Malaysia with Djabe - December 08

Steve Hackett in Malaysia

Steve in Malaysia

The invitation to play Kuala Lumpur and Penang Island came from Attila Egerhazi of Djabe a few months ago. Djabe are a talented World Fusion band comprising of Ferenc (trumpet, fugal horn, and violin), Attila (electric guitar), Zoltan (keyboard), Tamas (bass) and Szilard (drums). They are often joined by others on unusual instruments like the cimbalom or Moroccan drums, and they often play extremely exotic locations, such as Outer Mongolia. I sometimes jam along with them, adding the occasional well known guitar bit!

I'd never been to Malaysia before, but just the name Kuala Lumpur sounded like the furthest place on the map from the London fog and appealed to the pioneering instinct. Actually, Kuala Lumpur is not just a collection of mud huts! It is an extremely sophisticated city housing two of the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers.

The flight (over 12 hours) is not for the faint hearted, but Malaysian Airlines were extremely good hosts and very attentive throughout the flight. Jo and I had a good ride, as did my axe that appeared to have been treated gently for a change by baggage handlers.

Next stop Kuala Lumpur itself for a warm up gig with the irrepressible Malik and Carol from the promotions team. Everybody was tired, none more so than Djabe, who were stuck for seven hours (plus lost luggage) in Cairo. At night the decorations at the back of the hotel looked like a Disneyland parade of lights. They don't do things by half at Xmas time in Malaysia!

Visiting the Far East of course means you are wide awake at 2.00 am, when ideally you should be asleep. You are truly dreaming with open eyes or passing out on the street! Say goodbye to normal at Heathrow.

Eight hours in the coach the following day got us to Penang Island via one of the world's longest bridges (about three miles). We joined the coach party along with several of the acts that would be playing the Penang Jazz Festival. Instant rapport with lots of musos from all over the globe including the dynamic Scot Ray Harris who is definitely going places, and the Jaume Vicaseca Quartet from Spain, which had recently reworked many classical Genesis numbers in Jazz style with an album called Jazznesis.

We passed the Tsunami Village Cafe a few paces from the hotel - an ominous reminder of the tidal wave that killed many thousands of people four years ago. It struck the island at exactly the spot where the festival was now in full swing.

Malaysia is an interesting mixture of cultures, colonial, Islamic, Buddhist etc. Where else would you see a woman on a jet ski wearing a burqa looking like the nearest thing to a flying nun? Venuses in veils alongside damsels in miniskirts...

Penang Island offers many exotic things. We blundered into terrapins, monkeys and extraordinary temples. The Kuan Yin temple is fabulous, once you have fought your way past hundreds of vendors! As you ascend your labyrinthine way upwards through narrow passageways it all seems like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, with stalls of unbelievable colours. It seems to go on forever, but then you're out in the light gazing at flying pagodas and golden Buddhas you feel should surely be privy to only the faithful monks who inhabit this architectural rival to China's Forbidden City. On top of the huge structure the great statue of the Goddess of Mercy Kuan Yin herself presides. It's a Rupert Bear journey - surreal and unbelievable, a floating fortress of dreams. You can't possibly see it all in one go and you'll just have to go back again one day.

The Jazz Festival itself of course had a great vibe because in the tropical heat the crowd and performers were all so open to each other. I thoroughly enjoyed the Djabe gig and several of the other exotic acts, from the exciting funky sound of Ray Harris to the dynamic Aseana Percussion Unit. We tended to all eat communally in the hotel that housed the gig, where spirits were extremely high. Food was a delicious ongoing Chinese buffet of a feast. Organisers, including Paul and Maxine, were a great support to all, and one of them, Elvira, was not just a wonderful bubbly personality, but turned out to have the most fabulous singing voice!

All too soon the party was over. Back on yer heads, lads... and back to the cold and damp of England's green and peasant land. Maybe because I'm a Londoner... until the next Rupert Bear excursion from Nutwood... that's all for now folks!

A big thank you to Djabe and to organisers Carol Chu and Malik Traufiq (Kuala Lumpur) and Paul Augustin, Maxine Murray, Elvira Arul and Chin Choo Yuen (Penang)

Steve and Djabe in Penang, Malaysia

Steve and Djabe in Penang, Malaysia