You might have noticed the R&B landscape changing quite a fair bit over the last couple of years. The sub-genre now dubbed as ‘alternative R&B’ is climbing towards a creative peak with an entire platoon of artists (The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Sampha, etc) backing its surgence onto the music charts.
Meanwhile, musicians around the Southeast Asian region are slowly warming up to the R&B genre’s new narrative. While it’s undeniable that many of these acts rely heavily on electronically produced tracks, there’s an increasing trend of musicians incorporating their own unique set of cultural influences in their music too.
Malaysian singer-songwriter Najwa Mahiaddin‘s latest release, Aurora EP, places her firmly in the epicentre of everything ‘alternative R&B’ in this region. Najwa adopts minimalist arrangements (courtesy of producer wahono) to back her soulful voice in this five track EP.
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Najwa kicks things off with the barely two minute long ‘Lover’. Although relatively short, ‘Lover’ turns out to be the album opener – the perfect transition from the diva-licious glamour on her debut neo-soul album, Innocent Soul, back in 2011. The track’s more electronic elements come across as muted, and simple, accented keys take centrestage in its production.
With the eerie, haunting sound of bells, we’re led into the second track, ‘Before’. Najwa’s departure from her previous pursuits is made crystal clear in this particular number. Opting for mellow simplicity instead of the chirpy, uptempo jams she used to do, Najwa’s voice masterfully takes the listener on an emotional journey of hope and heartbreak.
Special mention must also be given to Najwa’s interpretation of the classic Malay folk song, ‘Seri Mersing’. An ode to her Malay roots, Najwa gives the melancholic track a dark twist. The track’s sinister arrangement is far from linear and can be slightly disconcerting at first. But give it time, and Najwa’s weightier reconstruction will grow on you.
05. Seri Mersing
Also, watch the music video for Najwa’s latest single, ‘Before’, here. The video is artistically shot in monochrome: a visual metaphor that matches the dark themes she explores throughout her Aurora EP.