Long Form

Reality show contestant with an indie heart

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I’ve been to gigs; small and intimate, loud and heady and some other combinations in between. I look for a person when I watch someone on stage, not some drudge going through the motions. I look for how much they care about what they’re doing and the type of energy (and there are all sorts) they project to draw a crowd’s attention. Some have such tangible marketability you almost worry that they will take off without having to earn their performing chops the proper way.

Gaining recognition from the grassroots up has mostly been the way things have worked. We have seen success stories like Hujan and Yuna making it big in the mainstream. When they hit the jackpot, we feel good about it because they earned their stripes “the right way” – start small, build fanbase, sharpen craft and finally receive due glory.

That is exactly why Norhasmidar Ahmad sticks out from the local scene like a very odd thumb. Known simply as Asmidar to her listeners, this girl is going at it in the exact opposite direction. Although those who pay close attention to the singer-songwriter circuit might have caught her performances before, she has clocked but a handful of gigs so far. Her exposure to the public has ironically started fairly big at the top instead – through TV3’s reality singing competition ala The Voice called Vokal Bukan Sekadar Rupa (VBSR).

Asmidar @Vokal Bukan Sekadar Rupa

Asmidar is no typical bedroom singer-songwriter peddling heartbreak songs at No Black Tie (although she has performed there a few times). She is very much, like her musical journey, the complete reverse. Having had no exposure to pop music til she turned 18, Asmidar was raised on keroncong asli (traditional Malay songs) and had the full support of her parents who clearly wanted her to be a well-known mainstream singer. In fact, it was her mom that nagged her into joining VBSR and her aunt who accompanied her to auditions. Singing was not an indie interview answer catchphrase; it was not what she “stumbled upon’ or “a hobby” or “an escape”. It was going to be her career; something that she pursued with a diploma in Music at UiTM (Universiti Teknologi MARA) and right after, a furthered degree at ASWARA (Akademi Seni Budaya Dan Warisan Kebangsaan).

While most indie folks dream and wait for the day when they are backed by a full blown orchestra, Asmidar has already done that, and has done it with the type of ease only years of training can allow.

Mengapa Dirindu @ Konsert Irama Lagu Melayu Asli Orkestra Simfoni Kebangsaan

She is a professional. What indie singers aspire to, she has checked off her list. Those ticks are now being funnelled into smaller, intimate gigs that she has just begun to discover. It’s sort of like a reverse osmosis happening right before our eyes. “The indie scene is new to me,” she emphasises. When asked what she wants her music career to be like she cites the sound conceived through her newfound indie leanings as a basis for what will be her calling card. “I believe my songs can crossover to mainstream, I want to go international. I nak pergi, I rasa I akan pergi”.

She speaks of making people feel the weight of her songs, to feel the hugeness of it. True to that, Asmidar produces tunes (with her long-time collaborator Izaad Amir) that fuse the grandeur of old time jazz with wonderfully skewed Bjork-inspired storytelling. They don’t scream Siti Nurhaliza at all. In fact, they don’t really scream anything on the radio right now or on Pitchfork, for that matter. And that is what’s truly exciting.

Biri-biri Hitam @ No Black Tie

After Asmidar’s stint with VBSR (the competition is still ongoing at interview time), no one knows what exactly will happen. But it will be an interesting growth to chart as she ploughs through things in her own unconventional manner. I throw a last question at her about looks and the amount of attention it gets compared to talent and she converts her answer mid-sentence into a strand from a Bunkface song – “diskriminasi menjatuhkan aku”. Although she’s referring to mainstream discrimination, indie sometimes has its own set of unspoken rules too (which will require a whole other article to explain). If she ever backstrokes her way into the arms of indie again, hopes are that her return will be welcomed with an unaffected embrace.

By Adeline Chua