For the past year or so, Malaysian musician Hameer Zawawi has been on quite the epic musical journey.
He travelled solo to perform in Germany, Britain and the United States, recorded a new EP album in New York, formed a band, and starting this week, will be returning to Malaysia for a series of shows in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru, Kuching and Penang.
It all started after he released his debut solo album National Fantasy in January 2016.
“I spent most of that year performing in KL, trying to get as many shows as I could, but by the end of the year, I felt like things were slowing down. I wanted to do something different. So I decided to venture out of Malaysia for a change,” said the 27-year-old, who comes from a family of musicians.
His father is renowned Malaysian musician Dr Wan Zawawi, while his older brother Rendra is currently based in Los Angeles working as a composer (he recently did the soundtrack for OlaBola).
With the help of a friend in Germany, Hameer managed to schedule a few shows there, but things did not turn out as planned when he got to Germany.
“When I flew there in March 2017, I found out that the shows had been cancelled! I didn’t know what to do at first. That’s when I decided to take things into my own hands instead of relying on someone else,” he said.
So, he started making calls and sending out e-mails requesting for shows, and pushed himself to perform as much as possible.
“I tried to get as many shows as I could while I was there, going for open mic events, e-mailing people and organisers.
“To my surprise, the first night I did that, which was the night I arrived, I immediately got my first feature show! So from no shows when I arrived in Cologne, I got two shows the week after! I was literally hitting any shows I could go to!” he said.
“To my surprise, Germany was really receptive to my music, and I sold quite a few CDs in my time there!”
His 25 days in the German cities of Cologne, Berlin and Leipzig led to him getting shows in London, Brighton and Glasgow in Britain.
“After that, I went to Los Angeles to visit my brother, and there, I did the same thing. I had five shows in LA, and at the House Of Blues in Anaheim. Then from there, I went to New York, where someone I met in Glasgow helped me get a show,” he recalled.
New York was where everything started to come together really quickly for Hameer. “I focused all my time and resources in music, and tried not to be distracted. I didn’t even visit the Statue Of Liberty or do any touristy things!” he said with a laugh.
“I joined a random open mic competition there, which I won. After I came back to KL in May, I got a call from the organisers, Recording Artists Development (RAD), inviting me to join its two-month-long recording workshop and record an EP with them. And since I didn’t really have anything to do here in Malaysia, I just went for it!”
During the workshop, he recorded two songs for a three-song EP Plug Out The Machines and then decided to stay on in New York to start a band and finish recording the EP.
Hameer, who calls his music “Indie Theatrical-Folk” because people have described his performances to be like a theatre show, said that his band was formed thanks to a string of serendipitous situations. It currently consists of drummer Alex Johnson, bassist Jude Thomas and guitarist Emile Domise.
“When I got there in June, I lived in an Airbnb for two weeks while I looked for another place. The second week, I shared a bunk bed with Alex, who had just left his band in Florida, and we became good friends. So when I decided to start the band in August, I called him,” he said.
“Then I met Jude at an open mic, and we played together and we really gelled. Then in September, I was in another Airbnb, and my roommate at the time was Emile, an audio engineer who also played guitar.”
The band has really helped to revamp his sound, compared to just Hameer singing and playing acoustic guitar like he did on National Fantasy.
“From August to December, we were doing a mini tour from New York to Boston, promoting the EP,” he said. “When I came home and I showed my family videos of us performing in New York, they suggested that I bring the guys over to Malaysia and do a few shows here.
“So I talked to the guys, and they agreed to do it, and so it’s happening this month. We’re showcasing the band in KL, Johor Baru, Penang and Kuching. These are all places I have performed before and still have a fan base at. I used to live in Kuching for five years as a kid, and I recently met my old friends there and they also asked me to take the show to Kuching!”
According to him, leaving Malaysia to perform in other countries was the best thing he could have done for his musical career.
“I think Malaysia has a great music scene, but if you really want your musical career to grow, you have to venture out. Malaysia can be your second scene – your main music scene should be the world!” he said.