It was a quarter to three on a Thursday afternoon. A rather agreeable time to catch up with Dutch jazz diva Laura Fygi, who was back in town and holding court at a posh hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
Fygi was in her element as she posed for a photo shoot on the hotel balcony. With the afternoon sun streaming in through the window, the Dutch-Egyptian star was dressed for the occasion – a white summer blouse with zebra prints and fitting black pants.
With thick, jet-black hair flowing over her shoulders, the 61-year-old smiled as she settled down for this interview.
“How do you typically start your mornings?” went the ice-breaker question.
After a pregnant pause, she answered, “I start my morning with a lot of coffee. I always need some time to get started!” Immediately, Fygi burst into laughter, bringing a certain warmth to this interview.
“I also like to do crossword puzzles so that my brain starts working,” she added, her voice deep and husky, befitting a seasoned jazz singer.
Fygi once revealed in a TV interview that her favourite past time is gardening. Is she still at it?
“Gardening is a passion. It creates things. I like to create. As I live in a very tiny village in the middle of the woods, the only thing you hear are birds and it’s so relaxing. In a hectic world, this is like the Garden of Eden,” said Fygi, referring to her home in Hilversum, the Netherlands.
Out of curiousity we asked if she sings to her plants? Without any hesitation, Fygi replied, punctuating each word, “I never sing. I only sing on stage. I don’t sing when I’m at home. I don’t even sing in the shower! At home, I’m a wife and a mother”.
And it is this distinction between family and career, which gives her balance in life.
“I’m a wife and a mother and I have a singing career. Now, both of these should be at the same level. I wouldn’t want to be only a star and never home,” said Fygi, a mother of three.
“But I also wouldn’t want to be only a mother and a housewife. Balance is what you should find in your life and I found it.”
Born in Amsterdam to a Dutch father and an Eyptian mother, Fygi is truly an unstoppable force of nature.
After 25 years in the music industry, and still counting, it seems Fygi is not slowing down any time soon.
With 15 albums under her belt, including a Chinese record, Fygi is already in talks with Universal Music for her next album.
On the live front, she remains active and has tours lined up back home. Fygi was recently in Kuala Lumpur for a private show (Musical Harmony Gala) at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. The glitzy event was held on July 1 – the opening ceremony of the 11th BookFest @ Malaysia 2016 expo.
Fygi is no stranger to Malaysian jazz fans. The songbird had performed here many times over the years, the last one being her sensational concert hall performance – with the MPO Big Band – at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.
Last year, Universal Music released Laura Fygi 25th Anniversary Collection to celebrate her career as a solo artist.
The double album features 20 songs chosen by Fygi fans on one CD and 12 special bonus cuts on the other.
Some of the songs featured are Dream A Little Dream, Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, All I Ask Of You, I Need To Be In Love and One For My Baby.
Fygi was pleasantly surprised that Sabor A Mi, a song by Mexican composer and songwriter Álvaro Carrillo, was picked by her fans.
“It was the most voted song and it’s also my favourite song,” she said, smiling gleefully.
Fygi has not always flown solo. For nearly seven years (1984-1991), she was a member of popular Dutch girl group Centerfold. The band was a pop sensation in Europe and the ladies were known to dress in sexy lingerie during performances.
Fygi had her break in 1991 when major record label Mercury Records approached the young singer to record her solo album. Saying yes to the offer was arguably the best decision in Fygi’s life. Her Introducing Laura Fygi album (1991) – all jazz-inspired from start to finish – brought her new attention in the music industry.
Fygi’s lyrical touch to such classics as Good Morning Heartache, Willow Weep For Me, Girl Talk and Just One Of Those Things charmed many music lovers and even earned her an Edison Award – the Dutch equivalent of a Grammy (award) – that very same year.
Later on, her 1993 Bewitched album consolidated her success. Ambition wasn’t short in the Fygi camp.
She was also willing to tour and travel far and wide. Beyond Dutch shores, Fygi went on to expand her fanbase all over Europe. Asia too, especially Japan and China, has been important destination for her. Hers is a familiar name at the Java Jazz Festival series in Jakarta, while high-rollers at Resorts World Sentosa have also been entertained by Fygi.
In 2012, Fygi struck a record deal with Gold Typhoon, one of China’s largest record companies and went on to release her first Chinese-themed album. The album called Flower included four songs, which Fygi sung in Mandarin.
In fact, Fygi is a multi-lingual singer, able to sing in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Mandarin.
Talking about her Asian fanbase, Fygi points out that the fans in this part of the world are more reserved and respectful.
“Asians also love romantic songs and ballads more than the Europeans. The Europeans are more into swing,” she shared.
Fygi’s career also includes a one-time stint in the Broadway musical Victor/Victoria, based on the 1982 comedy musical starring Julie Andrews. Fygi played the lead Victoria Grant, a struggling singer who finds work as a male impersonator called Count Victor Grazinski.
Directed by Loretta Chen, the 2009 Singaporean staging was the Asian premiere of this Broadway production. It played for a month at the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore. Filipino actor Jake Macapagal played Fygi’s love interest King Marchan.
So would she take time out and do another musical? Her answer came as a surprise.
“Never again!” she mentioned, punching each word.
“I never do one thing twice. Never. Every album which I have done, there’s no one that looks or sounds like another. Everything is only once in my life. If I do something again, it’s always a second choice,” she explained.
She then says that she only took on the (musical) project because she had never done a musical before.
“It was a challenge for me. So I said yes but … three months of rehearsals! I don’t even rehearse when I go on stage. It took so long.”
Fygi, as you can tell, isn’t someone to tolerate repetition and routine.
“Every night was the same thing and you can’t be yourself in a musical. You have to play that part. I got bored and after three or four nights, I had it.
“Thank God it was only for a month,” she concluded.