once in a while, a voice comes along that completely knocks you off. such is the lure of zee avi (formerly kokokaina) that many international labels got interested once they heard the voice of zee in her youtube videos. and who would imagine a young malaysia could pull off this kind of feat?

young zee is already gigging all over in US. really, artiste like zee is too good for malaysia; she needs overseas exposures and she deserves overseas success. and knowing the tendency of malaysians to overlook homegrown talents, her move (to overseas) is indeed a very smart one.

it is not difficult to understand why foreign labels were interested in zee. her voice reminds one of divas of past like billy holiday; her tone is oh-so-rich and honeyed; her phrasing and intonation belies her young age; there is so much honesty and more than a hint of insecurity and fragility in her voice. she certainly has more texture, more emotions and more depth than joanna wang and recent singers who tread along the same genre of easy-listening.

the music here is light-folk and whimsical, sometimes reflective, a bit dark but nothing too heavy. at 23, zee's has got plenty of depth in her compositions, indicating her influences and musical depth and knowledge. it is quite amazing that brushfire records allows zee to showcase all her original compositions instead of asking some composers to write for her. this spirits of originality and creative freedom is worth applauding.

my faves are "first of the gang to die" and malay number "kantoi". zee's voice has a way to bring you back to some place far away and some time far far back. the music is wistful, pensive and latently melancholic. she has her way of story telling. it is as if she has been through a lot in her life.

as a debut, it is certainly great but it nevertheless has room for improvement, notably in her compositions. with more life experiences, we are going to see a more mature zee in the near future.

as a malaysian, i am already proud of zee avi. you should too.

[background of zee avi]

Zee Avi (born Izyan Alirahman, also known as KokoKaina). Zee Avi is just 23 but she’s an old soul. A huge talent in a petite frame bringing a universal message from the unlikely birthplace of Borneo, an ancient island east of Malaysia which remains an untouched, natural paradise, an apt description of her songs.

How Avi came to record her debut album in L.A., the first joint release from Ian Montone’s Monotone Label and Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, is a true 21st century tale of the way the Internet has transformed the music business and shrunk the globe in the process.

Born in the tiny town of Miri in Sarawak on the island of Borneo, Zee grew up near the South China Sea in a liberal, encouraging household where her father owned an energy consultancy. “I was bred to be a lawyer,” she says, but music was in her blood. Her father’s father sang and played double-bass, accordion, violin and guitar in bands.

At age 12, Zee moved from Borneo to Kuala Lumpur where she has been based since. At 17, Zee started locking herself in a room for hours on end to learn to play guitar. Guitar took a back seat for 4 years while she was studying fashion design in London. When she returned to Kuala Lumpur, she picked the instrument back up and began writing songs and performing with a band.

Zee began recording her songs on a webcam and posting them on YouTube for a friend to hear. “I remember getting so excited when there was one new comment from some random person I didn’t know… One read ‘I’m lost for words - I shall favorite it and ponder if that’s OK,’ ” which was written by Kris Rowley, a U.K. singer-songwriter with a YouTube following under the name Zzzzzzzzap. He began posting her videos on his site, which began a viral snowball effect.

The day before her 22nd birthday, Zee posted what she intended to be “my last video,” a holiday song, “No Christmas for Me.” By the time she checked her e-mail Avi had almost 3,000 messages including a slew of label offers. One email came from Ian Montone, who had been shown the YouTube clip by Raconteurs’ drummer, Patrick Keeler, prompting Montone to get in touch and offer to release her music on the Monotone Label.

Before she knew it Zee was on a plane to L.A. to record her debut with producer Robert Carranza at Brushfire’s Solar Powered Plastic Plant. “No Christmas for Me” was then featured on the holiday charity album, This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday, Vol. 1.

With an eclectic pool of influences that range from such eccentrics as Cat Power, Regina Spektor, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Jolie Holland, Daniel Johnston and Chris Garneau, to jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, to classics like Velvet Underground and Led Zeppelin, this self-described “rock lover at heart” captures the dark, bittersweet qualities of romance with a crack left open for hope and optimism.

From the sensuous scat singing on “Honey Bee” to the sultry break-up song, “Is This the End,” recalling the existential longing of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is,” Zee is hopeful of finding love, but equally aware of lurking heartache.

The songs on Zee Avi’s debut are about an outsider’s desire to belong and the tentative hope of moving on, filled with regret and loss, but boasting an impish, worldly wise sensibility.

“I tend to be a loner,” she nods. ” ‘Honey Bee’ is about a romance between two nonconformists who are different from the rest of the hive, and are trying to avoid the pressure to be like everybody else.”

“Just You and Me,” the first song she wrote on ukulele, has a ‘20s New Orleans swing jazz vibe.

“I get my melodic feel from the simplicity of classic jazz, people singing what they felt with straightforward lyrics and not too many harmonies,” Zee says. “Just a lot of honesty. I’m a girl of simple pleasures.

The elemental acoustic guitar of “Story of…” is enhanced with an Eno-like ambience that add to its shimmering quality, while “Poppy” is autobiographical “with a little bit of poetic license” that looks back at the demise of a two-year relationship.

“My stuff is pretty dark,” Zee admits. “Most of my songs are about the reality side of romance, outlets to vent my emotions.”

While her live experience amounts to playing gigs in Kuala Lumpur, Zee appeared this January on From the Basement, the U.K. TV webcast/broadcast that has featured Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Damien Rice, the White Stripes and the Shins. From the Basement will also air on the U.S.‘s IFC Channel.

From Malaysia to Los Angeles, Zee Avi is enjoying the ride and ready to take on passengers. “I’m still pinching myself” she gushes. “My parents always told me it’s important to keep yourself grounded. I’m thankful, but at the same time, I just want to jump through the roof. It’s been a pretty amazing journey, getting to work with some really wonderful people, a blessing, really.”

Zee Avi’s Monotone/Brushfire Records debut returns that blessing…and then some.


Monotone Records is owned by Ian Montone, whose Monotone, Inc. manages the White Stripes, M.I.A., The Shins, Vampire Weekend, the Raconteurs, Against Me!, Cold War Kids, Crookers, among others.

Brushfire Records is owned by Jack Johnson and his manager Emmett Malloy and is home to artists like Rogue Wave, Matt Costa, Neil Halstead, Money Mark, G. Love, Mason Jennings, ALO and Zach Gill.

15 comments:

TSQ said...

Your style sensationalizes things too much. It is entertaining, but at the end it is just that, entertaining. To brush aside a singer by saying another has more of something is not only biased, but shallow in my opinion.

The part I can't figure out is why pick on Joanna Wang while there are others in the same genre? Do you have a personal agenda?

How would you feel if someone do similar comparison with your 2v1g?

I suppose you can hide behind your "this is my opinion, so what" argeument. You can also say that this is just a preview, but since this article is already out in the open and on cyberspace, it will continue to have its effect no matter what.

I hope you take this as constructive criticism.

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

tsq,

i know what i am talking about, dude.

i pick joanna as a comparison because the two are very very close in tone and expression. buy joanna's second album and listen to her bonus cd with her own compositions and compare with zee's and you would know what i mean.

if an artiste is not bold enough to face the internet (where anyone can say anything, damaging or constructive) then she is of no substance. i am sure joanna wang won't feel hurt if she reads my comment here. there are many who criticize 2v1g as well but it doesn't stop it from being recognized as a mini breakthru as far as this genre of music is concerned. music is very subjective. music producers are generally very opinionated people. i believe in my kind of music, therefore i produce it.

if you follow my blog, i also openly criticize cheer chen, my idol for the last ten years, for being complacent, and her fans from s'pore were outraged. i don't mince my words.

sensationalism is part of journalism. i rather be recognized as a controversial writer than someone who is neither here nor there.

i don't think joanna fans (among my readers) would stop buying her cds just because of what i said here.

anyway, i have yet to listen to zee's cd thoroughly before i come out with a full review.

thanks for your comments.

Sting - not the english man in New York! said...

Totally agree with ML. Both singer almost has identical voicing and prefers "fresh, honest & raw" of Zee Avi.

Sting - not the english man in New York! said...
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TSQ said...

ML,

I am not a fan of Joanna Wang nor Zee Avi, their success and record selling has no concern to me, though I do own a copy of your 2v1g. My question is on you.

You said:

"There are many who criticize 2v1g as well but it doesn't stop it from being recognized..."
I would like to read about these 2v1g criticisms, can you point out a few for me? I searched and could not find on the net. Please, only quote me criticisms that really name names, not innuendos or by way of implication please.

"sensationalism is part of journalism. i rather be recognized as a controversial writer..."
Thank you for admitting that you sensationalize. Any good reporter / writer who read this 'sensationalism is part of journalism' bit will flip. Like I say earlier, this showed your depth of character.

Sensationalism is gutter journalism. It has no place in honest and good reporting / writing. I am a long term reader of this blog, but if not for the other bloggers and some knowledgeable readers here, I would have long left. Honestly, the last few weeks with no posting from you was such a breeze.

In your hifi and music writings, your sensationalizing cheapen the subject and the message. It is like reading What Hi Fi! and liking it.

I have said all I needed to say and will desist from this thread.

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

tsq,

you sound like one boring-as-hell, no-lifer audiophile to me... sad, really.

why don't you just disappear from this blog? ;-)

Eddie said...

Mr Maggielurva,
I am a loyal reader of this blog, I think tsq has a number of good points, i think you should learn the culture of writing from liikc and felix, Not that i agree to all things they say, but they are very comfortable to read.

GCK said...
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S. Wufer said...
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S. Wufer said...
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S. Wufer said...

I read this blog on and off and i like its off-the-cuff, refreshing style of writing - it certainly is entertaining.

It also reflects the writer personality/choices since a blog may be a personal expression in cyberspace, which d.a.b. seems to be.

I feel the heated exchange that is taking shape here is due to 'expectations' but why should there be? Is it because after a while we develop a sense of expectation that blogs = traditional journalism which carries notions of ethics, objectivity etc..

Blogs are "self-published" accounts and hence I feel they are whatever the writer(s) want to make of it. Asking someone to change is certainly a "hot potato" to handle.

TSQ said...

ML has watered down and buried deep his earlier negative comparison to Joanna Wang by overwriting his initial post with this purportedly complete 'review', which rendered my earlier comments out of context for later readers. Since it was ML who invoke the word 'journalism' first, I'd say that this is totally sneaky 'journalism' behaviour for any individual. Again, it reflects on the character.

S. wufer,
If a blogger wants his/her posting to be one way traffic, then the comments feature can be turned off.
If it is on, that automatically says that the blogger invites 'opinion' and 'discussion'. Who is to say only positive, cheer leading comments are allowed? Since ML himself said in his reply to me that "if an artiste is not bold enough to face the internet (where anyone can say anything, damaging or constructive) then she is of no substance", he should live by his own adage too.

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

tsq,

you are one masochist of the highest order. i have been blogging for 4 years (DAB is 4 year-old) and you have been suffering (from reading my "sensationalistic" writing) for 4 years??? fyi, hifikaki and panzer have only been with me for less than 1 year. gee, you are one pathetic masochist.

i know how to write "standard articles" like a journalist (i am stringer for the star for many years) but for this blog, i choose to write in a lively and non-conventional style more suited to blogging. you certainly don't own a blog and don't understand what blogging is about. perhaps you should consult your son or younger siblings. if you want standard and boring articles, you can go elsewhere.

criticism i certainly can accept but if you are going to attack my character and integrity one more time, i am gonna ban you altogether from this blog, that much i can assure you.

yakubu said...

Hi,
Just need to know if the album available on regular cd outlet or where in particular to purchase one? thanks.

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

yakabu,
yes, it is available in most cd stores. i bought mine from victoria music, atria.