A band’s rebirth of sorts

 <b>Practice makes perfect</b>: <i>Clockwise from left</i> The Fingerstyle: Kamilzan Jusmin, Syuwari  and Syuraih Ritchie, Sabri Gibson and Siti Hajar Johan.

Not quite all in the family, but FingerStyle rises from the ashes of LaserBeam

<b>Ritchie</b>: There's hope.Music in Sabah doesn’t pay well. But there’s hope. And this has given rise to FingerStyle, a rock band which tries to relive the glory days of the famous LaserBeam which died 20 years ago. Sutrisno Ngasio, 51, once popularly known as Ritchie LaserBeam, is nostalgic. He speaks fondly of the 70s and 80s when his band, which he set up with two of his brothers and a cousin, was hot on the music circuit of the north Borneo island state. “FingerStyle is the second generation of LaserBeam,” says Ngasio, still Ritchie to his friends, beaming with pride.

Top class hotels, pubs and restaurants pay between 20,000 ($6,150) and 30,000 ringgit a month for foreign bands, mostly Filipino. About a score of local bands have sprung up since five-star hotels began employing local musicians to perform at their lounges. The Sabah government has forced them to do so to promote local artistes. But local bands are paid only between 10,000 and 15,000 ringgit for a month’s engagement. Hotels say their guests prefer foreign bands. Depending on their popularity, local bands charge between 800 and 2,000 ringgit to play for about four hours at weddings and parties.

Still, this is a far cry from Ritchie’s band playing days when hotels were few and such engagements were rare. “We played at parties and weddings for a few bucks,” Ritchie says. “Most of the time we played for the fun of it.”

After his marriage, Ritchie broke up his band and turned to selling musical instruments and teaching music for a living. At his LB Music City at Asia City in Kota Kinabalu, Ritchie charges between 14 and 28 ringgit for a half-hour jamming session or between 42 and 70 ringgit for two hours.

Last month FingerStyle, a band of five including a woman singer, won the Prima Akustika battle of the bands contest and walked away with a 2,000-ringgit prize. It received kudos for its performance at the recent jazz festival.

<b>Masidi Manjun</b>: Pulling strings for local musicians.Ritchie says he set up FingerStyle three years ago to allow his two sons to develop their musical talent. “I’ve been teaching them music when they were eight,” he says. “They took it up easily. They have music in their blood.” He laughs. Eldest son Syuwari, 17, plays the guitar while Syuraih, 16, is a drummer. Ritchie’s daughter Safirah, 10, hasn’t taken to music yet. Others in the band are Sabri Gibson, 16, who plays the bass guitar, and singers Kamilzan Jusmin, 23, and Siti Hajar Johan, 20. Ritchie, of course, is their manager.

Ritchie appreciates the efforts of Masidi Manjun, minister of tourism, culture and environment, in giving local musicians a platform to hone their skills and to carve out a career.

“I tell my musicians that they have to have a lot of skills to survive in this business,” he says. “They have to learn to play music, sing and dance. And in our country, they must have a wide repertoire of all kinds of music and songs: English, Malay, Chinese, Indian and Kadazandusun.”

FingerStyle practises every day for three to four hours. Ritchie laments that Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) has stopped promoting Sabahan musicians. “In the old days, RTM would always invite us to play music, record it and play it on air for its listeners,” he says. “It doesn’t do so anymore.” – Insight Sabah

(Reporting by Ng Jia Xiang)

Related stories:

Showtime for Sabah musicians

A damper on jazz

Jazz, and all that jazz


Posted on July 8, 2010

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