It's easy and fun to assume that Nikki's "Hawa" is a "labour of love." Yes it is a labour of love. So was Faizal Tahir's "Aku. Muzik. Kamu." In fact, most of the music I do, is usually a labour of love. Otherwise, what's the point? (oh yea...the money!)
While not the most romantic reason, "Hawa" is special to me because I have two personal selfish reasons for doing this album. One, it is for me to re-establish myself as a producer of pop music. For some reason, people think I am a rock music producer. And two, to show that this is Malaysian pop. It's not Indonesian! It's Malaysian. (You will have to trust me when I say that I am waving the Malaysian flag as I type this.)
It's a rare opportunity when you get the right capable singer and a recording label that either trusts you too much or they don't really care enough to question beyond that one song they think it's going to be the single.
But in this case and most when it comes to dealing with Vernon Kedit and Artistes United Records, he gives me a lot of rope which I sometimes hang myself with or I do something really cool. And I personally, this time, I did cool.
With "Hawa", we explored different genres of music and styles. Musically, I went hog wild but the thing that holds it together is Nikki's vocals. It's all her style. Whether it's rock or tango or classical, we kept her style instead of having her growl in a rock-ish track or give in an accent and a twang on a country-ish track.
Despite the various styles of music, "Hawa" is still a pop album with rock, country, and classical music influences.
Another interesting point: No cymbals. Why?
This is the Malay version of "Pretty Like Me" which is almost an afterthought. I didn't want to do a Malay version because the arrangement for the English version does not work well in Malay. But I like this version more because of the horn section and bass. Embrace the funk.
Faizal Tahir and I wrote this one shortly after we finished his album for fun. We didn't have Nikki in mind when we wrote it. But hot damn sweet child o mine...I love this song. I wanted this to be the single after "Relakan" but the jury thought otherwise.
Pam Yuen wrote this. I heard the demo and it just clicked. While most make references to Rihanna's "Unfaithful", I was excited because it sounded like a theme song to a James Bond movie. And it's something that I've wanted to do. You can hear me showing off the French horns at the chorus for that James Bond flavour. Also interesting is that this song has no bass.
Nurfatima demo-ed this song in Malay with a R&B arrangement. It sounded kinda old in Malay but I liked the melody. So we did it in English because you don't really hear a lot of English songs with "old Malay" melodies. And that country slide guitar thing? That's just me and Jamie Wilson being bored.
I love this song. This is a deceptively simple song. It's a challenge for me given my gift of overdoing things. I am excited with this song because of the "Purple Rain" references, which no one else seems to care about.
SEMALAM DAN SEBELUMNYA
This is another song that was in storage forever. Wrote this in 2004. It was an urban thing but it was Nikki's idea to go old school with it. And I was keen because I just bought this analog-type synth.
It was tough to keep this song sounding new because it would have so easy to rely on wah-wah guitar and congas to give it that sound. But I was inspired by the theme song of "Three's Company" to arrange the horns as it is and make it a song within a song. Some say it's too busy but it works for me.
This is not likely to be a radio song but it is really to show what Nikki can do. The brilliant lyrics by Ad Samad made it my personal favourite. This song turned out way better than I expected.
I wanted to do a tango track in 2006 because I stumbled on this cool accordian sound. I started "Oh! My" but I never finished it because I wondered who was going to sing it. So in 2008, Vernon and Jovian show me this video of Vitas doing this song where he just wails in the chorus. And I thought, what a cool idea. And then, "Oh! My" was born and dogs every where now live in fear.
BETARA SUKMA / CINTA
I modernised this Italian opera for Jovian Mandagie for his fashion shows and Nikki did the vocals in Italian. I thought it would be interesting to do it in Malay for the CD. Nikki did the operatic vocal section in one pass. We did three or four takes and I chose the best phrases. There's no pitch tuning at all.
I've always had this thing for classical music. And I love using it in pop music. Why? Because I do not need to get rights from dead composers. Muahahaha. For "Cinta", I use Bach and it was a huge mistake to think it would make my job easier. The problem was I couldn't use the entire Bach piece because it didn't really have a pop song format. It just didn't have the lift you'd need for a chorus. So I had to write a chorus. Can you imagine how tremendously difficult it is to follow Bach.
The verse based on Bach's music is timelessly beautiful. My chorus had to live up to that! Right. I had six or seven versions of my pop chorus before I got it right. Hands down, the most difficult chorus to right. In fact, I'd say that this is the most time I've spent on a song!
There is a story to these two songs. It's about love in contrast. "Betara Sukma" is about the negative view on love. Lyrics by Ad Samad in classical Malay. Didn't understand half the words he used but I thought it was brilliant.
And "Cinta" is about the positive. By Azalea. It's based on verses from one of my favourite letters on love, Corinthians 1. Only Azalea has the genius to come up with this. And Jamie Wilson on the acoustic guitar recorded with three microphones.
PRETTY LIKE ME
There are some songs that do not get recorded for years for whatever reason. Usually it is because it sounds to risky. "Pretty Like Me" is one of those songs. I wrote this track back in 2005 based on Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger". No label wanted the song. Oh well.
Nikki came up with the concept of a battle song and wrote the English lyrics. For once, English lyrics that are not cheesy.
See? I can also do England songs.
Kieren Kuek produced and wrote "Hawa" and "BelasMu". I have no idea what went through his mind when he worked on it. But I am glad to share the stage with him because we both share very similar production values. You can hear it! It sounds great. This is one seamless album.
Buy the album! Buatan Malaysia.