The Rise of Indie in Sabah

25 May 2016

There’s a certain stereotype about East Malaysians that is rather flattering. Just like our neighbours the Philippines, they often get asked if all Sabahans can sing. While not 100% true, there’s no doubt that the talented state is undergoing its own indie uprising.

A new breed of Sabahans are making a name for themselves in the Malaysian music industry including the likes of Michelle Lee a.k.a Froya, and GTXperiment's Jude Bensing and Clinton Liew. A lot more musicians from Sabah have relocated to Kuala Lumpur in hopes of more opportunities and exposure, but there are still some local talents who are adamant to make a change back home.

Cover bands will probably always be predominant in the Sabah’s music scene. Most venues and event organisers prefer musicians to play popular songs that are crowd pleasers, and this does stifle the growth of original music. Fortunately, there are a handful of business owners who are trying to support and develop the indie music scene.

Daryl Lanjuat, owner of Kampung Bahang Roadside Cafe started Rock the Village, an event that is held every last Friday of the month at his bistro. Being a member of two bands, he understands the lack of opportunities for local artists to perform. When he opened the cafe last year, he wanted to create a venue that was indie music friendly.

At first glance, you would not expect this food court-style open-air cafe to be a popular performing space. But for some peculiar reason the combination of bak kut teh, ikan panggang and loud rock music really works.  If that is not your cup of tea, Kampung Bahang Roadside Cafe also serves mean pork burgers and hosts acoustic nights on the first Friday of every month. 

Another venue in town that is well known for its open mic sessions is Biru Biru Cafe + Bar. Held every first Sunday of the month, this event attracts quite a crowd and performers travel all the way to Kota Kinabalu from districts such as Papar and Kudat just to play a couple of tunes.

This monthly event was initiated back in October 2015 by Shaneil Devaser, the frontman of The Endleaves, a rock band based in Kuala Lumpur.  Although he has been living in the capital city for more than 10 years, he visits home quite frequently. Realising the obvious gap between the indie music scenes in both cities, he wanted to establish a fixed platform for local musicians to express their creativity. The open mic session is currently run by Boy Sunny of Meteor Crates, a local alternative rock outfit.

Santai Cafe in Kingfisher has also been gaining popularity since it started two years ago. Owner Mohd Izzat Datuk Murshidi has always been passionate about the local music scene and wanted to contribute to the growth of the industry by organising regular events.  Every Wednesday and Saturday nights the cafe hosts local indie acts of all genres.

If you're an out-of-towner, this is definitely a worthy pitstop. You get a taste of local music and traditional Bisaya, Kedayan, Dusun Tatana and Bruneian cuisine. Don't expect anything fancy though. Santai Cafe is your typical mom and pop coffee shop, which makes the experience even more interesting.

What's the future of Sabah's indie music scene? We'll just have to wait and find out. Hopefully it will continue to flourish because it would be a complete waste if the amazing local talents aren’t properly nurtured.   

Be sure to get your taste of Sabah’s indie music when you’re in town:

Kampung Bahang Roadside Cafe
Address: Jalan Kobusak, Kampung Bahang, Penampang

Biru Biru Cafe + Bar
Address: 24, Lorong Dewan, Kota Kinabalu

Santai Cafe
Address: No 27-0, Lot 30, Ground Floor, Lorong Kingfisher Plaza 3, Kota Kinabalu

By Rozella Mahjhrin

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