Welcome to another edition of #Neue9to5. This week, we’ll find out What’s Neue with Amal Murni, who will be turning 24 this year (a Leo).
She’s the co-founder of Kepala Seni, a small independent news company specifically for the local music scene. It took shape a year ago while she was in her final year at Sunway University.
Amal, who goes by the Instagram handle @blumoongrrl, has been in the music scene since she was 15.
Check out this YouTube video (that was uploaded 7 years ago) of Amal performing her own song, ‘Overshadow’, during her fist open mic.
“It’s kind of funny talking about myself because I’m normally the interviewer,” she said in an interview with Neue on Thursday afternoon (March 26). “I’m pretty much a behind-the-scenes kind of person, so this is funny and new to me!”
According to her, she has always been an avid listener and appreciator of music as she grew up to her dad playing songs from The Beatles, James Taylor, Springsteen, etc.
“I’ve always been surrounded by music basically,” she said.
During her final year, while doing working on her thesis, Amal made her first EP in her small apartment in Sunway. At the same time, she also worked on a Spotlight segment for Kepala Seni.
After she was done with university, Kepala Seni organised its first gig, “What Did You Expect? Vol. 1” as a way to revitalise the dying (underground) music scene in Brunei.
Let’s begin …
#1. Is the local indie scene getting enough attention in Brunei? What are the challenges so far?It’s slowly getting the attention it deserves especially during the “What Did You Expect? Volume 1 and 2”. However, it still needs a little push especially from the public because they easily categorise one thing as ‘Indie’, which often times can put some people off.
The indie scene has loads of genres.
For example, Surf Vampires is often categorised as Indie when in fact they are shoegaze and dreampop.
Mirror Trash is lo-fi, alternative, dreampop, indie rock with a dash of folk -- so it gets a tad bit confusing sometimes because most of the bands/ artistes from the Indie scene wear multiple inspirations on their sleeves!
However, considering that most of us are independent of the general music industry; the term given is understandable! Haha!
There are loads of artistes in Brunei who are trying to get their voices be heard, and most are very very talented and passionate. Take for example, Chlorine … he’s 15, and he already produced beautiful bedroom, dreampop tunes! Amazing!
But people don’t know much about him yet because the scene doesn’t get a lot of recognition and acknowledgement compared to those that cater to the general public’s taste.
So most of us are helping each other out by buying and streaming each other’s music.
Other than that, everyone is still trying to pull through, be there for one another and not feel demotivated again especially in this trying time.
#2. What are your thoughts about catcalling in Brunei? Have you ever experienced it?
Yes, of course! I think being female, it’s a given that we have at least experienced it once in our lives.
I have experienced it while hiking, jogging, walking around a commercial area and even on my way to my car!
It’s one of the things that still makes me feel conscious about my body since puberty hit, which is why I tend to opt for baggy clothes, or clothes that are one to two sizes bigger than my actual size.
Oh! And to add … I have the tendency to hold my key(s) in between my fingers just incase I was being followed!
#3. Are you a writer yourself?
I have been writing since I was given the choice to order whatever from the catalogue in KG2. This was when I ordered my very first diary -- a Winnie the Pooh one! I have a blog called piscespixies (blogspot) -- I was active there around 2015- early 2018. Additionally, I am the writer for Kepala Seni ^_^
#4. Tell us a little bit about Kepala Seni.
Kepala Seni is a concept that the co-founder and I came up with while eating pizza in Kuala Lumpur. Spending my 3 years in KL made me question the Bruneian music scene and how people like my friends and I can put the local music out there, while simultaneously support each other.
Kepala Seni is an amalgamation of Malaysia’s The Wknd, a platform for Malaysian artistes to be heard and appreciated through competitions, gigs, interviews, etc; and Pitchfork/ NME Magazine.
I fortunately know one of the founders of The Wknd since I am a big fan of his music and often come to his gigs. So while I was at one of his shows, I had to ask for some advice on how to make it work when budget is nil but passion and drive are off the charts because The Wknd started the same way as well back in 2008 (if I’m not mistaken).
For Kepala Seni, we want it to not solely be online content because there are plenty of grounds to cover and we have only covered a fraction of it as of now through interviews, articles, contributions and gigs.
Kepala Seni’s proudest achievements would probably be the “What Did You Expect?” gigs (Oct and January) because we not only got to revive the music scene -- we also got to physically witness the support and passion that the locals have towards the underground scene.
Furthermore, during the January gig, our friends from KL visited Brunei before flying off to KK for an Indie Fest and they performed for all of us and to this day, those who came to the show still treasure that moment. Personally, it was one of my greatest achievements too being one of the few females in a male-dominated scene in Brunei.
We hope to improve our consistency, presence and content. I am planning to cover the grounds through documentaries, research based articles and collaborations. Here’s hoping all will go well!
#5. Do you perform solo? Where can Neue readers go to support your music?
I used to perform solo (acoustic sets), but when I opened the show for “What Did You Expect? Vol. 1”, I asked some of my friends to be my secessionists, which was literally the first time I have played in a band. It was something to get used to! But generally, I write, play, record and produce all of my music through a cheap mic, my trusty guitar and Garageband. Furthermore, the illustrations/ art work for my EP, singles and demo compilations were made by me as well.
You guys can support my music through Bandcamp (bluemoongirl.bandcamp.com) or Soundcloud (soundcloud.com/bluemoongirl28). I don’t have any merchandise at the moment, nor physical CDs but one day I might! Hehe!
#6. We cannot proceed with this interview without discussing COVID-19. I understand you are volunteering your time to help our frontliners. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Yes, I did. I can’t really tell much about it as we were told to sign a confidentiality agreement, but the important thing is that the number of volunteers is increasing. My heart feels somewhat lighter and happy to know that. Everyone is coexisting and working hard to ensure the people’s safety and future. Also, those in charge with the operational bits should be applauded because they are working around the clock and some actually sleep at Pusat Bahagia because of the shifts … unsung heroes!
#7. Who has been your biggest inspiration in your life thus far? What lessons did you learn?
Not to come off as corny, but my mum and dad; especially my dad. He had a humble beginning and he worked hard to support us. I guess because of that, despite his title and all, he is still humble and modest; always kind, soft-spoken, wise, respectful, compassionate, loving, full of music and dorkiness!
One thing that has stuck with me to this day was when he told me about his mother; how she didn’t have the privilege to get a proper education; she only knew how to read the Quran when she was old -- because of her, my dad studied and worked hard because he knew if he didn’t, he would’ve wasted his privilege.
Moreover, my parents are super compassionate whether it’s towards people or animals; we’ve been adopting stray cats and took care of them since I was a baby! We always have cats around. One time we even had goats, chickens and fishes!
Furthermore, my parents taught me a lot about true love because they are literally the living proof of it and it’s no surprise that I am a hopeless romantic. I swear it’s because of their cheesiness. You see, my dad used to serenade my mum with The Beatles’ And I Love Her (check out the YouTube video below); when he turned 64, he sang to my mum “will you still feed me, will you still love me when I am 64?” --AH! Adorable!
Additionally, I can always tell that they hold dear to what their parents taught them, even if it was the littlest things like eating properly (because manners) or something big, like appreciating the life you have (because they have experienced losses).
Though my grandparents from both sides are no longer with us, they live within my parents and through them I knew that they (my grandparents) were beautiful beings inside and out. I was fortunate to have met my grandfathers (from both sides) when I was a kid and they were incredibly kind, patient and strong-willed! I miss them both.
#8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue their dreams / passions in the creative scene in Brunei?
They should do it! Follow your gut, listen to your intuition! Things like these; when you know, you know. Of course it will be challenging, c’est la vie, but if you are really passionate about something, and believe in it, there’s no doubt it will flourish into something magnificent.
However, considering how the economy is, it may take awhile to get there as you might juggle two or more jobs to keep yourself at bay (which is what I did).
The point is … it’s important to have the drive, passion, goal, support (especially mentally because it will be a rollercoaster) and faith (in yourself and in your art).
#9. What would you like to say to our Neue readers? The floor is all yours!
Please stream and buy my friends’ music. It will mean a lot to them!
Now moving on to the second part of the interview, where the last 5 questions are more chill.
#1. If you could have any celebrity (singer) in the world perform for you on your birthday? Who would it be and what song would you like he/she to sing. Also what’s the one question you would like to ask him/her?
Honestly, I am torn between James Taylor, Conor Oberst, Beck and Ben Gibbard! But if I were take my family into account, I would pick James Taylor because my dad loves his music!
I would probably ask him to play ‘Carolina in My Mind’ because it got me through some tough times, especially when I was in Uni; loneliness, home sickness, depression, heartbreak, anxiety and stress were not good combinations.
Coincidentally, the song was written when James Taylor was experiencing the bane of his addiction and homesickness because at that time he was in the UK (he was signed by Apple Records, The Beatles’ record label) and we was from Carolina; thus, Carolina in My Mind. It’s sort of a melancholic thing, and I easily gravitate to anything melancholic because I feel like that’s one of the most beautiful things about being human.
The question I would like to ask him is … “What made you want to perform for MY birthday of all people?” Haha!
#2. If you could instantly speak a foreign language fluently just by making a wish. What language would it be and why?
Arabic, Aramaic or Latin actually; it’s mostly for historical reasons because I have always loved reading about the story of Babylon, Solomon, Thamud, Pompeii, secret societies (the nasty things the elites are doing behind closed doors), Bohemian Grove, and such. I tend to gravitate towards that kind of mysticism and ‘conspiracies’.
#3: What’s your favourite TV show? Now which character of that TV show best represents you and why?
That ’70s Show. It’s hard to pin point which one best represents me because Eric, Donna and Hyde are sort of a mixture of who I am, but if I were to pick just one; Donna; solely because of her love for music, feminism, goals, independence, and the acknowledgement of her self-worth.
#4: For our future 9 to 5 interviewees, please suggest 1 “serious” question for the first part of the interview and a “funny/silly” question for the second part of the interview.
Serious question: What’s your take on mental health? What is your method/s to cope?
Funny/ silly question: If you could make any animal meme as your pet, which one will it be and why?
#5. Who would you like to nominate for the next #Neue9to5 interview?
Aizat Haris of Mirror Trash (and previously Bipolaroids) -- He’s very active in the UK through gigs. His songs got played in BBC Radio in Cumbria (I think), including a song I wrote and sang in; ‘Let Me Down Easy.’
Adrian Tiga of Surf Vampires -- His band is sort of the veterans and OG in the Indie scene. They handed their EP to one of the local radio stations, they played one of their songs but didn’t understand their genre ‘shoegaze’, and said “it’s just noise.”
Matius Belayan of Tropical Hornbills -- Another veteran in the Indie scene. He organised Indie Coco, Miri in 2018 as well as being part of the organising team for Borneo x Semenanjung in KL (2018). In addition, he also contributed for The Big Jam back in 2017 (I think) and Where’s The Gig?
Fadhlan Salleh of Goat Eyes/ Georgia Melt -- A one-man band basically, I’d say multi-instrumentalist similar to Adrian and Aizat. He’s still new in the scene because he started releasing his music in 2017 while he was in the UK and only played live in Brunei last year for “What Did You Expect? Vol. 1”. The way he makes his music is interesting for someone who makes punk/ garage-rock/ folk, and quite inspiring. A beast on the drums too!
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