While the majority of Malaysians finally have something celebratory to shout about this Merdeka Day, what with the recent turn of events during the 14th General Election that took place back in May, we have reasons to be proud of some of the individuals who have taken their respective leaps of faith overseas, and thrive in their varying careers in different parts of the world.

This week, our three-parter focuses on nine talented personalities – from fashion to theatre to music, and from entertainment onscreen and behind, who have given us reasons to be proud to share the same nationality as them.

 


RENDRA ZAWAWI
Music Composer/Producer
Los Angeles


Photo credit: Andrew Loh

 

What have you been busy with over in Los Angeles?
All this while, I have been part of the music department for television series like Mr Robot, Feud: Bette and Joan, Scream Queens and 9-1-1. Not to mention, providing additional compositions for American Horror Story: Cult and American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, under lead composer Mac Quayle, with whom I’ve performed with at the Movie Score Malaga Music Festival (MOSMA) last year.

I also co-own the music production company Amplitone Productions with fellow Malaysian and Los Angeles resident Alvin Wee. We provide a variety of music services, ranging from music composition and songwriting, mixing, sound design, to other post-audio related work. Through Amplitone, Alvin has recently completed mixes for the film Tag (which starred Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Isla Fisher), as well as the Kungfu Panda ride at Universal Studios. Currently, we’re working on the audio production for Feisal Azizuddin’s feature film Temenggor, as well as several more television series in Fall 2018. On top of that, we’re also in talks to possibly produce a musical back in Malaysia – an exciting new musical territory for us!

Which projects that you have done in the past would you say you are personally proud of, and which the people back in Malaysia can be proud of?
I believe this would be the collaboration for ‘Arena Cahaya’ with singer/songwriter Zee Avi, for the 2016 film Ola Bola by Chiu Keng Guan. This song has won us Best Original Theme Song at the 2016 Golden Horse Film Festival (a historical first in the music category won by a “non-local”), and the 2016 Malaysian Film Festival. Apart from that, a milestone was achieved for our company when we wrote the closing theme song for the 2017 SEA Games, ‘Together We Rise’, sung beautifully by Malaysian Idol winner Jacklyn Victor, and Akademi Fantasia winner Vince Chong, in front of millions of live viewers from around the region.

It was the dawn of a new era for Malaysia during the General Elections back in May. How has things changed for you where you are, after hearing the news?
Personally, I feel the new change has affected Malaysians in a very positive way, in a sense that people are more attuned to the wellbeing of the country. Regardless of the outcome, it is always a good thing to have the social consciousness of the people grow towards working for a better Malaysia. I for one am paying more attention to the matters back home, which motivates me to give back to the country even more.

As a Malaysian residing overseas, how do you think this “New Malaysia” affects you as a Malaysian, and in your career?
One of the purposes of Amplitone, is to be the bridge between entertainment talents (artistic and technical) from Malaysia and Hollywood. We have plenty of unsung Malaysian heroes here in Hollywood working behind the scenes, and we firmly believe that this “New Malaysia” would entice them more to “give back” to the “new nation”. We would like to provide that platform and link for them to do so. That is also true the other way around, when it comes to connecting Malaysian talents with those in Hollywood. I believe people in Tinseltown would be more open to collaborate with Malaysian talents, now that Malaysia’s recent transformation has generated mostly positive publicity across the globe.

What do you miss most about Malaysia while overseas?
Like any sane and authentic Malaysian, the food! I miss the accessibility to cheap late night lepak spots, like the mamak. It’s such a simple pleasure to know that there’s a spot open 24/7, to have that random teh tarik and roti telur after a late night session in the recording studio. There’s nothing like that over here – it’s boring!

Read also: Locals Gone Global: Atikah Karim, Pearly Wong, Sheena Liam

 


SHANON SHAH
Writer/Academic Lecturer & Researcher
London


Photo credit: Gabrielle Boudville

 

What have you been busy with lately?
Outside of formal academia at King’s College London, where I was awarded my PhD in the Sociology of Religion in 2015, I’m one of the deputy editors of Critical Muslim, a London-based quarterly publication of ideas and issues showcasing ground-breaking thinking on Islam, and what it means to be a Muslim in a rapidly changing, interconnected world. I also coordinate a mentoring project for young British Muslim poets and playwrights with New Horizons in British Islam, as well as interfaith work with my local St John’s Church. Last but not least, I’ve just published my first sole-authored academic book, The Making of a Gay Muslim: Religion, Sexuality and Identity in Malaysia and Britain.

Which projects that you have done in the past would you say you are personally proud of?
My undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering, but ever since completing my years with Petronas, I’ve worked in music, theatre, journalism, human rights activism, and now in academia as a sociologist of religion – most of which are things I’m proud that I’ve done. One of the tracks on Dilanda Cinta (an album which won Best Male Vocal at the 13th Anugerah Industri Muzik awards during my previous stint as a musician), ‘Jurutera’ (‘Engineer’), is a jazzy, upbeat anthem about how I never wanted to be an engineer. It’s a song about acknowledging the obstacles and constraints in your life yet finding a way forward, and about feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.

“I come from a family with complex immigrant histories, and like many Malaysians, travel and migration is in my blood. Maybe this can become a new way to define Malaysian-ness, to finally be comfortable in our ability to belong in more than one place, and more than one community, and to have the generosity to celebrate this complex and rich diversity together.”
– Shanon Shah

It was the dawn of a new era for Malaysia during the General Elections back in May.
Personally, how have things changed for you where you are upon hearing the news?

When the results were announced officially, I sobbed with joy: it was a day when the government is no longer a Front, but an Alliance of Hope, and a nation I always dreamed of, but was too scared to say it out loud, was born. The change for me has been more psychological and emotional than material or economic, or even political. My circumstances mean that I will remain in Britain for the foreseeable future, with regular trips back to Malaysia, but I’ll be holding my head a bit higher in both countries from now on.

As a Malaysian residing overseas, how do you think this “New Malaysia” affects you as a Malaysian abroad?
I came to the UK at a time when I was deeply immersed in various social justice initiatives in Malaysia. My goal in coming to London was to study something I actually enjoyed, and to develop the skills and insights, to one day return and pick up where I left off. Little did I know that I would end up putting down roots here, too. Malaysia remains home, but London is now home, too, and it has dawned on me that it is possible to expand one’s idea of home; a flexibility in defining home that’s also probably true for many Malaysians. I come from a family with complex immigrant histories, (I am an anak Kedah who traces my roots back to Pakistan, India and China), and like many Malaysians, travel and migration is in my blood. Maybe this can become a new way to define Malaysian-ness, to finally be comfortable in our ability to belong in more than one place, and more than one community, and to have the generosity to celebrate this complex and rich diversity together.

What do you miss most about Malaysia while overseas?
I’ve always celebrated the fact that I grew up in a multi-racial and multi-religious neighbourhood in Alor Setar, consisting of Chinese, Eurasian, Tamil Hindu, Tamil Catholic and Malay. I miss this naturalness of having close friends from different backgrounds, and of being able to delight in one another’s cultures and quirks, these organic manifestations of muhibbah – not the bland state-imposed multiculturalism and racial hierarchies so many of us have had to endure for so long. Of course, there’s a kind of muhibbah that happens in London as well, which is fabulously diverse, and which gives me so much life, but London muhibbah is not the same as Malaysian Muhibbah-lah.

Read also: Locals Gone Global: Hero Tai, Jon Chew, Shiva Kalaiselvan

 


YUNA ZARAI
Singer/Songwriter
Los Angeles


Photo credit: Aimanness Harun

 

What are you currently working on over in the States?
I’m finishing up my fourth studio album, which I’ve been working with the Grammy-winning producer, Robin Hannibal, whom I’ve worked with in the last two albums. With that, I’m preparing for a European tour in November as well. Music career aside, I’m also in talks with a local Malaysian designer for a shoe line collaboration.

Which projects would you say that you have done in the past that you are personally proud of, and which even the people back in Malaysia can be proud of?
Pretty much all that I have done thus far! From releasing three studio albums in the US, to working with Pharrell Williams on first album, and working on the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s film Savages; to the music single ‘Crush’ with Usher, which peaked at number three, and ‘Best Love’, which peaked at number two on Billboard’s Adult R&B chart.

Most of all though, I’d have to say ‘Crush’ with Usher was the project for me, personally. When I wrote ‘Crush’, I had no idea Usher would be interested to be on it – I had to keep it a secret for the longest time when the collaboration was confirmed! I’m really proud of that song; it’s a feel-good song, and the fact that I also get to work with one of my most favourite artistes ever – it’s the best thing ever.

It was the dawn of a new era for Malaysia during the General Elections back in May.
As a Malaysian residing overseas, how do you think this “New Malaysia” affects you as a Malaysian, and in your career?

I go everywhere now, and I can’t speak enough about it. I’m very proud of my country, and this new standard in democracy we have achieved. I do hope people from all around the world will be inspired by this. Living abroad, you do see things differently, and you also hear what people have to say about your country. You become more learned about your own country, and you appreciate your country in a different way. As an artist, I’m excited to contribute something, (not that I wasn’t before), but it definitely feels very different and very real to me now.

What are your personal hopes and dreams for “New Malaysia” in the coming days, months, or even years?
I hope Malaysians will continue to strive to be the best versions of themselves, and that we don’t take this new era for granted. “New Malaysia” is not just something you say, but something that comes within, and starts from a “new” you as well: recycle, drive responsibly, make sure your neighbourhood is clean, hold the door for someone, pick up after yourself, respect others, greet people with a simple ‘hello’ and a smile, help someone in need, learn something new every day… small gestures or efforts that go a long way, you know. We are truly special individuals, and we need to bring out the best in one another.

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