taken from The Straits Times on April 1, 2013
By Eddino Abdul Hadi
PENTAS EKSPRES RAKYAT BY KEMBARA
Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Saturday
He hardly smiles in photographs, is famously serious when it comes to his craft and is always seen scowling.
So it was surprising to see Singapore-born Malay music icon M. Nasir, 55, acting all jovial and goofy at his old band's one-off reunion gig in front of an almost sold-out crowd at the Esplanade Concert Hall.
Getting back together with homegrown folk-rock pioneers Kembara after 25 years apart seemed to have brought out the jester in the normally staid singer, songwriter and producer.
In fact, everyone on stage - a nine-piece band that included both Mark I and II versions of Kembara - was all smiles throughout the 21/2-hour gig.
Such was the general air of bonhomie among the members, which include band co-founders A. Ali and S. Sahlan, Nasir's younger brother Zoul as well as Malaysian session musicians, that they would tease one another in between songs.
The Nasir of today might be the celebrated Malaysian music industry giant conferred the title of Datuk but throughout the show, he was simply the freewheeling frontman of Kembara, having a riotous jam with the band that he first made his name with in the early 1980s.
Although the start of the gig was a little shaky - Nasir's voice seemed to be buried, the sound mix was underwhelming and the band was a little loose - it did not take long for Kembara to win the fans over with classic, literate rock tunes that are still played on Malay radio stations here and across the Causeway.
Many of the 25 songs played live that night have stood the test of time.
Bas No. 13 is a skanking, reggae-tinged singalong chronicling the old bus route to Geylang Serai; while Impian Seorang Nelayan (A Fisherman's Dream), which featured Sahlan on lead vocals, is a melancholic trip lamenting the misfortunes of a fisherman lost at sea.
More than just run-of-the-mill radio hits, Kembara's discography married poetry with music that owed as much to contemporary genres such as folk, rock and pop as it did to traditional Malay music.
Not all the tunes were reproduced faithfully from the seven albums that Kembara released from 1981 to 1986.
Despite its title, Keroncong Untuk Ana was stripped of its Indonesian kroncong rhythms and was reimagined as a grand, baroque-styled ballad which brought to the fore Nasir's impeccable, soaring pipes. Nusantara (Archipelago) is an unlikely fusion of Malay 'joget' music with a rousing rock refrain, but it worked brilliantly live and got the mostly mature Malay crowd singing along.
Nasir and the rest of Kembara's members might be well known for their literary and fine arts backgrounds, but their penchant for writing lyrics touching on the common man's issues such as money problems on anthemic rocker Duit (Money) and cross-country train rides on Ekspres Rakyat (Citizens' Express) made them more than a just pop band that wrote catchy and fun tunes with irresistible choruses.
Perhaps that was why Nasir was all smiles throughout the whole show. For that one gig, he was not the serious Datuk who composes and produces hits for himself and other Malay artists - he was just M. Nasir, the frontman singing with old friends in a folk-rock band.