Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Walk for press freedom

Dear Friends,

I'm personally inviting you to join us in the walk for press freedom. I really hope you can make it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008
Time: 9:00am - 1:00pm
Dataran Merdeka
walk to National Press Club (NPC)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Democracy in Malaysia is evolving and maturing. Growth means change and growth often calls for one to leave behind zones of comfort and venture into unknown places. While some changes are slower to materialise, other changes that we can observe already taking place are truly refreshing.

One of those changes which will profoundly and positively impact democratic growth is the move towards Information Freedom. This initiative calls for ethics and accountability as much as it calls for freedom.

From 9 am on Sunday the 1st of June 2008, Malaysian journalists and their fellow citizens will, together, demonstrate their keen desire for Media Freedom by taking a symbolic Walk at Dataran Merdeka.

To avoid problems with security laws, there will be NO PUBLIC GATHERING. Instead, participants are being asked to arrive on their own in ones and twos, show their respect to the National Flag at the Dataran, and then proceed immediately to the National Press Club which is just around the corner Those who wish to do so are invited to wear something yellow, a reflection that this is a People's Activity.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The XLive Festival

X Marks The Spot

I was seated next to Patrick Teoh at the recent Bloggers United Malaysia 2008 meeting when he remarked that my blog had taken on a rather serious tone nowadays. “Where are all your trademark Chinawimmen pictures?” He growled.

Well, I can’t go round pissing Patrick off now can I? So here are some hastily taken shots.

all images by Johan Nasir

With the festival site opening much later than advertised, XLive took a little time to warm up. But, the reward was a rocking party that carried on into the wee hours of the morning, 4:00 am to be exact.

XLive did experience some teething problems but then again which new festival doesn’t? With the weather holding out nicely and the crowd in good spirits, an excellent time was had by the 15,000 partygoers who made the effort to attend.

the always gorgeous April Kuan

Organised by Pervert Music and Xpax Celcom, the Genting Outdoor Theme Park was divided into three open-air arenas, the XLive Main Stage, XL-TRONIC and XLR8. Each arena saw international, regional and local artists, deejays and live acts sharing the stage.

Besides being the first outdoor music festival to be held at Genting since 2004, XLive festival was also historical in that it was the first time that a music event of such magnitude was held in its outdoor theme park.

you'd look stoned too, if you had actress and tv host Maznah Zulkipli next to you

The XLive Main Stage located at The Avenue of the Stars, was the place to hang with the irresistible Missy Elliot promising a distinct hip-hop and R ’n’B flavour.

Missy Elliott (born Melissa Arnette Elliott on July 1, 1971), is a five-time Grammy Award-winning American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. With record sales of 7.6 million in the US, she is the only female rapper to have six platinum albums, including one double platinum plaque.

sweet sweet Shanice Leong of New Man magazine

Elliott is known for a series of hits and diverse music videos including "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)", "Hot Boyz", "Get Ur Freak On", "One Minute Man", "Work It", "Gossip Folks", "Pass That Dutch", "Lose Control" and "Ching-a-Ling." In addition, Elliott has worked extensively as a songwriter and producer for other artists, both alone and with her producer and childhood friend Timbaland.

Elliott's songwriting and production credits include work for a number of other female artists, among them Aaliyah, Monica, Destiny's Child, Mýa, Whitney Houston, Trina, Nicole Wray, Fantasia, Ciara, Raven Symone, Keyshia Cole, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Lil' Mo.

I'm done captioning pictures - read the story, dammit!

The energy-sapping wait for her punctuated by listening to trippy music instantly vanished the minute Elliot made her attention-grabbing appearance on stage sporting an 80s fringe bob hair do and decked out in regulation bling, sports wear and black hoodie.

Suddenly appearing from behind a red curtain carried on stage atop a covered sedan chair, the quirky performer wasted no time in working the crowd with mischievous glee, all while executing her precision rhymes with effortless ease.

As subtle as a sledgehammer, her live act combined all the thrills and adrenaline rush of a slickly choreographed rap party with elements of magic, comedy, theatre, music and dance making for an aural and visual extravaganza.

Her dancers busting moves everywhere on stage, illusionists, plenty of audience interaction, deafening pyrotechnics, confetti, fire sticks, props, costume changes all within the opening few songs!

Her in-your-face approach proved hugely popular with the audience as they turned the The Arena of the Stars into a heaving mass of grooving bodies. Elliott stuck to her hits, so we got infectiously catchy reworked versions of Work It, Get Ur Freak On and Pass The Dutch.

At regular intervals, her deejay ground the music to a halt, allowing Elliott to take centerstage and indulge in some audience antics.

Taking off her snazzy, blinged out sneakers she offered them as a prize for the audience member who could jump the highest managing to conjure up some wild scenes on the dance floor, although in the end she only threw a sweat soaked towel into the crowd.

There were plenty of sonic thrills to be had over at the XLR8 stage where progressive, experimental and edgy dance music was very much the order of the day and the vibe in the crowd extremely cordial, to say the least.

Over at the XL-TRONIC stage trance guru DJ Yoji seemed to have things well in control with his hypnotic beat. Hello thumping bass!

The only downside was that when the party ended, the festival areas were heavily strewn with litter. Tsk tsk Malaysians! When will you ever learn?


Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Spanker Wishes Everyone A Happy Wesak

May All Sentient Beings Achieve Enlightenment

Journey - Bondage to Freedom

Another beautiful musical effort for the peace initiative. Lawyer M V Nathan recruited some friends to come up with Journey, a three-in-one album which he funded himself. It has two CDs and one DVD. The first CD features ten songs, nine of which are taken from the “Buddhist Hymns” book compiled by Datuk Dr Victor Wee. The tenth song, “Chief”, written by Nathan, is a moving tribute to his late Chief, Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda Nayaka Maha Thera, who passed away on August 31st, 2006.

Most of the singers featured in the first CD are experienced singers and musicians, while the sound was engineered by Greg Henderson. The second CD is a recital of the “Maha Mangala Sutta” (Sutta of the Highest Blessings) by Venerable K. Nanda, who unhesitatingly said yes to Nathan’s invitation and flew from the US to record the Maha Mangala Sutta even though he was not feeling well at the time of recording.

The DVD is a bonus feature on this album. It is a video portrayal of the late Chief, Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda, as a personal tribute from Nathan, who regards Chief as his mentor and spiritual teacher. As Nathan says, many people in the Buddhist community would have felt a glaring vacuum left by their late Chief.

Proceeds from the sales of the album will go to the respective temples and buddhist centres that sell the album.


Malaysian Artistes For Unity - Latest Updates

Click on the title for the latest updates

free download

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Penang World Music Festival 2008

Click on the title for an exciting 4 part report on the Penang World Music Festival.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Survey Results

The Spanker has been consistently scooping the news this past two weeks. Again, a few days after my survey, comes a café latte chat from the Star on why the arts scene here is losing its shine. Click on the title to read it.

While we have to contend with barely-known up-and-coming acts, veteran artistes who are past their prime and celebrity impersonators, the republic has been enjoying an endless stream of top-rate performances.

Renowned jazz entertainer Jamie Cullum performed in a sell-out concert. Acclaimed Britpop group Coldplay and multi-award-winning British "bad boy of pop" Robbie Williams rocked Singaporeans for the second time after his last visit three years ago.

As more and more artistes continue to skip our shores for more lucrative deals in Singapore, Malaysia is fast becoming the dumping ground for second-rate gigs, including theatre performances.

Here are some of the responses to my survey. Please note that some replies have been edited for brevity. A few respondents have opted to be quoted only on condition of anonymity.

Joseph Gonzales, head of dance at Aswara, the National Arts, Culture and Heritage Academy (Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan) - The structures now are too loosely managed. The government has the money, but everything is ad hoc, at the last moment, you don’t build things just because ministers change. Singapore has created a structure that is not dependent on changing political powers. They have a National Arts Council, youth and school programmes, competitions, arts housing, performance subsidies ... everything. We can learn a lot from them.

Mavin Khoo, a Malaysian renowned for Indian classical dance, (now based in Britain) doesn’t get RM200,000 a year because he didn’t win a gold medal somewhere. Yet what he has done for the Malaysian performing arts is exactly what Shalin Zulkifli has done for bowling or what Nicol David has done for squash.

Similarly, artists like Lee Swee Keong or Hands Percussion have done wonderful things internationally, yet on a national level, we don’t give them the recognition that we give sports people.

Datuk Zahim Al-Bakri, theatre actor, director and artistic director of Dramalab and the upcoming PJ Live Arts - In Singapore, they have the systems in place, the efficiency, the infrastructure, very savvy marketing.

Pang Khee Teik, arts programme director at the Annexe, Central Market, KL - The young generation of audiences is not content just to watch, they want to interact and participate and have a role in shaping that collective voice, they are blogging like nobody’s business. Hopefully, the political structures will support that instead of fearing it.

The Malaysian government should make it easier for arts organisations to attain tax-exempt status. That would be a milestone for the arts here.

Hassan Peter Brown, musician and nurturer of young talent - Just one thought: begging to disagree with you. We have a lot of good acts coming here. What about the Sunburst Festival and the one before that (can't remember it's name but there was Whitney Houston and a few other acts like John Legend who was a multi grammy award winner. Celine Dion was here and Pussycat Dolls. But you mean acts like - well Classic Rock acts. It would be nice if REM for example came here and Red Hot Chilly Peppers but probably the type of people who would want to come simply could not afford the tickets. The tickets for the Sunburst Fest were far more than Mar and I could afford. I went to the Rentak Asia fest a few years ago but it was so badly organised that we left before the big three guitarists came on. We only went because someone gave us free tickets and I wanted to see Jethro Tull.

This brings me to the point: Malaysians don't hear of many of the great acts because they are not educated, because the acts are not played on the radio or TV. Most Malaysians who have enough money only like smoltzy music like Gwen Stephanie, Beyonce Knowles, Mariah Carey or canto-pop acts from Taiwan and Hong Kong. These last fill a stadium no trouble at all. But we had Incubus recently and Linkin Park.

But when Mac from Soundscape brought in Chinese bands from all over the region and it was free courtesy of Tiger Beer hardly anyone turned up. But NOFX filled RUUMS - 1,000 dudes paid RM50 was it to see this band which I had never heard of until I was given a free entry by Saiful who organised it

Ms Jun-Lin Yeoh, Artistic Director of the Genting International Jazz Festival and the Penang World Music Festival - I would be interested to know if it was cheaper from the band's management point of view, to come into Malaysia than Singapore? I don't know enough of the bottom line figures to be able to comment.t's not just fees, hotel rooms, food, etc

There might be other things involved - permit fees, immigration fees, etc. And also, there might be red tape procedures involved? CID checks on every member of band entourage coming in? Police permits? And I understand there needs to be permission granted from government departments as well?
All this takes time and paperwork and legwork, etc

Again - I don't know what the bottom line requirements are for Singapore arrangements so I have no comparison. Just trying to think from the band's point of view when they are approached or they approach promoters, to see venues to include in their shows. Time factor is also important - to be able to get quick responses and answers and a firm yes or no. When a band is trying to fix destinations and schedules and budgets, it is hard to "hang on" till further notice to see if permission for them to perform will or will not be given. It might not be just a one show over here. Chances are, it is part of a chain of performances in the region, where one cancellation might affect the rest of the project. This again, might be a factor.

Wan, lead singer of local award winning band SWV
We scare a lot of these major international acts because of our many "do's" and "dont's". Music is art and art must be allowed to express itself for it to maintain it's purity and innocence. I'm so tired of having has-beens perform in our country i.e Englebert Humperdink and what's the name of that guy who sang "tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree" it's pathetic! The last big act to perform here was probably Celine Dion and let's face it, she ain't that big a deal.

Why couldn't "The Police" play in Bulit Jalil instead of Singapore? I am sure we could fill all 80,000 seats of that magnificent stadium. It's more sad than anything to think of the impression these fantastic musicians have of our beloved country when the powers to be are the one's who are sapuing "arang" on our collective faces. Are the sponsors spineless? Are the politicians righteous? Go figure...i can't make sense of it. I remember going to Singapore about 3 years ago to watch TOTO and thinking to myself "why aren't these guys in my country and rocking my fellow Malaysians out . God knows, we definitely know how to have a good time compared to our southern neighbours.

Anonymous -
1) USD Cost vs Currency Exchange vs Singapore.
2) Sponsors - limited pool of money to make it viable for many acts to come.
3) Regulations - foreign artistes view Malaysia as backward, regressive
entertainment policies & ridiculous censorship decisions.
4) Religion - Same reason as above. Sensitive issues and compromising on
artistes show production.
5) Ticket Affordability - Reason 1 & 2 affect the prices charged by promoters.

Anonymous 2
Un-Islamic to support Chelsea? So, a coalition of 21 Muslim groups in Malaysia is protesting a visit by the Chelsea football club from London. Reason: the Chelsea manager and a player are Israelis. The top English club is playing Malaysia on July 29.

How do you expect western groups to ever want to play in Malaysia?

Anonymous 3
The entertainment tax here is a lot higher than our brothers across selat Johor. thus hiking up tix prices which in turn makes it less affordable to the general public. The expats with higher disposable income also make concerts more affordable to them.

Anyway how many sell out concerts have we had here ??? last i heard Sting was the only accurate sell out. Not sure how Celine Dion did. Most times concert promoters end up giving away many tix to their sponsors who don’t really give a flying fu*k thus the crowd in front/VIP section is dead and unenthusiastic.

Crappy concert venues dont help - damn I don’t want to see an act like Celine Dion at bloody Stadium Negara - parking sucks, toilets are older than my parents - scary

Doesnt help when album sales have taken such a beating that Malaysia isn’t on the range for big stars to consider.

Big acts want BIG money - concert promoters need big sponsors, many concert promoters screw the promotions part of a concert - thus it snowballs into insufficient publicity, bad organization, upsetting the sponsors who later don’t want to do other shows.

Our government policies also make it real difficult as big acts don’t really want to be told what they can and cannot do.

Dani'el Kannan, CEO, Covenant Artistes Management - your question, seems to be a little outdated ? perhaps you should rephrase it to " when will Malaysians rock regularly & consistently, and be in the "world map" of international touring artists". The fact remains, we Malaysians have rocked to : Sting / Eric Clapton / Michael Jackson / George Benson / Al Jarreau / Toto / Deep Purple / Kool & the gang / Earth Wind & Fire to name a few.

But in my humble opinion, I feel that, once all our people in charge realise that we are just another country in the whole world landscape of the 200 odd countries, as recognised by the United Nations Charter, that if we can be really "warm", "friendly" and "welcoming" to all these foreign artists, while maintaining our moral and cultural guidelines, without being too rigid, then we will probably see the bigger picture.

May I state one case in point, you may verify it with Razlan of Pineapple Concerts, one of our leading Concert Promoters. Now Razlan was about to bring BEYONCE to our shores, but from what i heard, the "authorities" wanted Beyonce to "tone down" her show, cover up and so on and so forth, that would mean Beyonce has to restyle her entire wardrobe, while on tour, just to suit Malaysia, and so she said, thank you but no thanks and went on to do the show in Jakarta skipping Malaysia.

These artists work really hard for months preparing their whole show, then take it on tour, you have seen on most entertainment channels, and now you have a chance to see it live, and they do want to give you good value for your money, so if the respective authorities feel that they can put up with it okay, otherwise thank you and lets move on, the artist is already probably on tour signed on for a certain number of cities, around the world, opting out of one like Malaysia is no problem, there are plenty more fishes in the sea.

We are very happy with our authorities, who act to be our "unappointed" moral guardians and gate keepers, we wonder now with the internet and Malaysians being more savvy, albeit there still exists, some people in authority who are " pre historic mentally" in nature.

Ahmad Idham Omar, CEO 8TV - I think the bigger problem is that we do not encourage our promoters more. We should give grants, or support the concert industry, to ensure the vibrancy of our concert circuit. I really think it’s not because of cheaper logistic costs, but due to the higher profits they can make - is the reason why Singaporean promoters work really hard to bring acts over.

Yeng Gi Entertainment executive director and Jojo Entertainment project director Cynthia Chen - It all boils down to ringgit and sen. Singapore promoters can pay more. The Singaporeans always have the upper hand in the "bidding war" to bring in international performers. Malaysian promoters have to pay various taxes to hold concerts, which ultimately eat into their income.

There’s the entertainment tax (for international concerts), ticket tax, venue tax and artistes’ withholding tax, as well as copyright fees to Music Authors’ Copyright Protection (MACP) Berhad. In total, up to 40 per cent of the ticket price goes to paying various taxes.

On top of that, we have to go through the hassle of obtaining work permits for the performers. When it’s time to decide on ticket price, we have no choice but to take all these costs into account. But then, there’s only so much we can charge the Malaysian audience as they’re not willing to spend too much on concert tickets.

In Singapore, concert tickets cost less because the audience only needs to pay the value-added tax (VAT) on top of the ticket price. Singapore promoters don’t need to apply for work permits for the artistes.

I urge the Government to review the tax requirement for international concerts, as show-business is not a frivolous industry; it has a huge potential to promote tourism. Sponsorship for international concerts is another uncertainty.

A lot of potential sponsors want only big names — those who have sold millions of albums and are popular among youngsters. They also prefer artistes who are not too risque, who would respect the country’s cultural sensitivities.

It used to be easier when sponsorship from tobacco companies was allowed, because they came in with a lot of cash. Now, most local promoters rely on telecommunications companies, but their contributions are mainly for advertising and promotions.

Razlan Razali, Chairman of Pineapple Concerts Sdn Bhd - price tags on international stars had increased significantly over the last two years. If the price tag is above US$250,000 (RM920,000) it means that we won’t be able to make a profit unless it’s backed by a huge corporation.

Except for Richie and Incubus, the other shows I brought in didn’t make money.
Promoters who brought in big names including acclaimed British singer/songwriter Sting, pop-classical crossover singer Sarah Brightman, rock band Hoobastank, and rhythm & blues vocalist Alicia Keys — were still recovering from their losses.

Local promoters could also be lying low at present in anticipation of a new ruling on entertainment tax. We were told the tax would be fixed at five per cent. It was supposed to take effect last year but so far nothing has happened. That’s why most promoters are reluctant to bring in shows at the current tax rate of 25 per cent.

The regional promoters seem to think we won’t sign up big names because they are too expensive. Fees for stars such as Robbie Williams, Billy Joel and Elton John are between US$500,000 and US$1,500,000.

Neil Thomson, Managing Director of Bec-Tero Entertainment - it was never a "premeditated decision" to leave Malaysia out when planning concerts. We have to look at several determining factors such as the high entertainment duties, the availability of the artistes, and the number of shows they can perform during a tour.

Some artistes such as 50 Cent (who performed in Bangkok) are not appropriate for the Malaysian market, because of the overt sexuality of the rapper’s lyrics.

However, we are developing a new partnership with a local promoter to bring more shows into Malaysia — those with strong family content like Disney Live! High School Musical, Winnie the Pooh and concerts by top international artistes.

In the meantime, ponder the imponderable – a Malaysian artiste releasing a worldwide album from the USA, produced by LA’s finest and then going on to do an 80 country tour. Impossible? Think again. Like I said, watch this space for breaking news.