Synesthesia is a condition where a person’s senses are mixed up in a way that the stimulation of one senses lead to the sense impression of another. People with synesthesia, or synesthetes, are able to either ‘see’ music, ‘hear’ colours’, and more! (and sometimes even all of the above). Synesthesia then, is the perfect title for a record whose approach fusion is a wholesome endeavour of appreciation and experimentation, instead of an empty marriage of sound.
Nadir is the colourful canvas version of a band
Nadir is a band with no comparison. The Malay translation of their name means ‘rare’, and they live up to that name with such proficiency, Synesthesia, being the high point of their career so far. They’ve merged different life experiences and emotions, and each and every member of the band act as adroit vessels of these elements. Adil Johan, Stephanie Tham, Farique Nadzir, Santosh Logandran, Zaim Zaidee, Simmy Lor and Ashwin Gobinath come together and bring diversity beyond the creed or colour they harbour, but also through their diverse musical interests and genres. You have Santosh with his influence from traditional music, Farique who comes from a metal background, Adil with jazz roots, Simmy with her obscure virtuosity in Irish & Celtic music, with Stephanie, Ashwin & Zaim; each responsible for expanding the spectrum of immersion that Nadir create with their music. In addition to being multi-instrumentalists, all of the band members sing wonderfully too. “It just provides us with this massive canvas of voices that just adds to the dynamic in such a colourful way”, said Ashwin.
Last year they released their single Ikan Kekek to the resounding bell of 9000+ views, and have been featured on ERA Fm and IM4u and was nominated for “Best Genre Bender” and “Best Pop Song” award at the prestigious VIMA Awards 2016. Those two nominations, in fact, reflect the spirit of Nadir. Although they bend genres, they maintain a certain inclination to be pop in appeal and vibe, proving that unconventionality can be pleasant. The band has also performed internationally, most recently in Phnom Penh Water Festival in Cambodia. Nadir performed alongside Laura Mam, a prominent Cambodian artist, and collaborating with her for a song called In Red that’s due to b released next year.
Synesthesia is a story both universal and culturally idyllic
Synesthesia is predominantly orchestral, focusing on creating environments instead of telling smaller, personal
stories. This gives a sense of grandeur to it, already evident in the string sections of Ikan Kekek, everything bombastically composed to stadium level rock, as instruments come together to wax magic and to provoke every one of your senses. It’s production quality like this that adds a peculiar sense of universality to ditties like “ikan kekek mak iloi iloi/ikan gelama mak ilai ilai“
Narrative-wise, the titles of the songs are not mere embellishments, but act as descriptive preambles to ambience of the track, e.g. the way the song Subuh elicits that feeling of dawn. But Nadir is not experimental fusion for the sake of breaking boundaries, it seeks to be catchy too and sometimes won’t sound amiss from chart-climbing rock music of the early 2000s, especially in songs like Losing It. None of this ‘mass-appeal’ endeavours are at the expense of taste and purpose, down to the specificity of song sequences. One can hear that seamless flow Elegos I to II all the way into Sail Away and To Harbour East. Elegos I brings you on a cruise with piano arrangements and that saxophone in Elegos II just amps i up it to the VIP lounge.
Chaos on an assembly line
Synesthesia as an album is chaos masterfully put on an assembly line. The initially subtle but progressively louder, carnatic chant-prayer by Santosh Logandran recitation in the background of Why Do We Cry, featuring the talented Bizhu, is a gripping artistic choice. The solos around the 2nd minute is a great example of something that could easily fall into dissonant maximalism, but the carnatic undertones work so well to push the character of the track and prevent it from falling into disarray.
The main focus of our music is never to change what is traditional, but to create music without borders – Ashwin Gobinath
Ishq Kudha is one of the strongest tracks in Synesthesia, since it fares well on its own as Keeran Raj‘s sitar and Santosh’s carnatic vocals weaves around the poetry of god is love and love is god. Adil Johan‘s soulful yet calming saxophones and the beautiful gamelan carries you through a reverie on Senja, as it welcomes. The record takes us on a journey through an entire day (or historical timeline, possibly an allegory of dawn to dusk with songs like Subuh and Senja). The song sometimes pays literal tribute to its motley crue fusion of various instruments and cultures through its lyrics too (“Berpegang tangan, kita berdoa sama“).
Finding roots in a globalized world
The next track is The Great Debate, which starts and ends with trippy tape rewinds and essentially is percussions battling it out within the short span of one minute. In a conversation, Ashwin stated: “The full recording of the great debate is actually 25 minutes long but I couldn’t put all of it into the album! I tried to produce that track as a sort of introspective into a ‘debate'”. Although a short song, the humanization of those percussions is adequately conveyed, and in fact punctuated in the lyricism of the next track, Synesthesia – speaking to messages of compromise and moving forward.
By the time you reach the title track of the album, you think you’re all ready to embrace the wonderful melding of saxophones and carnatic magic, but then you’re ambused by some odd rendition of space music with guitar licks by Farique Nadzir and some robotic vocoder singing, further taking you into a pleasantly surprising realm of neo-soul. Synesthesia ends on such a grand anthemic breakdown of percussion, guitars and piano, it really does get your senses all jumbled up into this nice big ball of rainbow cacophony.
The album ends with the cheeky horns of Injit Injit Semut, reminding us that despite the definitive virtuosity of each band member, Synesthesia is fun experimentation and homage to the many cultural elements that makes up each person and their affinities – shaking off all veneers of elitism as it drags people into an audio sphere that can viscerally blow you away, while leaving you mindful of all the limitations music can traverse. “The main focus of our music is never to change what is traditional, but to create music without borders. We make music with no genre or cultural limitations. However, while we’re doing that, part of us wants Malaysians to start embracing their own identity. It’s easy to forget our roots in a globalized world”, Ashwin remarked. Synesthesia achieves that, by mixing up the batter and transcending norms, without forgetting the influences from which they borrow.
The Synesthesia CD is already out and you can buy it online at their Facebook. Nadir will also be performing this Saturday (11 November 2017) at The Bee in Publika!