animals strike curious poses

April 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

One of the “perks” of being born the youngest in a family of five, nine years separating me from my sister, the fourth child, and fifteen separating me from my eldest brother, is that I had immediate access to all kinds of “age-inappropriate” pop culture from, well, birth.

I didn’t quite get “When Doves Cry” lyrically when I first heard it around the age of five or so, of course, but I liked the melody. Or maybe I was a genius and knew it well enough for what it is—a perfectly self-contained pop song. You don’t need words or cognitive development to groove to a good beat. Do you?

By the time I was in my pre-teens and this song had been firmly established in my personal canon as one of those songs, I still couldn’t quite grasp what it was saying about sexual relationships—although I knew it was about that. Sweat! Bodies! Kisses! But then there were the birds, and that confused me. In retrospect, I see that confusion can sometimes be a good thing. I took it literally to mean that maybe humans and birds copulated in courtyards and I don’t know what effect that had on me in the long run. Did it help to make me a more imaginative person, a weirdo who was willing to sit down with weirdness for a bit, to see what it was about, and didn’t automatically judge? My wishful thinking is that maybe it did, a little bit. It was a strange and captivating fairy tale, and in the tradition of the best kind of fairy tales, menacing and scary as adult emotions and sexuality are likely to be to someone aged ten or so.

But mainly as a child who didn’t have words to articulate what it’s like to be in a family—this screaming family, in particular—what it’s like to explore the dark recesses of all those feelings and the way in which your father and mother loomed in front of you, flawed and impossible, minor gods you couldn’t quite conquer, I could definitely get something out of

“Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other
This is what it sounds like when doves cry”

I hadn’t heard that in a pop song before. At ten, it seemed astonishing to me that Prince, too, had my father and my mother. As I grew up—and came to terms with the fact that Prince was not a sibling—I realised it summed up, in a few perfect lines, the legacy of your parents’ union. How, if you grew up with your parents, it is likely to play out again and again in the “I” and the “you” of every relationship you will have, in different registers.

A nightmare, in many ways. Trust Prince, the poet, to have made it sound so good.

Review of Sonic Multiplicities

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

In yet another instance of Shameful Neglect of the Blog, I share with you a review of Sonic Multiplicities: Hong Kong Pop and the Global Circulation of Sound and Image by Yiu Fai Chow and Jeroen de Kloet that came out in Pop Matters a month ago. A whole month!

Why have I been slacking off on self-promotion? I don’t know. I’ve been away, travelling in Sri Lanka, writing fragments in my notebook, fragments in Microsoft Word (do MS Word users still publicly admit to using MS Word?) and staring into my dogs’ eyes in an attempt to find the answer(s) to various hard questions. No answers are forthcoming, but one of my dogs does like to nibble on my chin and nose–perhaps that should be enough for now.

I’m going to do a revolutionary new thing and post the entire review here, below.


When did Hong Kong popular music die? Theories abound as to the death of Hong Kong pop songs delivered in the local language of Cantonese, or Cantopop. Some say it died when Hong Kong was handed over by the British to the Beijing authorities in 1997. Others say that it died along with its two international superstars, Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui, in 2003.

Either way, facts and especially figures are marshalled up in defence of this death, with decreasing record sales being the primary means of assessing the pop music’s industry ill-health. If the industry isn’t making money, or as much money as it used to, then it’s clear that something is ailing the Hong Kong pop music industry. The industry cannot imagine that Cantopop continues to live on in various different forms and places: as karaoke, for one, or on the internet, for another.

Sonic Multiplicities: Hong Kong Pop and the Global Circulation of Sound and Image enters into the discussion as a sort of corrective. Jointly authored by Yiu Fai Chow, assistant professor in Hong Kong Baptist University’s department of Humanities and Creative writing and songwriter of Chinese pop songs, and Jeroen de Kloet, a professor in globalisation studies at the University of Amsterdam and author of China with a Cut, Sonic Multiplicities is deeply immersed in theories and techniques of cultural studies as it sets out to look at (and listen to) the multiple ways in which Cantopop has proliferated into new and different forms in late capitalism.

The issues of Chineseness and Chinese national identity is the spectre that haunts Hong Kong pop culture, and Chow and de Kloet are interested in troubling or resisting conventional “rise of China” narratives that present a stable and uniform history and Chinese subject. With Hong Kong’s colonial legacy as the geopolitical starting point, the first chapter of Sonic Multiplicities is a combination of theory and autobiography that sees Chow speak on a political and personal level about the “politics of Chineseness” through articulations on nationalistic songs, or folk ballads known as minzu gequ.

The autobiographical “I” in this chapter is refreshing in an academic book, and Chow’s struggle with notions of Chineseness growing up as a young boy Hong Kong, and later while living in the Netherlands, is reflected through the changing political and social mores of the ‘90s when, as Chow explains, “the Chinese Communist Party replaced its legitimizing ideology from communism to a market-driven nationalism”. Chow’s analysis of how Chineseness is performed in nationalist songs is undercut by his own ambivalence in having written songs meant to serve as nationalist propaganda and his attempts, within that particular framework, to subvert and discreetly undermine accepted, conventional narratives with his lyrics. How are newly (re)nationalised subjects allowed to dream of a nation, or a better nation?

“For the Hong Kongers at the time of imminent changes, we willed ourselves to be brave, to be Chinese, to become one with tens of thousands of those who at least looked like us. But it is not easy… It necessitates a logic of empowerment by conjuring up an enemy, the other… It also necessitates a submission of the part of us alien to the whole, the part of the city alien to the nation, the part of the future alien to the past.”

To be of a nation but not of it is a theme that resounds over and over again throughout the book, and in their sensitive and generous assessment of the politics and cultures of fandom, the authors aim to show readers how “the fans” exercise their agency in their consumption of pop music and their engagement with, and celebration of, celebrities. In this sense, by focusing on two “local” celebrities from the Netherlands and Hong Kong, Marco Borsato and Leon Lai, Chow and de Kloet shift the pop cultural focus away from the US and onto what is truly a global sphere, although they recognise the hegemony that operates within “global pop culture”, where North American pop stars are often claimed as “international stars” while Asian pop stars are rarely so—even when they are truly international, as was the case with Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung. In this sense, “whose international” seems to the concern here—whose cultural production is centred and considered “global”?

One of the more intriguing chapters focuses on sex and morality in Hong Kong and Chinese pop culture by way of the Edison Chen scandal. Far from adopting simple and reductive positions that sees the scandal as either bad (yet another spectacle!) or good (sex is healthy and we should enjoy it!), the authors interrogate the questions of morality that were mirrored in the media coverage of the scandal, particularly in how the subjects involved in the scandal immediately sought to control their reputation and image along conventional binaries of proper male and female behaviour.

Edison Chen, the sole male actor, sought refuge in cringe-worthy pleas and what the authors term “extreme moralism”, even announcing at one point that he will need to “step away from the Hong Kong entertainment industry… to heal myself, and search my soul”, in addition to performing the role of the moral, law-abiding citizen by publicly promising to assist the police in ongoing investigations. As the authors point out, the mediatised nature of the public spectacle demands the so-called salacious or transgressive act for collective consumption and, following Rene Girard, also demands a public scapegoat.

Meanwhile, with the women involved automatically framed as victims, the female stars in Chen’s videos had to take another, culturally proscribed route: that of repentance with a feminine/maternal slant, as in the case of Cecilia Cheung, who said “I have to stand up for the sake of my son.” The authors ensuing discussion of spectacle and conspicuous consumption—as evidenced by Edison Chen “bouncing back” from this scandal by throwing himself into his fashion business, and by co-opting the scandal for an art show—and its connection to “mediatized moral panics”, which, by way of Stuart Hall’s arguments in Policing the Crisis, act as “vehicles for the transmission of dominant ideologies.” The more scandalised we are, it would appear, the more things stay the same.

If there is a problem in Sonic Multiplicities, it’s that its ethnographic approach produces a rather shaky foundation on which the authors juggle multiple concepts and theories, going as they do from Rey Chow to Theodor Adorno, back to Guy Debord, then to Fredric Jameson. While discussions are deep-rooted and show an inclination to resist pat conclusions and easy assumptions, Sonic Multiplicities suffers from a less-than-rigorous consideration of political economy, as in the chapter on Beijing’s Olympic ceremony and the production and interpellation of national subjects in spectacles of global sporting events.

In discussing Soviet and Chinese authoritarian communism, the authors rightfully resist dominant narratives in liberal democracies that tend to depict “the masses” in these countries as totally docile and utterly subject to control—being away from the local particularities and nuances, these narratives often miss out, or simply can’t see, the necessarily discreet or prudent forms of resistance. But while they discuss the performative aspects of nationalist songs and speeches, the authors neglect to tease out the implications of a kind of performative Communism as espoused by China’s main party, even while market reforms put into place by Deng Xiaoping since the late ‘70s have had everything to do with capitalism. In this sense, the authors missed out on an opportunity to interrogate China’s official communist position against its increasingly capitalist reforms. While the authors state that “performative contestations” of the spectacle is not something unique to China, they neglect to draw connections between performativity and late capitalism and continued Western political and cultural hegemony in the global pop culture marketplace.

However, Sonic Multiplicities is an intriguing study of pop culture that doesn’t take North America as its starting point and yet does not avoid analysis of political or cultural forms of dominance that affect and, indeed, produce these forms of “globalised” pop commodities. The authors are particularly attentive to the formation and production of both the national and diasporic subject, consistently grounding these subjects in temporal and spatial circumstances, especially or even when these circumstances are stable, shifting, or ambivalent. It manages to trouble notions of a radical or emancipatory potential in pop culture without demeaning either the cultural workers or the consumers—indeed, recognising that subjects and producers of popular culture using the internet as a platform are most often both.

Hong Kong pop is not dead, but it has transformed, mutated, and altered, and the authors want to encourage people to see, listen, and think in new and altered ways.

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Who run this motha?

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I watched Beyonce’s ‘Run the World (Girls)’ video yesterday, and it reminded me of Sucker Punch[i], for some reason. These are some scattered thoughts:

Girls who run the world must be ready to seduce men and / or perform for them.

[Interestingly enough, exactly like the girls in Sucker Punch who do not run the world – even the one they inhabit.]

The writhing spectacle of Female will temporarily blindside heterosexual men brandishing weapons.

Presumably, in that space between heterosexual men’s [desire for Female] and [inattention to the larger world] there is a moment for girls to run the world.

[Because it is men who run the world by default?]

But what if she were wearing sweatpants?

Between seduction and [in]attention. Precisely like how the pig-tailed, vacant-faced Babydoll (played by Emily Browning) in Sucker Punch gets men to stop for a few minutes. Stop raping. Stop controlling. Stop killing. Stop exerting power. She moves her body for them to stop. The performance is hypnotic and it stops heterosexual men in their tracks. Literally.

Yet in Sucker Punch the audience doesn’t see Babydoll move her body in a seduction spectacle, The Dance. Instead, we see her move her body in physical combat in fantasies of war and video game-inspired fights in an imaginative landscape as her actual, physical body moves in certain ways in her present life. How does she move her body? How does she dance? We don’t know. The film wants to tell you that it’s not important, the dance that stops men in their tracks. It is the imaginative body-in-motion that is more important. The dance is left to the audience’s imagination.

Precisely because of this, the dance becomes more powerful than what is actually in the imagination. The dreamscape is over-familiar because it works by rote and repetition. Each dance is accompanied by a dreamscape. Each time, the girls battle different monsters and humans. Yet is Babydoll’s dance repetitive? I was curious to know. Because men who have seen it before continue to be mesmerised by it over and over again.

This mirrors the audience slack-jawed gaze as it looks at the screen. Whether you’re enthralled or bored, you continue to look at the screen. Does the dance work in the same way?

In a short skirt and thigh-high stockings, there are displays of skin that continue to confuse me. Does skin need to be displayed when the girls of Sucker Punch kill, maim, and destruct? Skin is not consistently bare. It is tantalisingly bare. Because Baby must move, jump, and run, her skirt lifts up, and the camera pauses lovingly between her bare, white thighs. Because Beyonce must move, jump, and dance, her yellow dress shifts and moves with her body, and the camera glides over cleavage and thighs.

Babydoll the baby dragon (aww) slayer

Thinking about what bell hooks writes in Outlaw Culture:

“You know, the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – to imagine what is possible.”

Sucker Punch and ‘Run the World (Girls)’ imagine what is possible. But what if what is possible is only contained within a tired, rehashed narrative? It reveals the limits of collective imagination. Girls are sexy – if they have a certain body type, if they acquiesce to dressing a certain way. Wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, for example, is not the aesthetically-pleasing feminine path towards revolutionary upheaval. Neither will it help you slay dragons in your dreams. There are certain sartorial codes to be observed.

Who decides on these codes?

Sometimes I forget: in real cities around the world, women heed the revolutionary call wearing the clothes they’re most comfortable in.

bell hooks also writes:

There was a point in my life when I needed a therapist. I was involved in this horrible, bittersweet life with a black male artist/intellectual. There was no one I could go to and say, “This is what’s happening to me, and I have no apparatus for understanding it.” So I invented this figure: this therapist, this healer, and I could get up and do an improvisational performance on this persona. I realized you could invent something you need.

The trapped, abused, isolated girls in Sucker Punch are inventing the personas they need. So are Beyonce and her group of riot-girls. They’re women as girls presumably creating girl characters for the girls in the audience watching them through the eyes of prescribed femininity that needs girls and women to be a certain way when they’re doing things like exorcising psychic demons or running the world.

But maybe we’re all trapped by the limits of Capital. The vast and limitless personal imagination always trips up against its own borders; reduced to a few easily-understood visual codes. The collective imagination can visualise the conventionally-attractive girl and the conventionally-accepted body. Femininity can co-opt the codes of masculinity with guns and grunts and stares – as long as it reminds itself it is still femininity; that is, in opposition to masculinity, never quite meeting it.

Perhaps these images bother me because they suggest that the personal imagination is not limitless. It only goes so far as it has gone before. Or is the collective imagination that limits the personal imagination? Your imagination can only so far as the imagination of others.

The lion would rather hang with the girls, though

I found the first 50 seconds of Beyonce’s video to be the most visually-arresting. But that’s probably because I find the first 50 seconds of the song to be the most interesting, although I’m not sure if those 50 seconds of music were edited in for the video. The start of the song seems to promise a compelling aural landscape until the actual song begins – and turns out to be really mediocre.

The song’s failed imagination.

This is how the video works, as well. Towards the end when Beyonce and her posse of girls march towards the all-male soldiers, one almost holds out hope that the girls break the barrier and break through the invisible boundaries and infiltrate the all-male battalion. But it ends with a predictable confrontation involving a sexy Stare-Off, and then the Girls give the all-male soldiers the hand salute.

What does that salute mean in the context of the video? “We see you?” “We run the world and we salute you as a performance act meant to superficially acknowledge that you run the world when we know that we really run the world?”  “We acquiesce?”

We get what we want in both instances of movie and music video by getting slightly more than what we thought we want.

In heterosexual porn, it’s always the female body that is in the limelight, displayed, and counted upon to produce the desired effect.

So writes Virginie Despentes in King Kong Theory. In movies and music videos that are Certainly Not Porn, (these are generally Approved By Society as Not Porn) (but it’s not like all porn is lacking imagination and is stereotypical) (it’s just that mainstream porn and mainstream film and music locate the source of entertainment, pleasure, and desire in the homogenously attractive female body) the viewer is ostensibly meant to identify with the girls of Sucker Punch and the girls of Beyonce’s video. But the girls see themselves through someone else’s eyes.

Who? The unidentified spectre of a viewer is dishearteningly familiar in its expectations. It demands danger insofar that it is imaginative. Kill, but not in real life. (Sucker Punch) Run the world, but not really.

Who are we? What do we want? These are all good questions we can't quite answer.

“My persuasion can build a nation,” sings Beyonce. It’s a nation that has been built before. I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere else.

This goes out to all my girls
That’s in the club rocking the latest
Who will buy it for themselves and get more money later

I think I need a barber
None of these hoes can fade me
I’m so good with this,
I remind you I’m so hood with this

Boy I’m just playing, come here baby
Hope you still like me, If you hate me
My persuasion can build a nation
In this our, our love we can devour
You’ll do anything for me[ii]

Oh yeah, that fake nation! Boy I’m just playing.

[i] If you want to read some interesting reviews of the movie, there is one at Millicent and Carla Fran and one at What Tami Said (with some key points about race), and a divergent take at The Hathor Legacy. There is also this, which is hilarious.

[ii] Lyrics shamelessly copied from dodgy lyrics website.

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never was a cornflake girl

January 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

(This post was written awhile back. The uploading of this post, however, seems to be happening… um… now. I have allowed my blog to languish. I am sorry, Blog Gods and the two of you who read this regularly!)

This post came about in the shower this morning, when I remembered that what I wrote in my tumblelog in response to Sady Doyle’s post wasn’t really true. The last Tori Amos album I really loved was not made in 1998, but in 1999. To Venus and Back was the last great obsession.

I remember liking Tori Amos. I say I remember because it seems I have lost that ability to lose myself in music like I used when I was a teenager. Yes, this is a cliché that others have also uttered as a matter of course, but it is still true. Losing oneself to music, as is losing oneself in a book, seems to belong to a very nostalgic past when we were all young. I remember when I was in my late teens in 1999 and the internet was still a brand-new thing in Malaysia. Some of my friends did not have internet connections yet, but my father was one of the first to get us signed on in 1996. I write whiny blog posts now musing about the utter confusion generated by online interactions through Facebook and Twitter and so on, but in 1996 I used the internet like a mad woman. Like a mad woman, that is, without any angst.

I like describing myself as a mad woman, and liked describing myself as a mad girl as an adolescent. Tori Amos makes music for mad girls and women, or at least she used to. You meet Tori Amos en route to Kate Bush, but that doesn’t make the Tori Amos experience any less valuable. In 1999 I knew from online interactions with several email penpals (e-pals?); other people as singularly obsessed with Tori Amos and The X-Files and, yes, Jane Austen as I was, that To Venus and Back was going to be released. This was back in the day of the mailing lists and forums. This was pre-Amazon days, before bit torrents, the heady, exciting days of Napster-about-to-arrive. Music albums released in the UK, US, and Europe could take months to reach Malaysian shores. I was having none of that, so I emailed my sister living in Florida to get me a copy of To Venus and Back THE DAY IT CAME OUT and send it to me. Those were the days when my siblings listened to what I said, because I was still the youngest, and somewhat cute. Being the youngest sibling as an adult, unfortunately, does not render one cute anymore. Nor does anyone listen to you. But I digress.

The character Delirium in Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics came to have Tori-influences

I got the album. It was utterly bizarre. It is still utterly bizarre. I still love the madness of the syncopated, skittish, unhinged beats of To Venus and Back. What the hell is Tori doing in ‘Datura’? No one has a clue. No matter, you sing along – “dividing Canaan, piece by piece.”  The first song, ‘Bliss’, begins with “Father, I killed my monkey / I let it out to taste the sweet of spring”. Hilarious, I thought, but also foreboding, in the way only Tori can be. This was in October 1999 when the album arrived from my sister in Florida. By the end of November of 1999, my father was dead, and the lines “You know it’s true I’m part of you / we’re a Bliss of another kind” could never be listened to in the same way again.

This is probably how songs – whole albums, even – become intrinsic to your life as your own thoughts, feelings, experiences. It’s all about the listening, about when you do it and how you do it, whether riding in the passenger seat of your first boyfriend’s car during a road trip or curled up in the corner of your bed after a death, numb. How was I to know that Tori had ensured To Venus and Back came bundled with a song about death? That plenty of her hardcore fans mocked ‘1,000 Oceans’ on mailing lists and forums for being too maudlin, sappy, or for the crime of having too simple a melody, didn’t diminish the value of that song for a girl who needed to listen to it on repeat, day after day, for months on end in order to even begin to give shape to her own sprawling, chaotic, messy, out-of-grasp pain.

There are moments in To Venus and Back that hits the note of pain – pain as I remembered it in those awful months of 1999 – so much that I’ve avoided listening to some of those songs up until now. But now that I am listening to it again, I can’t help but feel invigorated again by the blatant display of Tori-madness. This is a woman who wears her lunacy on her sleeve in her music. I don’t mean to say this to dismiss her or her music as a form of artifice. Personally, as a listener, I’ve taken the extremity of vocals, lyrics, and piano-playing as a reflection of a temperament trying to make sense of its limitlessness.  Indeed, I think we all have our individual stripes of lunacy, well-hidden from polite view. What I love about Tori’s music is that she was the first example for me, as a teenager, of how lunacy can be invited to come and have a seat at the dinner table with the rest of the guests. “Rabbit, where’d you put the keys, girl?” Tori sings in ‘Cornflake Girl’, and you know, I don’t know who the hell Rabbit is, but I do know that the question makes sense to me. Somehow, in some cloudy part of my mind, I need to know where the keys are, too. We can all go look for it together, you, me, Tori, and Rabbit. There is no need to ask why.

As an adult woman who has to behave, for the most part, Tori’s older music still provides the kind of safe haven to exercise one’s hysterical woman-madness privately, and with abandon. “I can’t believe this violence in mind. But I believe in peace, bitch,” Tori and I sing. Tori bangs on her piano aggressively, I on my computer keyboard as I write, and demons are exorcised or at least put to bed snug for awhile.

To Venus and Back consists of two CDs, one of newly-recorded studio material and the other a CD of live tracks recorded on tour. For someone who had not seen Tori perform live (and who most likely will not, because the desire to see Tori live has now diminished – I will attend the concert expecting the Tori of 1996, she will perform as the Tori of the 21st-century, it will all end badly), the live CD was further illumination of how you can be both crazy – loopy, nutty, unhinged, what have you – and be immensely talented.  Because you’ve still got to perform and pull of a musical feat for the thousands of people who have paid to watch you, and I suppose back in the days of 1998 people still expected musical excellence in a concert by a musician. The charming loopiness only gets you so far, yet for it to have worked and to have enchanted people the way it did, it must always be simultaneously done with a sly wink. This is where Tori always used to get it right. Up until she got married and had babies, that is, which is the part where I agree with Sady and the part where my heart constricts a little because the Tori of past is no more.

But it’s also silly to think about it that way, because I still have Tori of the past in her music.

never was a cornflake girl
thought that was a good solution
hangin’ with the raisin girls
she’s gone to the other side
givin’ us a yo heave ho
things are getting kind of gross
and I go at sleepy time
this is not really happening
you bet your life it is

Indeed. You bet your life it is.


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Grunt. Mumble. Grunt.

May 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

I realise that my blog’s heading says, “On the disquieting effects of everyday life” but I’m more likely to simply yammer on about the effects of books than anything else. This must be rectified. More of everyday life must be included. Hence, a summary of recent events of everyday life:

1) The worst possible smoked salmon angelhair at Delicious in Mid Valley. The sauce was watery, runny, bland; I’ve gotten a bigger taste-kick out of pureed baby food before than I could ever get out of this. This is not to say I steal food from babies when babies appear to not want the food. Anyhow, I’ve tried the pasta many times before at the Delicious outlet in Bangsar, and they always got the sauce right – creamy without being too thick; a tasty parade on my tongue without actually being a carnival. But it seems that any decent restaurant chain that opens a branch in Mid Valley is doomed to suffer the Curse of Yuckiness.

2) Robin Hood, the movie. Yes, yes, we’ve read the reviews, it sucks, why did I watch it? I’m a sucker for historical epics. No, that’s not true. It’s just that I’m a bit of an Anglophile, although that’s somewhat embarrassing to admit these days – I can see certain postcolonial theorists giving me dagger looks, or worse, the side-eye. I was expecting the movie to be a rather fun romp, the kind where you leave your brain slinking about by the popcorn stand outside while you head inside to the theater. But it was such a painful romp, this movie, all stolid and sober and brutal without any sense of lightness to leaven the landscape. Furthermore, I’m not sure why Russell Crowe thought he had an accent. I’m not sure why certain people thought he had an Irish accent. He had, for sure, his mumble-grunt more pronounced than usual, meaning that no one could understand what in King Richard’s hell Robin Hood was saying without straining their God-given ears. Cate Blanchett was a delight, but she was relegated to the wispy female role – the wispy female with deep reserves of strength, that is. I maintain my position: she should have played Robin Hood.

Put that bow and arrow down, and go bake some bread.

3) I have recently discovered Ellie Goulding. Her music will not move mountains or shatter your perspectives on life, etc., but they will sort of put a twinkle in your sleep-deprived eyes, and perhaps a slight bounce to your heels-ravaged step. My favourite song at the moment is perhaps ‘Black + Gold’.

Farewells to bumblebees never sounded this good

March 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

There are no words to capture the authentic magic of the Pink Martini show at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra last night. It was incredibly cohesive, controlled, with not a single fumble or misstep. If that makes it sound as though the show was rudimentary, clinical, and cold, that would be dead wrong, because it was also one of the most engaging, warm, utterly *musical* concerts I’ve been to in recent memory.

What does it mean to be *musical*? I have no blinking clue; I’m sure masses of concert reviewers will convulsively twitch reading about a music concert that was ‘musical.’ Yet it was, and the only way I can describe it is to say that Music took centre-stage last night, whether drifting along sweetly or pounding hard on the floors with intensity, while the Players were merely that – Players. They were each of them so masterful on their respective instrument, and so assured, that no one person overshadowed the other, and this allowed for what seemed, for those few hours at least, like a genuine creative collaboration of minds and hearts completely in sync and in rhythm.

Which I imagine must be hard on a stage filled with 10 people. O was it 11?

The band - in KL, minus the lady on the left. (Photo nicked from

[Total irrelevant digression: Having bought the ‘cheap tickets’ we thought it was an accident to have been placed in the front row. Why are these the cheap tickets? We were smack dab in front and comments among my companions ranged from, “Are we sitting in someone else’s seats?” to “Will we go bloody deaf?” to “Oh my shit, will they call us up on stage? I can’t handle that!” (Shy Malaysian Syndrome.) I could see every movement of China Forbes’ gloriously sparkly eyelids, and the sound was beyond awesome and not at all overly-loud. It was my first time in the MPO, and admittedly the acoustics are brilliant. But still, the question remains… HOW WAS THIS THE CHEAP TICKETS?]

I don’t mean to single anyone out, but it has to be said that China Forbes’ voice is a thing of wonder. I mean, if you can sing like that, then you can never feel useless in this world. Also, great stage presence. Just the right amount of mysterious seductiveness mixed with warmth. As I’ve compulsively Googled the band members’ respective bios since the concert, I know now that she’s had a bit of a thespian past. (And oooh, she majored in English Literature! China, you and I… we are so alike! In some ways!)

An example of a really good marriage is Timothy Nishimoto’s vocals merging with China’s. Those voices blending together must produce babies.

Violinist! (Nicholas Crosa). You in the corner, breaking violin strings with your intensity, we fall at your feet.

Thomas Lauderdale on piano, reading scripted announcements in Malay, twirling and banging on the piano like some little wood sprite. Really, he’s not quite human and I mean that in the best way possible. Imagine my shock when I found out that he used to be in politics. However, his bio clarifies that “he spent most of his collegiate years in cocktail dresses” which makes it all okay.

And really, Trumpet and Trombone dudes were astounding (Gavin Bondy and Robert Taylor, respectively). I swear the trombone was actually talking to me at one point and that’s no mean feat.

Some brilliant standouts: ‘Hey Eugene’ which really sort of brought the house down, and their encore number ‘Brazil’, which got Malaysians dancing! My ass was sort of plastered to the seat as I was having dress issues, but other assorted uncles and aunties were really jiving. I loved the energy of ‘Una Notte A Napoli’ and one of my favourites, ‘Dosvedanya Mio Bombino’ when done live.

Charming: Introducing themselves as ‘Martini Merah Jambu,’ and the introduction to ‘Hang on Little Tomato’ which had some quirky Malay translations.

One was apt to twirl and prance in a lovely daze after the concert, or be prompted to sing out loud in the car ride back home. But I won’t name any names.

Here is a video of them performing ‘Una Notte A Napoli’ on what seems to be an Italian TV show:

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