PETALING JAYA: Besides being world famous as a food paradise, Penang is the birthplace of a long list of music greats from the late P Ramlee, to composer Jimmy Boyle, and founder of the Penang Island Jazz Festival, Paul Augustin.
Augustin was recently picked as the recipient of the 17th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards Gamechanger, an honourable recognition given to individuals or organisations who have trailblazed the industry with their distinct artistic voice.
However, this veteran humbly brushes off the very notion of himself as a gamechanger. “I would consider myself as a calculated risk-taker. However, it’s nice when people recognise your work and I get the chance to tell my story.”
When speaking to FMT recently, this 60-year-old “confessed” about a bad habit he has never been able to shake off – his inexplicable need to pursue an idea, no matter how crazy, until its fruition.
“Even if I fail, it’s fine because at least I took the jump and tried. I don’t want to be that person who regrets in his later years, all the things he could have done.”
Among these crazy dreams was creating a jazz festival in his hometown of Penang. That was in 1996.
Many doubted he could pull it off and some even called him mad, but Augustin soldiered on and although it took many years of hard work and determination, the Penang Island Jazz Festival (PIJF) was born in 2004.
Unfortunately, PIJF suffered huge losses in its first and second year. But Augustin didn’t walk away from it and with the support of his partner, hit the jackpot with the third edition of PIJF.
If it wasn’t for Augustin’s perseverance, Penang would have never played host to Malaysia’s longest running annual jazz festival, which attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world today.
With PIJF now a household name, Augustin realised he had another itch to scratch. He wanted to publish a book and that’s exactly what he did.
He co-published the book “Just For The Love of It, Penang’s Popular Music 1930s to 1960s” in 2015 and co-created the Penang House of Music together with James Lochhead.
In fact, Augustin’s strong network in the music industry also created opportunities for many local musicians to perform at international festivals.
He does however admit that the music industry has changed with the times but says that musicians have that uncanny ability to adapt to whatever’s thrown at them.
“Take Ed Sheeran for example. He is a one-man guitar player and singer. This one-man trend actually started a long time ago and it then evolved to the formation of bands which eventually became electronics and now we’re back to one-man musicians. It’s gone one full circle.
“After all, music is a trend, people are always looking for new things and that is why musicians have to constantly evolve and find a way to be creative.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, he says, upended things for many musicians, who now had to sit up and think how to survive in an environment that didn’t allow them to play their usual gigs at clubs and bars.
He explained that before Covid-19, Malaysian musicians only needed to compete with other local musicians but the pandemic forced them to go online in search of revenue options and compete on an international scale.
“This means they needed to compete with musicians globally so they needed to come up with things that their competitors were unable to. An example would be to use Malaysian rhythms or instruments that are not used in other parts of the world. You need to think out of the box.”
Paul will be receiving his award at this year’s BOH Cameronian Arts Awards Ceremony which will live-streamed on Kakiseni’s Facebook page on July 2 at 8.30pm.
This year’s theme, “Antara Satu Sama Lain” celebrates relationships and collaborations to bring out the best in those creating art.
He will also be joined by fellow Gamechanger recipient, Hollywood scriptwriter Adele Lim.
Being a veteran in the music industry, Paul says aspiring young musicians must possess three qualities to make it in this tough line – passion, perseverance and patience.
“If you believe in something, you will need to put in the hard work and the most important is patience. Even in whatever I did in my life, I had to learn how to be patient.”
Click here to watch the 17th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards at 8:30 pm today.