For someone who grew up in a predominantly Chinese church and also a self-proclaimed “typical Asian kid” who was sent for classical piano lessons, Shelhiel’s affinity for singing and playing music developed pretty organically. Music to him was a language that he used to communicate and connect with others, and it grew into a passion that led him to create his own sound to express himself better. Having landed his break with 8TV’s The Ultimate Song songwriting competition, Shelhiel has since honed his craft not only as an artiste but also a producer.
Looking back at your journey so far, was there something you wish you had done differently?
I was doing my Architecture degree in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia when I joined the competition and it delayed my semester for a while. But I went back to finish up my studies immediately after that, and not signing up with a songwriting or publishing deal was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It allowed me to further explore production, composition, beat cyphers, live sets, DJ-ing and grow into electronic music.
Who would you say are your music influences?
Lido, Dean, Kanye West, Jolin Tsai, Charli XCX, BewhY, James Blake, M-flo, Heize and so many more! My influences are mostly related to electronic music, because I started by playing PC games on Windows 98, XP etc. I didn’t realise how much “raving” I was already doing since I was 11 or 12 up until almost the end of high school, listening to hardcore, funky, techno or housy 8-bit music by Yuzo Koshiro. And no one can ever forget the classic Pokémon game BGM.
Tell us about your new EP.
Superstrobe is a story of me encountering love and loss in relationships. I was into so many different genres, it was quite hard to curate a journey which I could really appreciate the listening experience. Opening the EP is a story of an angelic being, experiencing life and vibing to it, and it ends with a heartbreak song. The EP should be listened to in one go as it is designed as a journey for the listeners for the full “Shelhiel experience”.
Is there a song you’ve written that’s particularly special to you?
Such a tough question! But it’s probably the last song, Runnin, Merindu featuring NYK and Airliftz. I wrote the song two years ago when I was ditched by a girl whom I thought was the one (laughs). I just picked up my guitar and started humming these melodies, and it’s my first-ever Malay song. I was listening to lots of Indonesian and Malay bands and artistes at the time like Noh Salleh, Efek Rumah Kaca, and White Shoes & The Couples Company.
You have quite a distinctive image and presence especially on social media. Do you see it as an extension of your music?
Definitely. Starting out with electronic music, music and visuals have always been important elements especially in live shows, where DJs and VJs perform side by side to create a new virtual immersive experience. Working with my art director friend Curly for almost a year just proved to me that you can always elevate the world-building and story-telling experience to your audience.
TIMUR GABRIEL (@timurgabriel)
Music has always been part of Timur Gabriel’s world. Coming from an intensely musical family, her father being the award- winning artiste Datuk Zainal Abidin Mohamed, or better known as Zainalabidin, Timur is accustomed to life in showbiz. To her, the only leap that she had to take to make a career out of it was to overcome her fear of criticism. The rise of streaming platforms helped a great deal as they allowed her to finally unsubscribe from the demands and expectations of the traditional marketplace and tell her story on her own terms.
Being a musical offspring, does that put any type of pressure on you?
Not at all. Although I enjoy my father’s music and respect him as an artist, I’ve never actually compared my abilities or sound to his. We are fundamentally different. He can sing very high notes for a man. I can sing very low notes for a woman. He sings in Malay, I sing in English. His genre stems from an interest in jazz and progressive rock. I’m the new-age soul type. I can’t do what he can and he can’t do what I can. We’re different and that’s something I embrace.
How hard was it for you to find a place in the local scene especially with your music genre?
I’ll tell you this, I had previously met with representatives of record companies who straight up told me that I needed to sing Malay songs and present myself in a way that would be appealing to the Malays. That’s something I rejected because I lack the ability to express myself properly in Malay, and as for appealing to the mass Malay market—I knew that meant speaking differently and dressing in a way that simply was not myself. The last thing I wanted was to be inauthentic.
What was the first song you’ve ever written?
It’s my debut single called Aphrodite that I recorded with a cheap mic in my friend’s closet (laughs). It initially started as a description of my best friend Chloe, who is one of the most resilient people I know. Then it grew into something bigger. It’s about all the parts of being a woman that we women have been made to question. Is it unattractive to speak up? Is it wrong for us to talk back? Do I really need to drop a dress size? And the answer to all of that is no.
Was part of it drawn from your own experience?
I have been an assertive person all my life, and I have been punished for it on multiple occasions. Throughout my life, I struggled with body image, familial issues, mental health issues and yet people were trying to make their opinion of me my problem. I wasn’t taking any of it and still don’t. And I know that I’m not the only one being chastised for speaking up. Aphrodite tells you that you don’t have to accept the criticism of the ignorant few as gospel.
What’s next for you?
I am hoping to release what I suppose is a memoir by the end of the year as an EP! Besides that, I was cast in a musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard called Annette last year. It’s a super small role but an incredible experience nonetheless! I sang live for that, which was the most daunting thing I’ve ever had to do, especially with Adam right next to me. The movie comes out next year and I can’t wait for everyone to see it!
It has been quite a year for YonnyBoii. From releasing his monster hits Salahku and Boleh Bla to collaborating with industry giants Dayang Nurfaizah, Faizal Tahir and Tuju for the chart-topping X Missing U, the 22-year-old rapper slash singer is fast becoming a powerhouse in the music scene. And the fact that he had only made his professional debut last year makes his ascent to fame all the more impressive. Now with an album underway, Yonny looks to further his reach with his unique compositions and forward-sounding, impactful lyrics.
When did you realise that you wanted to make or write music?
I first started getting into music when I was 14. That was when I was active on YouTube, producing my own songs. I was scouted to be a recording artist when I was 21 years old. I’ve always been interested and in love with music. I was inspired by seeing some bands performing live on stage and the thought came to me that I wanted to do the same thing.
What’s the one song that posed the greatest challenge to write?
The first song I ever wrote was called Alive. I was 14 and I was a depressed kid back then. But Aku Itu Aku was one of the songs that really got me thinking. I scraped the song a few times at first because it sounded wack to me but I knew there was something missing in that song, which was my soul.
What about your current sound? Would you say it’s truly “YonnyBoii” or are you still experimenting?
I’d say I’m still not there yet. I’m still experimenting on my sound so I could reach that certain height.
As a working musician in 2020, do you think that a physical album still has its appeal or are you content with having your music on digital platforms and streaming services?
It does. For me, having a physical album on hand feels like a reward for yourself. It makes all that hard work feel paid off.
If you could share the stage or collaborate with an artist or band, who would that be?
Yuna made a huge impact in my life and I’d go so far as to say that I wouldn’t even listen to music if it wasn’t for her. If I could share the stage or collaborate with an artiste or band, it would be her because she changed my life.
Like many creatives her age, Bunga’s success story has a lot to do with the undeniable, new-age force of social media. The video of her spitting fire at the U Try Rap Please event, where she was first acquainted with the local hip-hop in-crowd, had gone viral a couple of years ago and it was a turning point for the Perak-born rapper. From there, Bunga continued to amp up her digital presence, posting her routines on Instagram every week, until she received the invitation to the online cypher show 16 Baris that had taken her career to a whole ’nother level.
Have you always wanted to be a rapper?
I used to love writing poems and more often than not they’re inspired by rapper Malique Ibrahim. I started rapping for fun but now that I’m already in the industry, I feel like it’d be a waste of opportunity if I stop now. Making music is always fun even though it could be hard sometimes when you don’t have any fresh ideas. But because of my supportive friends and family, and guidance from my music peers, I am persisting to this day.
Do you find it hard to churn out ideas or get inspired?
Creativity is the biggest challenge that young musicians face today. For me, I always want every song that I write to be different. I feel like when people don’t have the idea or their own sense of creativity, they would come up with something that sounds similar to some other people’s. But I also realise that I need to work with a music partner for guidance as I’m very new to these things. So every time I want to make music, I will ask for their opinions. That’s how I give my ideas a boost.
What is your creative process like and how do you come up with those firecracker lyrics?
I’d usually start with the melody before I write the lyrics. I would study the melody of other people’s songs, exploring songs that I’ve never heard before and I’d ask my music partner for advice. Once I have found the melody, I’d look for the content that works best for the beats and only then I would start writing the lyrics.
The song Apadehal sounds deeply personal. What’s the story behind it?
It’s an official soundtrack for the Kabir Bhatia-directed film Aku, Bunga, which I starred in. The lyrics run parallel to the storyline. My character, Bunga, is a baju-kurung-clad small-town girl who is always being looked down upon because she likes rap music but she doesn’t let that affect her. She knows that she needs to believe in herself and if people around her don’t like it, it’s not her problem.
And on that note, has your baju kurung and hijab- wearing image ever become a deterrent in pursuing your musical dreams in real life?
No. Although I will admit that many people did find it strange at first because they had never met anyone like me: a woman in baju kurung, with hijab, rapping. There are also those who think that this image that I’m carrying is not suitable for this kind of music and they may be right. But music is universal; we should be allowed to be creative in our own ways and to make music that we love.