By Mohani Niza
In March this year, Malaysian artist Zee Avi released her single ‘Good Things’. It is an apt song right now as the world battles against the coronavirus, and is an instant mood-lifter.
Zee said it was penned by her guitarist and musical director in the US, dAvid sTrange. She told The Culture Review Mag: “dAvid is one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. It was one of his poems that I insisted should be a song. I remember when I first read it, I knew that this was medicine that was to be shared as it applies to some many different aspects of life. It’s a song about hope, and taking your time to go through your obstacles and lessons, which will lead you to wisdom, that is good things.”
The song was written a few years ago and was planned to be released during spring. “When the pandemic started escalating, the song started to bear more meaning. So, it turned out to be super timely,” Zee said.
She said the melody took only a couple of hours to create. “dAvid and I sort of knew it was going to be special so we kept it simple and timeless. Then I recorded the song in the studio with my producer and friend Andre De Santanna in LA and had amazing musicians add their touches to it.”
The melody and vibe of ‘Good Things’ are slightly different from Zee’s previous songs. While her songs in the past were slightly more upbeat (for example, ‘Bitter Heart’ and the playful song ‘Kantoi’), ‘Good Things’, in comparison, is made up of bare acoustics, simple vocals and melodies. Zee has also chosen to skip her trademark ukulele this time.
Zee insisted that the song does not signify a new Zee Avi altogether, but is simply an extension of who she is. “Zee Avi will constantly be evolving, and so will her sounds. I myself am just a messenger of stories that need to be told, and different stories demand different tones of voices, and sound.”
About Zee Avi
Zee describes herself as not only a singer-songwriter, but also a guitarist, ukulele player and visual artist. She was born in Sarawak, Borneo, and moved to the capital Kuala Lumpur at age 12.
After high school, she enrolled to study arts and fashion in London, but did not have strong interest in it, and came back home. In one interview, she said that she experienced an existential crisis at age 21, so one day she decided to channel her sadness into music. She picked up her guitar and the result was a song called ‘Poppy’. It garnered rave reviews, and that was how she was found and signed on by Brushfire Records.
Since then, Zee has been invited to perform at various music festivals around the world, including the Rainforest World Music Festival and Byron Bay. She has also performed on the NPR Tiny Desk concert. She has released two albums and an EP so far.
Zee said: “I really have Monotone and Brushfire to thank for this journey. Plucking a Malaysian girl singing songs to a $20 webcam in her bedroom, which then started this crazy ride. Even though we have parted ways, I still am so grateful to have been in their family where I learned so much.”
Zee is looking forward to launch another album soon called ‘Ellipses’ which consists of nine songs that she wrote in the span of around six years.
“It’s my favourite punctuation, because for me it signifies much of life,” Zee said about the album title. “We are all ever learning, ever growing and the lessons we learn are never-ending and that will continue on until we leave this earth. And I like to think it is much like how I navigate through my own journey in its ebb and flow.”
“I take my listeners along for my growth and exploration, my different waves of emotions, and the different songs and their different personalities. Each song sounds different from each other which makes it really hard to be placed in any label of genre. I don’t really set myself to a genre, because I think that will limit me and a songwriter and musician,” Zee said.
Zee proudly credits her Borneo roots as a major influence on her music and performance style, saying: “My Ohha spirit lives in me and comes with me wherever I go and in whatever I do. Style-wise, I think Borneans are generally pretty chill, but we can also go a hundred per cent when we’re having fun. And I think that translates itself to my performances. I usually start off quite mellow, but I make sure that by the end of the set, everyone is on their feet and dancing.”
Does she feel she has the responsibility to be the cultural custodian of Borneo music and culture?
“My, good question!” Zee said. “I don’t feel this as a responsibility, though more of a natural duty. Borneo is one of the most hidden gems in the world, in my experience of traveling. People either have never heard of it or want to know more. I love my island and I’m really connected to it and its people. Borneo’s culture and land are so rich with nature, heritage and talent, and I’m so happy to see many young Borneans claim their pride of their roots!”
Zee lived in the US for 10 years and kept travelling around the world, which she said has influenced her to be the person she is now. “But that journey is never-ending as I know I have more things to learn about the world and therefore more things to learn about myself. To me, travelling is first hand education, and I think that’s super important to do, even if it’s just within your own country. I’ve learned that I love exploring the people of the new land, and gain different perspectives about how they live life,” she said.
Zee is currently with several projects here and there. “The Movement Control Order has actually kept me quite busy as well, but I get to revisit one of my first loves, painting,” she said, though she said her main focus is currently saving money in order to release ‘Ellipses’.
Zee spoke of her journey so far: “Sometimes I just can’t even believe that music chose me. We are deeply involved and I always joke about how music is my longest relationship. The journey so far has been nothing short of pleasant surprises where I meet wonderful people and get to have amazing experiences because of music. Every step so far has been a blessing.”
Watch the music video of ‘Good Things’ below: