One is an established singer with a few Malaysian music awards to her name and over 80,000 Twitter followers. The other is still a fairly unknown figure in the local scene, building buzz from his first single. But Najwa Mahiaddin and Ali Aiman have a lot in common, as Poskod.MY discovered.
Less than one year apart in age (Ali Aiman is 27, Najwa 28), both initially studied Engineering before turning to music. Both also spent time studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, and have recently returned to Malaysia from a few years living in the United States.
But that’s not all. If you listen to the EPs that each musician released this year, you’ll hear some shared sensibilities in both music and spirit. The brooding piano ballads of both Aurora by Najwa and Overture by Ali Aiman speak to waking dreamers and the bittersweet reality of romance. “The world is not a fantasy, it’s not like living in a dream – no magic drink to make us talk,” sings Najwa in her track “Wonderland”.
“Wonderland” was the inspiration for our Interview Squared photo shoot with Najwa and Ali Aiman, who are friends and future collaborators. Over an Alice-themed afternoon tea, both musicians soon showed their less serious sides as they laughed and talked about music and their upcoming shows at Urbanscapes.
Najwa interviews Ali Aiman
N: After graduating from Berklee, you decided to stay on in Boston for a bit before coming home for good. What was the best thing you learnt from that experience?
A: My mindset. It was a roller coaster ride in the States and it really taught me the power of perseverance and positive thinking. I had a good stable job, which I enjoyed, but it became a little stagnant after a while. That’s when I decided to take a leap of faith, get out of my comfort zone, and pursue what I really wanted. Here I am now, trying to walk that path I’ve chosen and we’ll see how it goes. I just don’t want to grow old with any regrets haha. Sorry it got a little too deep.
N: I’m in love with your single, “Breathe”, and the music video is amazing. What was the most challenging part about shooting the video?
A: Thanks! Yeah I was very lucky to meet Mahen Bala, the producer of the MV. He’s an amazing guy.I’d say the toughest part was to actually stay energized throughout the entire shoot. We had 2 full days of shooting and I think all of us fell a little sick after the first day. The underwater scene was quite crazy too. I had to deliberately sink, with weights in my back pockets, in the middle of a diving pool. I got fitter just by doing that haha!
N: Moving on to some geeky stuff. What’s the ultimate gear on your wishlist?
A: Rhodes! All day.
N: This year marks your debut at Urbanscapes. How will this show be any different from your other shows?
A: We will probably be playing a new song but besides that, it’ll be quite similar to my other shows.
N: If you could bring back the dead, which composer would you want to work with?
A: Chopin! To be present during his creative process would just be insane. I’d freak out. Maybe we could collaborate on his Fantaisie Impromptu and Revolutionary Etude. Berangansikit.
N: What can we expect from Ali Aiman in 2015?
A: More music. More shows. Collaborations. I’m really excited about experimenting with some new concepts to enhance my sound. I’m also super excited to work with you! It’s going to be epic.
Ali Aiman interviews Najwa
A: You were an engineering student before deciding to pursue a career in music. What prompted you to make that switch?
N: I initially studied engineering to fulfill my rather conservative parents’ wishes. However, I knew music was my true passion. During semester breaks, I would spend most of my time writing music and performing. Eventually, they allowed me to pursue music and right now they are super supportive about it!
A: Music-making can be really stressful. What do you do to unwind?
N: Netflix. Chilling at a coffee place. Cooking. Netflix. And more Netflix.
A: We all know that you have a golden voice and I know for a fact that you are an AMAZING cook. What’s something not many people know about you? Any hobbies? Hidden talents?
N: Haha thank you! I do enjoy cooking a lot. I used to cook a lot more in the States. I’m also a big fan of lomography. I love the spontaneity of it. I have a bad habit of not developing the film, though. But I suppose that’s also the beauty of it. I’d find an undeveloped roll of film and the overexposure instantly becomes an effect.
A: Collaborate with Yukimi Nagano (Little Dragon), Emily King or James Blake. Pick one! And why?
N: Ah this one’s a toughie! I love them all for different reasons. But if I had to pick one right now it would be Emily King. She’s such an amazing songwriter. I bumped into her at Williamsburg, Brooklyn once after rehearsals. She seems really nice. I was fan-girling so hard, though. I think we’d have a lot of fun making music together.
A: What are you most looking forward to at Urbanscapes?
N: I’m really looking forward to the performances by our local acts (yours included!) I think it’s really important to support local music and there are so many new acts out there making amazing music.
A: What can we expect from Najwa at Urbanscapes? I really hope you perform Wonderland from Aurora!
N: I’m really blessed to get the opportunity to perform with really talented musicians. For Urbanscapes, I’ll be backed up by Tony and Jupiter, who make up half of Pure Energy so that’s gonna be exciting. I’ll also have Fook of Bassment Syndicate whom I’ve played with for as long as I can remember. My Moog Theremini might even come out to play!
Photos by Adrian Yap CL. Art direction by Ling Low. Shot on location at Ben’s, Publika, with kind permission of The BIG Group.