At the recent 30th Anniversary of Lewis Pragasam’s Asiabeat project, ERROL DE CRUZ was blown away by Indonesian violinist Tengku Ryo.
THE Petronas Philharmonic Hall in Suria KLCC was packed with music lovers all out to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of drummer Lewis Pragasam’s Asiabeat project recently.
Pragasam’s project had kicked off as a five-piece band three decades ago, but soon evolved into what he called a “project” because his members were all soloists in their own right and had careers of their own.
Over the years, with different artistes playing with him, the Asiabeat project churned out six acclaimed ethnic fusion albums marketed all over the globe.
The iconic drummer, meanwhile, played everywhere, showcasing his percussion skills alongside such luminaries as drummer Bill Cobham and Fourplay’s famed pianist Bob James and bass guitar exponent Nathan East.
Back home, Pragasam launched a series of DVDs on the use of percussion instruments and also organised team-building sessions using ethnic percussion instruments.
With so much going on, it was still the Asiabeat project that he cherished most and it was this spirit that everyone came to celebrate, last week, thanks to sponsorship from Petronas, the World Instant Noodles Association and Nestle’s Maggi Instant Noodles.
His old musician friends who turned up to perform included tabla player Kirubakaran, shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) expert John Kaizan Neptune (who co-founded Asiabeat) and singer Zainal “Hijau” Abidin, while the newcomers included young rap sensation Caprice, American keyboard player Stewart McAskie, local rock guitarist Sham Kamikaze, djembe player Victor Michael, bassist Maewa Hiroaki, Thai songbird Natasha Patamapongs and a violinist named Tengku Ryo Riezan, whose roots lay in the Sultanate of Serdang in Indonesia.
The show started with Pragasam doing a scintillating drum solo that had the audience spellbound. Using a drums and percussion ensemble he had designed himself, he treated his guests to a solo that sounded excellent in the prized and highly-renowned acoustics of the DFP.
Then, Ryo, the grandson of the Sultan of Serdang, gave the next thundering performance of the night. “I played just about everything... reggae, rock and roll, Latin American, country, bluegrass, flamenco and even what they call jazz, but nothing satisfied my passion,” said Ryo after his electrifying performances at the DFP and at Alexis Bistro in Great Eastern Mall, Ampang, over the weekend.
Ryo hears music in everything — the slip-slap of someone’s slippers, water dripping from a faucet, rain, the wind breezing through trees and, believe it if you please, silence.
“Often, the most beautiful music I hear is when everything is quiet and I can focus on the sounds of life. There’s music everywhere. There are people who believe that the first word Moses ever heard was ‘muzaki’, meaning music," he explained.
At the Asiabeat show, Ryo performed a song titled Muzaki, in which he fused the traditions of the Malay zapin and the gypsy tango, delighting the audience as he danced around the band, weaving one genre into the other.
“I try not to create walls in my music. We have to blend our music cultures. There’s a dance in every melody, even when there are no dancers, and this is where you have to feel the music that comes from your soul and not just play by keeping count of the beats." Ryo has gone to great lengths to learn ethnic music traditions and he feels that it should all be more accessible.
“I believe that it is the duty of every government to provide information on ethnic music traditions for everyone to learn and benefit from.. We need to put our traditional music in a new package just like the tango, rhumba, jazz and other international genres,” he said.
Ryo firmly believes — like Antonio Vivaldi — that you cannot learn music in a school. You find it in your soul, and Ryo, 35, does just that, not having had a single violin lesson in his life.
“When my father gave me my first violin, he told me to play from the heart. Then, my violin was tuned like a guitar,” he says, laughing. Ryo’s compositions like Muzaki, Spirit and Hadramaut are all inspired by his experiences in life. His latest was one he composed on Friday, right on the Alexis stage, inspired by the plight of a lady he’d met after the Asiabeat show a day earlier.
“She told me that when she was pregnant, she had hoped her child would be a violinist," Ryo explained. “She had twins, but they died at birth. I told her that if she took me as her son, I would compose a song for her." And he did. When keyboardist Stewart McAskie walked into Alexis, just to listen to the band, Ryo whispered in his ear. "Sure, no problem," replied McAskie.
Later, the audience was thrilled, blown away really, when McAskie, Ryo, pianist Ywenna and other members of the band practically charmed a new song, aptly titled Twins, from their instruments.
"This is what playing from the heart and soul is all about," said Ryo. The violinist was virtually ‘disowned’ by his family when he wanted to be a musician as they had hoped he would go to university. "By the way, they are very proud of my achievements now," said Ryo with a grin just before he launched his second album, Spirit, at Alexis on Saturday night. Having made new friends here, the rest of the year promises to be a hectic time for Ryo. There were offers for performances from many who, having heard about the virtuoso, turned up to hear him play.
By far, the biggest was for a concert at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil in June, an offer Ryo immediately accepted.