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The accidental musician with no regrets

 | September 7, 2012

A chance encounter with busking changed Azmyl Yunor’s career path from journalism to folk rock.

FEATURE

PETALING JAYA: Rodney Crowell, one of country music’s most prolific songwriters, begins his song “Fate’s Right Hand” with this line: “Cool, as a rule, you don’t learn in no school.”

And singer-songwriter Azmyl Yunor is one cool guy who can attest to the truth of that statement.

Azmyl went to Australia in the late 1990s to pursue a degree in journalism and film, but found his true calling after he started busking on the streets of Perth.

“I never thought of music as a career path, I never thought about it,” he told FMT.

Like many students looking for extra cash, he stomped the streets looking for part-time work, but no one would hire him.

“I was applying everywhere for any kind of work—dishwashing, bussing tables, you name it—but nobody was accepting me.

“So, I was walking in town one day, and I saw these buskers and I thought I could do better. So I applied for a busking permit, and started singing with a tambourine that I bought for really cheap.

“I made about one dollar after standing for ten minutes.”

However, the poor returns on that first day did not discourage him. Soon enough, busking became a routine in his life, and he would sometimes skip classes to play on the streets.

More than a decade on and now tied to Kuala Lumpur, Azmyl no longer depends on the charity of pedestrians. Nevertheless, he still sings for his supper, and has been playing in various local clubs over the last decade. (He also teaches at Sunway University’s Department of Performance and Media.)

He started playing with punk rock band Ben’s Bitches soon after his return from Australia with his degree in his pocket and, of course, music in his soul.

“I met Ben for the first time in 2003, and we clicked. I joined them for their first ever gig.”

At the gigs, he would offer for sale recordings of his work, first on cassette tapes and then, from 2004 onwards, on CDs. Not long afterwards, he and fellow musicians Jerome Kugan and Tan Sei Hon decided to form Troubadours Enterprise, giving birth to the annual singer-songwriter event KL Sing Song, which has featured the likes of Pete Teo, Meor and Liyana Fizi.

Azmyl first picked up the guitar when he was 17, but said he was a late bloomer. “I started realising what kind of musician I was in my 20s.”

With a penchant for folk rock, the Bangi native counts as his influences such singer-songwriters as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Indonesia’s Iwan Fals.

“As a musician, I’m also influenced by a lot of noisy underground bands,” he added. “One of the early ones for me was R.E.M., but later on noisier bands such as Soundgarden, Sonic Youth and Nirvana.”

He has since made a series of independent music releases, the most recent album being Wilayah, one that he recorded with the band Sigarettes, with help from Liyana Fizi, Yong Yandsen and Ben Liew.

The title of the album gives the impression that it is dedicated to Kuala Lumpur. Azmyl admits that there is some truth to that, especially with songs such as “Ballad of Mat Som” and “Makan Gaji”.

“It’s like an ode to the KL I know, the one with yellow cabs, bas mini, Rex (cinema),” he said. “I used to live in Jalan Gurney (now Jalan Semarak) before my parents moved to Bangi.”

However, Wilayah is more than just a tribute to KL. According to Azmyl, it is about city space and what this means to people living in cities.

“Wilayah leaves off from where Warga was,” he said, referring to his 2010 album.

“Warga is about an individual’s place in this world. Wilayah is about the world which this individual is in. I’m looking at it beyond Wilayah Persekutuan. It is about a sense of territory and belonging.”

Wilayah is currently available at Rock Corner or Victoria Music outlets, but it can also be purchased at Azmyl’s shows or by mail order (email: [email protected]).

Azmyl is currently going through the final lap of his Wilayah Tour 2012. The schedule is as follows:

  • Sept 8: The Canteen at China House, George Town (9pm)
  • Sept 21: The Pigeonhole, Singapore (9pm)
  • Sept 23: Bukit Timbalan, Johor Bahru (3pm) or Danga Beach, Johor (8:30pm)
  • Oct 1: No Black Tie, Kuala Lumpur, (9pm). Admittance to this show costs RM25. SquareCircles and Ray Cheong will play as special guests.

For more information on Azmyl Yunor and Wilayah, visit his Facebook page or his website . For alerts on future gigs, visit his Twitter page .


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