Malaysian indie band Kaya started out as a jam. A couple of jam sessions, to be exact.
Childhood friends Emmanuel Joseph (rhythm guitar and lead vocals), David Harding (bass), Michael Eric Peris (lead guitar) and Matthew Ezra (drums) went to the same school – SMK La Salle Petaling Jaya – and the same church as well.
“It started with us basically jamming in Michael’s room after church,” said Harding during a recent interview at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya.
“We jammed at each others’ homes a lot and people started asking us to join competitions to see where we could go.
“Then we won a few, and that gave us opportunities to play at the places we won. Our first gig was at a bar in Publika, and we got paid RM175 a night. Per person. We were in college at the time, and we were getting money for it!”
Keyboardist Iad Iddi Omari (better known as Donnie Omar) started playing with the band in 2014 as a sessionist, before joining the band full time later. Since then, Kaya has been making a mark on the local gig scene.
They first realised that the band might actually go far when they got more requests to play shows.
“Almost every week since then we’ve had gigs, and more bars started asking us to play in their venue,” said Joseph.
“We knew we were doing something right as a band then,” Peris said.
“People came up to us and said they liked our energy. We’re not sure what they meant though, because it wasn’t intentional. We didn’t want to be too stiff, so we just let loose and decided to be ourselves. And people love that!”
Donnie added: “It’s not just about the music, but we also look like we are having fun, and there is a connection with people there.”
Kaya recently released its first studio album, On Toast (Kaya On Toast, geddit?), and the six songs in it reflect the musical influences of each member of the band, from the reggae-tinged So Right and the bluesy Light A Candle Up to the Rolling Stones-esque Be Soul.
“All of us listen to different music, from Beatles, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix to Bob Marley, The Specials and heavy metal,” said Peris.
“Since we all love so many different genres, we decided that each of us would suggest one song to jam, and we would try and play all these different hits as a band.”
Ezra said: “We are all self-taught musicians who learnt how to play along the way. So, when we were playing each other’s songs, we would learn something new each time.”
Although Joseph writes 95% of the lyrics, most of the band’s songs are created in a collaborative, spontaneous manner.
Peris explained: “We usually jam in the studio and come up with something, instead of sitting down just to write a song. Everyone gives feedback.
“All the songs are inspired by the covers we loved playing. If we find a nice beat that we like, we’d mimic it, and make it our own.”
“We try to find a groove that both a 17-year-old and a 70-year-old can layan,” Ezra added with a laugh.
The guys decided to name the band Kaya because of the various meanings the word has.
“Kaya can mean so many things. Our music is based on so many genres, so it reflects the diversity of the meaning of the word,” said Joseph.
“It could mean rich, it could mean the coconut spread you put on bread … all these things have positive meanings, and we wanted our band to have the same feeling, and to add a new meaning to the word Kaya!”
Now that the album is out, the band isn’t planning on taking a break anytime soon. In fact, the boys are already setting their eyes on bringing their music abroad.
“If we are already doing such a good job entertaining Malaysians, we think we can go on a bigger scale. We are definitely game for it!” Peris said.
“We don’t want to ever stop playing. We want to keep going, and go as big as we can go!” Harding concluded.