Ditching covers and discovering originals in Phnom Penh’s newly opened Counterspace Theater, Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan comes across Malaysian indie singer-songwriter Hameer Zawawi and his sci-fi opus that involves zombies.
Hammer Zawawi minces no words in his political commitment and comes across as a Malaysian hybrid of a Bruce Cockburn and Jeff Buckley, all rolled into one.
“We waited for over 60 years for a change in government and in the end we won,” says Hameer. “I voted for change,” he adds, showing the audience in Java Creative Café his left index finger stained with indelible ink. Of course, the Malaysian singer-songwriter who writes and performs what he describes as “indie theatrical-folk songs” is referring to the recent general election in neighbouring Malaysia where a people’s tsunami at the ballot box overthrew a government that had been in power since independence from the British in 1957.
Hameer soon goes into his ‘National Fantasy’ with its chorus resonating on why change was needed:
“In this cursed forest lies an evil demon,
“Tied to shackles it witnessed a mortal season,
“Those who dare to cross into its sacred cavern,
“There they’ll lie amongst the bones and all the villians…”
Before he sings ‘Plug out the Machines’, he talks about the massive deforestation that has happened in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo island.
“It’s devastating, massive and corrupt,” he tells the audience in Java Creative Café’s Counterspace Theater – a welcome new addition to the Phnom Penh performing arts scene.
Hameer is not just a 28-year-old troubadour pontificating from a pedestal. He’s seen first-hand the displacement of indigenous people in Sarawak state and is the son of renowned anthropologist Professor Dr Wan Ahmad Zawawi.
“I’ve been fortunate, I come from a family of musicians. I’ve been with the music scene ever since childhood. My dad besides being an anthropologist is also a singer-songwriter. He used to write protest songs for the indigenous people in Malaysia and is very involved with the indigenous population,” he tells Leng Pleng, the popular music listing site.
Hameer tells Leng Pleng further: “My story is of an indie musician travelling, trying to make things work. Hustling every day and night, trying to play original songs in places I have never been to. Not a story of a signed musician. Serendipity plays a big part in it.”
Hameer studied Computer Games Development in a Malaysian university and while he was in uni wrote ‘Zombie Town’, reminiscent of Telltale Games’ survival horror video game ‘Walking Dead’ – now made into a TV series.
“Like zombies on a thriller movie set,
“Hands up growl and screaming,
“They go chasing people for their blood…,” he sings.
At the end of 2016, Hameer felt that he had to break loose from his home country Malaysia and decided to travel to Europe and later ended up in New York City.
The tour consisted of acoustic solo shows in Germany (Berlin, Cologne, Leipzig), the UK (London, Brighton, Glasgow) and the US (Los Angeles, Anaheim, New York City) with the highlight of it being his shows at House of Blues (Anaheim), The Viper Room (LA) and Rockwood Music Hall (NYC). It was right after finishing his ‘National Fantasy’ tour mid-2017 that Hameer was approached by New York City-based Recording Artists Development to record his next EP. The 3-song EP ‘Plug out the Machines’ saw involvement of musicians and engineers from several parts of the world such as Kuala Lumpur, France, Los Angeles and NYC.
Hameer Zawawi has a really bright future ahead of him and is one of the region’s most promising songwriters – mixing angst and deep empathy in his compositions. The Malaysian singer-songwriter was brought to Cambodia by Joe Wrigley Productions, and his show was the first full performance in the newly opened Blackbox Theater of Counterspace. Joe Wrigley himself is no stranger to Cambodia’s music scene and has been dubbed as Phnom Penh’s Rockabilly King. Kudos to Joe, and it’s really refreshing to see performers diversifying into managing promotions to ensure the sustainability of the profession.