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Going back to basics

MIRI-BORN Izyan Alirahman, better known as Zee Avi, has been really busy with her music career in recent years, but thanks to the pandemic that has most of the population confined to their homes, she, along with many local artistes, is finding new ways to bring her music to others.

Zee released her newest single called Good Things one week after the movement control order (MCO) was announced.

“I actually had no plans for a huge launch for this particular song. As soon as I wrote it, I felt it was a special song that needed to be shared organically, and I would be happy if it was shared with just five people.

“The song couldn’t have been more timely, with the current situation.”

It is almost like coming full circle, considering she quietly put her 2007 single Poppy on YouTube for her friend who missed her live show. It was that single, and its follow up No Christmas For Me that brought her to the attention of music lovers in Malaysia and around the globe.

“I just wanted to recall how that used to be. The power of sharing would work right now for me.”

She also collaborated with 11 other artistes on the song Make It Through for a local telco company.

Zee has been in the industry for more than a decade, and has performed at celebrated music festivals, with millions of fans enjoying her songs.

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“I started when I was really young. I was just 22, trying to figure myself out. To be in this industry I had to grow up really fast, I had to undergo evolution really fast. I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to do this as my career.”

She has remained busy during the MCO. “I have [had] different campaigns and projects which I quite enjoy and appreciate. On top of that I have to figure things out on my own … I have to be my own sound engineer, director, cameraman, sound guy. I have to figure all these things out. Before [this] I was just scrambling around on how to do things digitally.”

Zee, who stayed put at home throughout the MCO, has done performances from the comfort of her room, but admits it takes quite a bit of work as she is not as tech savvy as she would like to be.

“Plus I also want it to sound good. I don’t want it to be [just] me on a camera phone. I want to create something of quality, and for me to achieve that I need to learn other skills.”

She joked that she feels that her parents prepared her for this, as she grew up learning to be independent. “Isolation, no problem!”

Going back to the early days of her career, I asked what made her join US-based Brushfire Records, which signed her up in 2008 and released her first two studio albums Zee Avi and Ghostbird.

She said: “I am not sure actually. The offer came around the same time as other offers, but I choose them. I did not even think that this would have been a possible career.

“At the time I had just got back from London. I was at a crossroads trying to figure out what to do with my life …. It just happened that God had other plans for me, and I happily accepted. Music and I have been in a long term relationship since then.”

Zee, who also plays the guitar and ukulele, says she has an affinity for string instruments.

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“Right now I have instruments from Bolivia, Japan and Finland. I have a sape as well, but I leave that to my friend [sape musician] Alena Murang. I love experimenting here and there, and adding sounds from real musical instruments.”

Aside from music, Zee is a supporter of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and even wrote a song about psorises. While she is not actively championing any particular cause now, she sees herself advocating for mental health in the future.

“As artistes, we have to go through that. It is ingrained in us because we get to create in spaces in our minds and our emotions, our struggles. We get to create beautiful things from them.

“Balancing my personal life and work life is very important. One day I would like to advocate a project that is near and dear to me. Things concerning mental health and wellness of being.”

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