies won 3-1. Heh. Made you look at the French team in a whole new light, does it not?

That night, Dites 34 picked up where Alamode left off the previous night with their jazz rendition of traditional French folk music. Instilled in their songs were the typical kind of cheekiness I grew to love in Yann Tiersen’s songs.

Overheard @ MIJF: “Some girl came up and asked where’s that French guy with the typewriter.”

Although most of them were few with words, the members were quite amazing onstage. The rigid force of Quentin Biardeau’s alto sax and the languid flow of Guy Giuliano’s accordion harmonised well to the kind of folk French style that is lovable. Sebastien Janjou’s easygoing guitar licks and Adrien Chennebault’s quirky percussion, together with Pascal Seixas’ witty double bass contributed their part in the world music-ish sound of Dites 34 that made them stand out the way they did at MIJF.

As Giuliano had performed with Alamode the night before, likewise Spaccavento offered a part with the Frenchmen with his own saxophone jams.

Jeff Maluleke was this single entity sitting at the corner of the press conference room the day before, but he won the hearts of many media personnel instantly when, due to his lack of English, started singing in his own language. His voice was an orchestra by itself.

His band kicked off their set with the conventional kind of African Jazz/Reggae with the calming thuds of the congas. It was soothing and soulful, and halfway through the set, I thought to myself, “man, wouldn’t it be nice to have a joint right now”. Heh.

However, to me, his voice seemed to have been robbed of by his band. I thought he would have pulled off quit a show if he had just done his performance singing and beatboxing all by himself.

By the second half of his set, the Pavilion had filled up immensely as Maluleke delved into a more upbeat tempo. People were dancing and clapping along, singing in unison to the encore of ah-oh-ah-eh-ah-oh.

Up onstage, Maluleke was dancing around to his own music, enjoying the night as much as the audience was. Like it was his own full blown concert. By the time he was done, the crowd was cheering and whistling; it was probably the loudest encore at this year’s MIJF.

I took a little toilet break during the intermission. The out-of-order sign made me steered my way to the second floor, only to find Seixas  checking out the two sape players playing by the stairway. When I got out of the washroom, he was already sitting down with a sape in his arms, eager to get the tune and technicality right.

This was what comforted me: musicians being so passionate about their music they just want to create music with any instruments they can find, even though it is an instrument they are unfamiliar with.

To me, a true musician does not need an essay to explain what music is to them; just look in his eyes the way he falls in love with a new instrument, and how meticulously he would like to learn it. It speaks more than the thousands of words I can never begin to describe.

Overheard @ MIJF: “Raphael!!!! I love you!!!

When I first met Raphael Geronimo, he was all alone in the restaurant for a late lunch in the next table from mine, and I thought it was kind of cute when he said ‘terima kasih‘ to the waitress. I thought he was just a patron of MIJF until he mentioned that he was a performer.

Geronimo seemed pretty much a normal fellow offstage. His kind soul took him around for conversations with many people, and when bored at his own conference, he would doodle sketches on notepads discreetly. But when he was all dressed up and had tuned his timbales for the band’s set, he was very much a different person.

Overheard @ MIJF: “You know that conga player – from Rumba Calzada. Don’t you think he looks like, well – Mr Potato?”

Rumba Calzada was back for their second year at MIJF, after being voted most favourite band in 2008. They were even a nominee for the Juno Music Awards in Canada; that is saying something about the band, right?

Their salsa beats brought to the plate something different from the other bands featured at MIJF this year. Whether they were fast in tempo or slow in rhythm, everyone was dancing. Heck, even us media were going at it backstage until the organisers told us off. Heh. It could have been the tequila doing its works, but while they were up onstage, even the most prepped and uptight people in the room seemed to have let down their hair and ties and just went with it.

It was amazing.

This year, MIJF ended with a band – literally – with the 17-piece powerhouse from Singapore: Thomson Big Band.

Overheard @ MIJF: “No wonder the flight is full; the Thomson Big Band is with us!”

Saxophonists, trumpeters, percussionists and such crammed into the small stage and performed jazzy tunes that reminded you pretty much everything New York City is all about. They were probably the only band hitting straight for jazz.

It was grand and it was glamorous, and they got the crowd swaying to their sensual sax solos, and snapping their fingers to the ch-chi-cha-ch-chi-cha‘s of the percussion’s crash cymbals.

Overheard @ MIJF: “I bet they met up in the toilet earlier and came up with the jams with eye signals, and decided ‘hey, let’s not tell the audience and see them freak out.'”

A jazz festival would not be complete without a great jamming session with all the performers. Judging from the size of the bands for MIJF this year, it was a mighty mighty session indeed.

Neptune whipped out his shakuhachi, while Spaccavento his saxophone and Giuliano his accordion and Geronimo his timbales, Palencia and Maluleke their wonderful vocals… And when Bombay Baja went up onstage, it was bonkers.

Bombay Baja exited the same way they entered the night before for their set, leading a trail of audience behind them, as if to a wedding procession down the road. Now, this is how they should be performing. Not onstage blaring their horns at the audience while jumping around awkwardly, but at the lawn with the crowd surrounding them and dancing to their music. It was then they seemed more appealing than last night.

Overheard @ MIJF:“Jazz is the common language for people from different parts of the world, speaking in different tongues and living in different cultures.”

I had an awesome time there. Not only were the music good, the people were good too. Media, musicians and organisers included. It was like one big family, and I was glad I was a part of it with such interesting people.

The following morning, we all boarded the same plane with heavy hearts back to KL, while some would hop on the next planes back to their own countries. For a weekend, the world outside of Miri did not seem to matter – did not seem to exist – until that moment when we parted. Reality calls, alas. But I guess, that is what makes the memories fonder, no?


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6 Responses to “Miri International Jazz Festival : Day two”

  1. Sheena Says:

    I was there for the first MIJF, and I’ve missed going to it ever since. Thanks for writing this: Totally reminded me about the jamming session at the end, and yep, it sounds still as amazing as ever.

  2. Celeste Says:

    hey sheena, thanks for reading, and glad you liked it.
    yes, the jamming session was awesome. what made the festival all the better was the many good people i met there. :]

  3. =) Says:

    yea.. I thought i was the only one who thought the drummer look like Mr.Potato.. tehehe.. Nice blog, reminds me of the nice moment as a volunteer this Jazz Fez. it sure was a memorable one. =)

  4. jessbabe Says:

    I’m super uber jealous, was planning to go there for the weekend but Perth came in the way. I miss Jazz fest, the last round in Penang was so so only!

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