Eastside Story

Roger Wang performing at the
9th Johor Baru Arts Festival
Fans of the Johor Baru Arts Festival are familiar with Roger Wang as he has been featured not only in several of the JB Arts Festivals but also as one half of Double Take who performed in the MyKasih Foundation fund-raising show in Johor Baru recently. 

Sabah-born Wang is widely regarded as one of Malaysia’s most gifted solo acoustic guitarists with seven highly acclaimed albums.  When he was invited to perform in the 9th JB Arts Fest, he did better than just say, “Yes” because he also invited a few friends from East Malaysia to perform with him in a musical showcase entitled, Eastside Story.

On Sept 21, Roger Wang fans had a special treat in watching him perform again “live” as the Roger Wang Trio with Simon Lau on bass guitar and Peter Lau on drums.  The breezy feel of Wang’s acoustic melodies, recognised as stylistically his own, kept feet tapping and heads bopping to the lively rhythm.  Instrumental music lovers listened with bated breath, impressed with how his skillful fingers moved swiftly through the chords.

The Roger Wang Trio collaborating with Hezekiah Asim
who played a range of traditional ethnic musical instruments
Wang’s talent was recognised in 2007 when he was voted Sabah Outstanding Young Person of the Year in the category of Cultural & Artistic Achievements by JCI Kota Kinabalu.  He has performed in shows throughout Malaysia as well as abroad in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States of America and recently had a sold-out concert as Double Take with Mia Palencia at the prestigious Petronas Philharmonic Hall.  His composition, “Love Scale” gained worldwide popularity when Hong Kong superstar, Jacky Cheung, recorded a Cantonese version and won the coveted Top Ten Original Songs (International) and Best Overseas Interpretation Artist awards for Cheung. 

Hezekiah Asim played the sape while
his wife danced the Datun Julud
At the Eastside Story showcase, Wang introduced Hezekiah Asim, a renowned Sarawakian multi-instrumentalist, who wowed the audience with his skills in playing several traditional ethnic musical instruments like flutes, the sompoton (Borneo mouth organ) and sape (Borneo lute).  Asim proved to be a versatile musician, equally skilled in wind and stringed instruments, as he collaborated with modern musical instruments of the Roger Wang Trio in several pieces like, Save our Rainforests and Sape Paradise.

“I feel at home while I’m in JB,” said Asim when he overheard people speaking in Hokkien and explained that he is half-Hokkien Chinese.  He played a traditional Chinese wind instrument called a hulusi that has a gourd shape body joined to a short bamboo pipe and received loud applause when the audience recognised the tune made popular by the Wong Fei Hoong movie.  Then as he played traditional ethnic music on the sape, his wife gracefully performed the Datun Julud, a traditional dance of the Kenyah tribe.

Eastside Story featuring the Roger Wang Trio, Hezekiah Asim [2nd from Left],
Angelina Perete [4th from Left] and the Jade Sisters [Far Right]
The vocalists in Eastside Story were the Jade Sisters from Tamparuli, Sabah – Joan, Amy, Didi and Erika – but even though Erika could not come due to school exams, the guitar and ukulele-playing quartet-minus-one still presented beautiful vocal harmony in their own compositions, “Hot Chocolate”, “Alone in Seoul” and “Eggnog”.  Backed by the Roger Wang Trio, Angelina Perete enthralled the audience with her husky vocals as she performed popular jazz standards and “Butterfly Baby” a song she wrote for her children that debuted at number one on Hitz.fm’s Borneo English Chart Show in May 2011.  A showcase like the Eastside Story was an excellent platform to give the audience a glimpse of the talents and wealth of traditional music heritage in East Malaysia.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 26 September 2012

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