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Monday Music: 'Love the way you lie’ by Eminem (featuring Rihanna)

13 Jun

Eminem is back on form with his latest album, Recovery. Currently his song “Love the way you lie” featuring popular chanteuse Rihanna is getting lots of play on YouTube.

It would be easy to dismiss it as another of those paint-by-numbers hip hop faux duets. Remember those neverending songs featuring Ashanti? This isn’t one of them.

When it comes to rap, I’m a Bone, Thugs-n-Harmony kinda girl. It’s all about the flow which is why angry black man gangster rap from Tupac or Biggie never appealed.

But Eminem is to rap what a poet is to verse. There is a lot of anger and barely controlled madness in his lyric but there’s a polish and restraint and an understanding of the power of melody to complement good rhyming.

Rihanna’s laidback vocal is a good contrast to Eminem’s rapping. The song’s theme, about a volatile, tempestuous relationship, would probably grate on the overanalytical or rabid feminists.

“He’s being misogynistic! He’s being mean to women again!”

The song’s easy to misinterpet as being about a deadbeat who is justifying treating his woman badly. It’s more about the push-and-pull and conflict that can easily erupt in a relationship, methinks.

Anyone who’s been in that kind of situation knows that sometimes you end up falling in love with someone who pushes all the wrong and all the right buttons. Passion is a scary thing and people, like chemicals, don’t often react the same way to different people.

But you promised her
Next time you’ll show restraint
You don’t get another chance

Eminem is quite clear about the effect of violence in a relationship – you hit your woman, she has every reason to walk away.

I rate this an 8/10 and I’m betting it’ll be a hit on radio.


Songs from the Jiwang Kingdom: a review

23 Nov

If you haven’t heard of Mia Palencia, it’s a damn shame.

This Sabahan singer-songwriter has a voice that sounds like honey would if it could sing, sweet yet as strong and full-bodied as a good brew of Arabica coffee.

She’s a jazz crooner as well as an acoustic folk songstress and though I love hearing her do jazz standards, her original songs are still my favourites.

Mia launched her second album a couple weeks back, a mix of tunes called Songs from the Jiwang Kingdom. Though I liked her first album Finding My Way, her sophomore album is so much stronger lyric-wise and its stripped down simplicity is something I find really appealing. In these times where there’s too much overproduction, her simple, soothing arrangements are balm for tired ears.

Her first single, Adam’s Anthem, is currently playing on the airwaves and it’s a fun, folksy tune. But it’s not a schmaltzy ‘tribute’ to her partner, but an honest examination of the insecurities that often plague us especially when it comes to love.

"But you will never know how hard I try, to be the dream you think I am."

The next song, Call Waiting, is a rather humourous song about relationship troubles. Ever known what it’s like to desperately wait for your irate other half to pick up the phone, just so you could apologise and smoothen troubled waters? "Pick up the phone, baby, please don’t miss my call again." It’s the kind of song you could have fun sing along to or, if you’re so inclined, sing outside your lover’s door in the hopes they open it.

(Here’s Mia performing the song with Reza Salleh. I had to stop swooning at listening to Reza. It’s so hard not to want to have his babies)

Mia, if you’ve watched her perform live, has quite the sense of humour and it comes across in her songs. Another hilarious piece is the song Biru about a clueless would-be lover.

If you’re in the mood for something more soothing, The Tender Hour is a dreamy piece about that quiet stillness of midnight. The lovelorn would find some measure of solace in her song about unrequited love, Strong Enough.

There really aren’t any ‘filler’ songs on this album and it’s interesting to see Mia infuse some veiled social commentary in the song Smokescreen. The subtlety of the lyrics are far more effective than a full-on protest song, asking more questions of the listener than pretending to answer them. I suppose it’s a sign of Mia’s growing maturity as a lyricists.

If you want easy listening with a bit more lyrical bite, Mia Palencia’s second album is obviously a carefully crafted set of songs with a lot of heart and accessibility.

Must listens: Smokescreen, Call Waiting, Tender Hour, Adam’s Anthem

To have a listen, go to

Order the album by emailing It’s only RM30 and well-worth the money.

Shameless plug here: Mia’s music will grace Electric Minds Project’s next play, Light in KL City. I’ve been incredibly blessed to get the privilege of providing the lyrics for her songs in the play. Do come watch the play and listen to new interpretations of Mia’s music. Running Christmas week at KLPAC, Pentas 2.

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Songwriting for dummies

15 Nov

So my ‘padawan’ as I call him asks me how you go about writing a song.

Do you write the lyrics first then the music or vice versa?

Simple answer is: anyway you want to.

A song can be as short as three lines or as long as you want it to be.

Writing ‘classical’ music is tricky – you need to adhere to rules of composition and musical notation. Think years of counterpoint lessons but at least, in the end you’ll have a strong foundation in formal music training. It’s good to have, but not absolutely essential to write songs.

Other genre of musics are slightly easier. Pop, folk, country, good old rock and roll – you don’t need formal training to write a good ‘current’ song.

If you’re a writer, I’d suggest writing a poem to start with. Poems are easier to set to music because of the way they’re structured. They have a rhythm to the words; ‘beats’ that you can easily structure to music.

You can’t sing a novel. Nor can you set a novella to music either.

Poems are meant to be read.

Plays are meant to be performed.

Songs are meant to be sung.

You don’t have to have a melody on your head to start with. But if you do, then get that melody recorded. Whether on your phone or your computer, just hum or sing the tune to nonsense words or just ‘lalala’ even. Words may come but melodies, they are fleeting.

The easiest way to get started on songwriting is by learning to play an instrument. A guitar is, hands down, the best starting instrument for wannabe songwriters. You can write plenty of songs knowing just four chords – I kid you not. Many a song has been written with the simple G-E-C-D chord progression.

Other ways to practise songwriting:

1. Grab an anthology of poems and attempt to set a random poem to music

2. Do parodies. Choose a song you particularly like and make a funny ‘alternative’ version of it. It’s great practise at making words ‘fit’ a melody structure.

3. Take simple children’s songs or lullabies and attempt to change a note or two. A jazz version of Rockabye baby? A blues version of He’s Got The Whole World? The sky’s the limit.

Other tips – dissect songs. Figure out how they work – tempo, melody, lyrical breakdown. Compare two of your favourite songs from different genres.

Your first few songs are going to sound like other people’s. Deal with it. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery. Just don’t attempt to sell those songs; you’re likely to get sued.

Songwriting, like any other type of writing, is something you get better at by practising. Try writing one song a month. Take baby steps. For inspiration, watch Wayne Brady and how he randomly improvs songs on demand. Sure, the songs he ‘writes’ for Whose Line Is It Anyway won’t win Grammys but it’s enjoyable demonstrate songwriting stripped down to the barest minimum.

Try collaborative songwriting. Maybe you know a friend who’s great at creating melodies – you could come up with the lyrics instead. Most importantly, have fun and aim to write songs that you know you would want to listen to.

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Backpack scourges of commutersville

11 May

Backpacks are convenient carryalls. But often they drive me to secret dreams of murder.
You see, at rush hour you will see backpack-wielding antisocial morons eating up standing room.
Why,oh numbskull, must you make us suffer your huge shell of a backpack? Sling it to your front. Place it at your feet. Anything but shoving all that bulk in our faces.
Or learn to carry less, damn you.

Is Les Miserables the cure to my misery?

28 Apr

I love musicals but I have a confession:

I’d never listened to the Les Miserables soundtrack before Susan Boyle.

Quite an oversight, really, when I grew up listening to West Side Story and Phantom of the Opera. Why not Les Miserables? Because I found the backstory plain miserable. A convict on the run? A heartbroken prostitute? A maltreated orphan? I preferred my musicals of a much lighter vein, thanks.

But maybe I’ve changed. Or maybe I’m just dogged by this persistent sorrow that won’t go away. I’m just escaping into the music all day, every day. Much like when I was growing up in a home where singing was my only solace, music the only escape from the madness of my parents’ marriage.

Is it loneliness? Is it recurring depression? Is it just me feeling too much of everything the way I usually do? I don’t know. But I find myself listening to my favourite showtunes – As Long As He Needs Me (Oliver) and I Dreamed A Dream (Les Miserables) on repeat. Now my new obsession is Les Miserables’ Bring Him Home. It resonates with that dull ache I thought I’d put to rest last year. The terrible hollowness and painful longing to just go home. A permanent home where there is no more pain, no more loneliness, no more having to feel or care. Where there is peace. Where there is quiet.

I feel parched while in the middle of an oasis; why is the blackness returning even as I have good people around me and life, though not perfect, isn’t at all awful?

And I cling to Pratchett’s reminder that you do not die for a god: you live for one. Every day of my life.


God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there
He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.
He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son.
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.
Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy
You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die
Let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

The dreams you must let go of

16 Apr

You’ve probably heard of Susan Boyle’s amazing rendition of the song I Dream A Dream. It’s not very polished but there’s a strength and sweetness to her voice that makes her rendition compelling.

Listening from a singer’s perspective, I find the song’s a challenging one to sing. It requires stellar breath support and a wide range. The song’s not for a light soprano – you’d need someone with a big, gutsy voice to do it well and yet be able to match the top notes. An alto might find the range a challenge but it fits quite well within the standard mezzo-soprano tessitura.

(Ruthie Henshall singing a beautiful version of it)

The song itself is one with a beautiful melody but lyrics that twist your gut. And well they should, for the character they were written for is as tragic a heroine as you could imagine. Les Miserables’s Fantine has a child out of wedlock, and finds herself abandoned by the child’s father who seduced her and then left.

She sacrifices so much to keep her child alive, enduring shame, hardship and work as a prostitute. Poor Fantine is a romantic victim of circumstance and in I Dream A Dream encapsulates all the hopeless heartache of having loved and finding that love was in vain and unrequited.

I’ve been where Fantine was. Loved to the point of oblivion, only to have it all sadly reduced to anguish and painful memories. Romantic love, I find, is a happy dream. But the dream doesn’t always end well or translate to real life. I’m not looking. I’ve stopped looking for the longest time. Sometimes I do get lonely and miss the comfort of a hand to hold, sweet nothings on the phone, cuddles and languishing together, speaking of everything and nothing at the same time. Maybe I’ll find that again. Maybe I won’t. For now, those moments are distant, bittersweet memories of times I cannot return to. But loss is but a cycle of life, one that’s inescapable and a truth as bitter as unrequited affection.

I’ll live.

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

Cryptic messages or an excuse to pimp Boyce Avenue

21 Mar

My new obsession: Boyce Avenue and their stripped down cover versions. Favourite so far is this slow keyboard version of Ne-Yo’s Because of You.

This version takes the crassness of the original and turns the song into a bittersweet song about lust and obsession.

I got a problem and I don’t know what to do about it
Even if I did I don’t know if I would quit but I doubt it
I’m taken by the thought of it
And I know this much is true
Baby, you have become my addiction
I’m so strung out on you I can barely move
But I like it and it’s all because of you

The problem with being addicted to emotional stimuli is that you get so wrapped up in the whole notion of feeling, feeling something is better than nothing.

Emotional high junkies.

When do you go to rehab and how do you call cold turkey?