A Man of Many Hats

22 May 2017

Projek Rabak founding father Mohd Jayzuan is determined to tap into Malaysia’s deep pool of artistic and musical talent, starting with his home state Perak.

Mohd Jayzuan is battling a high fever but you wouldn’t have guessed it from his rapid-fire banter as we speak about the local music scene.

Jaunty in a fedora, jacket and faded jeans, baby-faced Jayzuan, who turns 35 this year, could easily pass as one of the college-going indie performers he is trying to nurture. But don’t let his youthful looks fool you; for the past ten years, Jay – as he is better known – has become one of the country’s most influential voices in the arts, culture and creative movement. As founding father of Ipoh-based creative hive Projek Rabak, he has played a key role in deepening Malaysia’s talent pool in independent music and culture, and then some.

Underground music fans would remember Jay from his grunge rocker days in the late nineties to early noughties. Quite the rebel showman, his antics would have certainly been immortalised had smartphones existed then. “I used to play my guitar with drumsticks and screwdrivers, throw my guitars on stage, hang on lightbars and climb on drum sets. I once needed eight stitches after a stage dive. For me, the stage is my playground.”

Adept in guitar, bass and drums, Jay was never formally trained. Whatever little musical education he received was from hanging out with like-minded kampung buddies in his hometown Simpang Pulai, jamming at music studios in Ipoh and – of course – listening to Nirvana on repeat.

But it wasn’t until he played grunge guitar at St John’s Hall that he got his first taste of performing adrenaline. Facing a screaming crowd of 500, he recalls, “At that moment, I knew this was what I wanted ­­– to perform and share my art.”

As a singer-songwriter, Jay released one EP and two full-length albums, and was featured in several compilation albums. Either with his bands or as a solo act, he performed throughout Malaysia and abroad, including Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. In 2008, he made his first foray into film when he acted in indie short, Konsekuensi. He was also involved in many independent and mainstream film projects (some appeared on national television) either as an actor, producer, director or scriptwriter.

Jay’s creativity isn’t limited to music. To date, he’s produced ten books published in various genres: poetry, travelogue, and novels. Titled 28 Hari Jurnal Rock N Roll, his first book (released in 2010) was a post-breakup travelogue documenting his days of travelling and busking around Malaysia. His follow-up effort was a novella based on his time as a member of a rock band, though under a fictionalised name. Documenting the sex-and-drugs fuelled lifestyle of rock and roll, Anarki di Kuala Lumpur was deemed too mature for Malaysian audiences and subsequently banned.

The books and National Geographic magazines available for reading at Rumah Khizanat.

The common thread in all his works: they’re autobiographical. As an artist, he understands the importance of authenticity, and this is precisely what led Jay to set up Projek Rabak in 2011. Concerned about the decline of the arts scene in Ipoh, he roped in friends Adam Jalaludin, Seyn Jukey, Riduan A Dullah, Sara Khalid and Abdul Azim to create a platform where artists could feel free to be themselves and create without borders.

Cash-strapped, they borrowed a friend’s tuition centre to organise intimate arts-related events. One of their first events was the screening of several short films on a Saturday evening. “We weren’t expecting a crowd. But boy, how wrong we were!” Jay exclaims. The short-film premiere attracted over a hundred people from Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bharu – proving that the masses were hungry for an alternative arts offering.

Rumah Khizanat also doubles as a retail space selling books, T-shirts, vinyl and CDs.

Encouraged by the reception, Jay and his team expanded to performing, curating and organising arts events. They made such an impression that the Perak state government asked them to organise arts, poetry reading and sketches on a high-traffic street in Ipoh to introduce locals to the arts scene. They also had a hand in setting up youth hub P.O.R.T (People Of Remarkable Talents).

Jayzuan with Rumah Khizanat member and Tintabudi founder, Nazir Harith (left).

Sensing the tides were changing, Jay took a break from his own artistic career to focus fully on Projek Rabak. And it wasn’t long before the team decided that it was time to have a space of their own. Khizanat, located on Jalan Dato Onn Jaafar, was established as an event space for youth to socialise and flex their talents. From stand-up comedy to poetry readings, there was no specific genre, nor any of the elitism that’s stunted similar initiatives.

“Rabak is a street slang in Ipoh that means ‘sloppy’ or ‘slacker’. It’s not only for Ipoh boys. We welcome everyone who wants to be part of us. Come to Khizanat, grab the microphone and perform. You can sing, recite poetry or even dance. Just do what feels natural to you. We always think of new ways to bring people together. Without new blood, an arts movement will die.”

What makes their success story compelling is their financial independence, which is rare for an arts collective. Far from being a stable of starving artists depending on hand-outs, Projek Rabak generates enough income to be self-sufficient. Providing content and curating projects for the likes of MyPAA and MyHarapan is one source of income; publishing is another. Under its publishing arm Rabak-Lit, Projek Rabak has provided visibility to a number of promising writers. “We fund the whole process, the writers just give us their manuscripts. Our bestselling book is from Fynn Jamal, a poetry book which sold over 25,000 copies,” he says proudly. Projek Rabak’s latest offering is a bread and breakfast service (Rumah Khizanat in Ipoh’s Taman Canning, which also acts as an arts and retail space) which is doing brisk business.

With all these projects, it’s inevitable that Jay’s own creative output takes a back seat, though he has finished recording a new album. For the short term, his prime focus is Projek Rabak – or rather, what Projek Rabak aspires to achieve. “Rabak is just a small thing for the thing that we believe in arts and there should be more people who work together. Ideally, someone with the money who understands what we’re trying to do and believes there is a future in all this would emerge to fund the local arts scene,” he says.

“We can do it or other people can do it, as long as it gets going. It’s not about me or Rabak, it’s about the cause. Ultimately, it’s all about unleashing creative freedom.”

Khizanat, 57A Jalan Dato Onn Jaafar, Kampung Jawa, 30300 Ipoh, Perak (011 2094 7554).
Rumah Khizanat, No 24, Jalan Lee Kwee Foh, Taman Canning, 31400 Ipoh, Perak (012 562 2353). Bed and breakfast, RM25 per night.

Text by Alexandra Wong
Photos by Lillian Wee



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