Kuala Lumpur, 20thApril, 2018 – When you think of modern R&B and Soul, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is not the first place that comes to mind. The latest release from singer-songwriter NJWA (previously known as NajwaMahiaddin) – a self-titled 3-song EP – could actually change that. The EP offers a rich mixture of warm, analog instrumentation, with subtle infusions of Electronica and mild stylistic references to local musical traditions (Indian, Chinese, Malay) – all enveloped by breezy, mesmeric vocals of a seasoned singer. This is a music tailored-made for the mighty now: tastefully eclectic, future-retro in design, worldly, yet still firmly rooted in the place of its origin.
Interestingly enough, the material for this release was written in New York. The bulk of recording, however, took place at studios scattered across Malaysia – with In the Name of Loveactually recorded in the heart of the Malaysian jungle (you can hear the sound of the rainforest in the background)! The arrangements on Oceanand In the Name of Lovewere handled by shakey.shakey, her band’s musical director. Shakey.shakey was also responsible for playing the Luiquin sounding guitar line on the bridge on In The Name of Love, to further highlight the influence of Chinese folk tradition on this particular number – something that might have gone unnoticed otherwise.
While the production on Oceanis credited to him alone, on In the Name of Lovehe shares it with NJWA and German Electronica producer and jungle dweller, the man they call Cee. One listen toOcean, and you would immediately sense its pure, modern R&B vibe,but those in the familiar would definitely recognize the microtonal technical sliding in NJWA’s vocals that connects the song back to traditional Indian and Malay singing. The arrangement on this one is very minimal, with an almost Berlin Dub type approach to the manipulation of space.
Togok, which is the only song on the EP that was sung in Malay, was produced by MonoloQue, another longtime champion of the fusion of traditional Southeast Asian sound and contemporary music with additional production by EncikFarid. The piece features a traditional ensemble playing the Malay gamelan (traditional bronze percussion instrument) kept in a museum in Pahang. Although, Togokis a traditional folk song, the lyrics were updated to have the action play out in a modern-day, neon-lit megapolis.
This EP marks a new beginning for NJWA – not just in the rebrand of her name, but with an edgier style and point of view, both musically and visually. And like all beginnings, it’s just a promise of things to come. It’s safe to say, though, that the future probably holds more of this particular, idiosyncratic blend of the traditional and the contemporary. Elegantly proven by NJWA with this exquisite EP.
NJWA (previously known as NajwaMahiaddin) is a singer-songwriter operating out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She started playing piano at the age of 3, took her first vocal lesson at the age of 9 and, eventually, graduated from the Berklee College of Music, in Boston. In 2011, she was signed to Warner Music Malaysia and debuted with a full-length record entitled Innocent Soul. The same year, she received the AIM (the Malaysian equivalent of the Grammys) for Best New Artist.
Since then, she received two more nominations. Innocent Soul was followed by the critically acclaimed Aurora EP. Her forthcoming release is a self-titled 3- song EP. This new effort not only celebrates the change of her artist name, but also the new musical direction that this symbolic act stands for. Like her previous releases, this new batch of compositions is still deeply rooted in Soul and R&B, but it is augmented by contemporary Electronica and enhanced by traditional Southeast Asian musical inflections.
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