Bluesman Jim Madasamy’s gift to helpless artistes and national unity

Blues stylist, bassist Jim Madasamy, is the first Malaysian to have a welfare fund for musicians in his honour. (Soo Leak Meng pic).

KUALA LUMPUR: The big stories shine through from however far back. The little ones, sometimes the best, hide in old notebooks and die there.

So, it seemed like a dam had broken when untold stories of the Blues Gang flowed out of the memoirs that the band’s bassist and vocalist, the late Jim Madasamy, had written since early 1977.

It was Madasamy’s hope that his enormous recollections would one day be published as a book.

Madasamy reveals stories of sacrifice, courage, horror and victory, breakups and reunions, drugs, music piracy and the tears the group shed during the rocking 70s and 80s.

At turns he recounts funny moments such as when his father smashed his drums, the first instrument he played, because he was neglecting his studies – and broke it again when he rebuilt it.

And in the mid-1980s at the Pudu Jail when the loud music during the jailhouse session got the inmates excited, prompting Madasamy to tell his bandmates to drop the sound level to ease the situation.

In his chronicles, titled “Blues Gang: My Story”, he also shares a bevy of arresting throwback pictures from way back when the band, first known as Messenger From Hell, was formed in March 1973 at Lorong Fatimah in Woodlands, Singapore.

Madasamy stopped writing and playing with another band, the Purple Haze Blues Band, about a year before his death from a neurological syndrome in April 2018. He was 68.

His wife of 14 years, Soo Leak Meng, 57, said it was fortunate that Madasamy recorded the life and times of the Blues Gang before he was struck by primary progressive aphasia.

It is a condition where language capabilities, including speaking, comprehension, reading and writing, are impaired. There is no cure and medication to treat it.

Jim Madasamy was a health buff who ran marathons and participated in other outdoor activities such as freefall skydiving. (Soo Leak Meng pic).

His writings emerged when Malaysian Artistes’ Association (Karyawan) president Freddie Fernandez and FMT visited Soo at her Taman Bukit Permai home off Jalan Ipoh in preparation of a noble project in Madasamy’s name.

His lifetime of memories – photographs, mementos, the band’s entire vinyl recordings and compact discs, newspaper clippings and the couple’s marathon running medals were on the walls, cabinets and stacked in boxes in the condominium.

Soo said her husband who ran six full marathons and participated in other outdoor activities like skydiving, encouraged her to be a health buff.

Today, FMT shines a light on Madasamy, the Blues Gang’s spark plug, who becomes the first Malaysian musician to have a welfare fund for artistes named in his honour.

Said Fernandez: “Jim is a symbol of unity and racial harmony in the country, being an Indian musician in an all-Malay band performing hit songs in Bahasa Malaysia and incidentally, married to a Chinese.”

He said Madasamy’s dream of getting the Blues Gang to record a blues album in Tamil and to introduce the genre to the Indian community has been accomplished.

Fernandez said the underlying theme for the launch of the album was “Unity in Diversity”, a message aimed at forging social bonds and multiculturalism.

“Unity through music can break down all barriers and unite people of different ages, cultures, religions, gender, or anything that can divide us from love and community,” said Fernandez.

The standout song in the 10-track “Solla Vanthen” (I was meaning to say) album is the Tamil version of the Blues Gang’s enduring hit “Apo Nak Di Kato” which is sure to appeal to people from all walks of life.

Madasamy, playing the bass, was backed in the recordings by Azizi (guitar), Julian Mokhtar (guitar) Shaik Karim (drums), Steve Thornton (Percussions), and Thila (guest female vocalist).

It was recorded and mixed by Pradeep Pillai at Deep Sound Production and soon the songs will be available on various online music portals besides getting radio airplay.

As a teen, Jim Madasamy, was more into music than studies, resulting in his father twice smashing his drums at home. (Soo Leak Meng pic).

Behind the recording of the album is another inspiring story that happened in 2003.

It started when a kind man and a close pal of Madasamy offered to produce the album that would cost RM30,000.

The Good Samaritan, speaking to FMT on condition of anonymity, said he saw the project as uniting Malaysians through music and had no intention of financial returns.

He said in a world of diversity where values and ideals often clashed, music leapt across gaps and brought people together.

“Both Jim and I saw this unique musical offering as a sensible way to share cultures and artistic achievements.

“He had a good heart and this album is to keep his name alive and to promote his legacy of love and respect,” he said.

He said the album was never released due to the poor state of the music market and that he mooted the idea of releasing it and creating a fund in Madasamy’s name to Fernandez.

The Jim Madasamy Artistes’ Fund to help artistes experiencing bad health and difficult times was then conceived and made possible through the generosity of businessman Rajendran Ramasamy of Amalan Setar (M) Sdn Bhd.

Rajendran donated RM100,000 to kickstart the fund which will be managed by Karyawan in liaison with Soo.

The launch of the fund and the album this afternoon at Aswara, near Padang Merbok, will be officiated by the National Unity Minister Halimah Sadique and the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Nancy Shukri.

The presence of the two ministers is testimony of the government’s thrust on promoting national unity through arts.

Ten needy artistes will receive RM1,000 each to help tide over hard times while Madasamy’s widow, a clerk, will also receive a substantial donation.

The artistes are: Singer-actresses Julie Sudiro, Mimi Loma, Elyana, Zaiton Sameon and Aspalela Abdullah; actors V Sarangabani and Yap Chin Fong; drummers Jerry Felix and Saat of Falcons and Discovery fame, and musician Azman Warren.

One of them might have a cuddly soft toy on his lap, but the early Blues Gang band was viewed by many as a wild and rough outfit. (Soo Leak Meng pic).

The Blues Gang will turn out in full force with founder member Shaik Karim, who has postponed his dialysis to attend.

Karim, his childhood friend Madasamy and guitarist Ahmad Abdullah (Mat Dollah) morphed from a trio, with the dark moniker “Messenger From Hell”, to the Blues Gang.

It wasn’t easy with the name Blues Gang as well. Madasamy wrote that people looked at them as “wild, rough and gangsterish”.

To get a gig in a pub, they had to briefly change their name to “15 Shillings” – 15 being their house number and shillings being the small income they were earning.

Throughout his memoirs, Madasamy reflects on the struggles of his band, how they overcame adversity and won the hearts of fans from all races.

He writes with pride the Blues Gang opening for international rock groups such as Uriah Heep at Stadium Merdeka, The Climax Blues Band and Ian Gillan and Deep Purple at Stadium Negara, drawing crowds of 50,000 in Perlis; 30,000 in Penang; and 20,000 at the Lake Gardens here.

The last sentence in his recalls is endearing: “Blues Gang have been in the scene for more than 40 years. They are definitely a Malaysian heritage. They will keep doing their blues.”

Indeed, Malaysia is blessed with a vibrant supergroup who have profoundly decorated the nation with their endeavours.