The devil is in the music and Raggy Singh’s heart is still in the region, performing in gigs to celebrate the birth of his made-in-Vietnam guitar. Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan caught up with the Malaysian born singer, songwriter in Show Box recently.
He may appear as a thick-bearded outlaw in a beanie, but make no mistake: Raggy Singh from Malaysia with about 45 years’ performing experience is one of Asean’s best musical exports in the league of percussion maestro Lewis Pragasam’s Asiabeat Percussion.
Raggy is a soulful singer with a musical style that ranges from folk to country and rock and his guitar-playing style is a cross fertilization between Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Gary Moore and BB King.
In his Show Box performance last Friday – the second time he’s played there – he kicks off the show with his version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Boxer” with his fingers dexterously plucking the strings of his guitar.
He then ventures into Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday morning coming down” and rekindles memories of the 1970s in the audience – the memories of loneliness within ourselves as we fought against our own families and governments in the pursuit of freedom and the freedom of expression during the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.
The lyrics do haunt:
On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned,
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
There ain’t nothin’ short of dyin’,
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks,
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.
“I don’t particularly want to focus on one kind of music. For me, music is music. When I was growing up in Malaysia, I listened to all kinds of music.
“My parents used to listen to Indian music. My eldest brother used to listen to Cliff Richard and my eldest sister to country music. The difference really didn’t matter to me.
“So now I play all kinds of music – I play country, rock, folk and lots of blues,” Raggy tells One Night Stand (Saigon) – a channel on YouTube.
Raggy frequently performs in Vietnam and his love affair with the country is guitar-related – like BB King’s till-death-do-us-apart relationship with Lucille, his signature black Gibson ES-355 guitar that he saved from a fire.
“I had been looking for the ‘perfect’ acoustic guitar to play when I am recording. Someone told me about a guitar maker in Ho Chi Minh City who makes fantastic guitars. So it became my personal quest to find this person,” he recalls in an interview with Easy Busy TV.
“I found out that his name was Hubert Leong and he was a Singaporean with his own HL Custom brand. The reason why he was in Vietnam was that that there were many fine craftsmen there to handcraft his guitar designs. Also, Vietnam has a very long history of stringed instruments and guitar-like instruments.
“I met Hubert in Ho Chi Minh City, told him what I wanted and he custom made an acoustic guitar for me that I’ve used for recording ever since,” adds Raggy.
In August 2015, Raggy travelled to Saigon to perform one night at Saigon Outcast to celebrate the birthing of his new guitar by HL Custom.
“A guitar is a living thing, especially an acoustic guitar. It’s amazing because beautiful sound comes out of this natural piece of wood,” the Malaysian performer tells the audience.
Despite being a veteran musician, Raggy firmly believes that practice is absolutely essential for him.
“I normally put in four to six hours a day in practice. If I’m not having gigs, it can be between 14 to 16 hours of practice,” he tells One Night Stand (Saigon).
“You have to put in solid work if you want to make it as a musician.”
Those hours of practice have indeed borne fruit as Raggy plays Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing”, in Show Box, on his acoustic guitar and transposes Mark Knopfler’s riffs onto its fretboard – emulating the phenomenal Knopfler guitar sound.
The devil is in the music and Raggy’s heart is still in performing in overseas gigs.
“I just love performing in front of people I haven’t seen,” he says.
“Somehow, there is a connection that builds up. When you play a fast song, they begin to dance and when you play a slow song there’s an emotional connection.
“That’s just fantastic. Without the music, I wouldn’t be able to connect to people.”