Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Funk Soul Brothers: Black Dog Bone

The piece on Black Dog Bone was published in Malay Mail on Jan 3, 2004

ANY music enthusiast can brag that he knows so much about the origin of rock `n roll - like how Jackie Brenston's debut album, Rocket 88 in 1951 is credited as the first rock `n roll record.
But wouldn't it be more credible if you know the fact that Mike Ibrahim dengan the Night Walkers recorded the song Cuk Cuk Kundong; or Indonesia's Guruh Gypsy's self-titled album in 1975 is considered as one of the finest in Asian prog-rock history; or how important Singapore's Black Dog Bone is to the development of the local music industry.
The younger generation might not feel much about this. Perhaps, the closest they would know about Black Dog Bone is the band that first recorded Khayalan, which was recently re-recorded by Ruffedge and became quite a hit a couple of months back.
By the way, did you know that Khayalan is also a cover version of Earth Wind and Fire's Fantasy?
If you didn't know all this (now you do), you might not know what you were missing.
Black Dog Bone's (fondly known as BDB) debut album Sindir-Sindir Sayang in 1976, was one part of the turning point of the development of music-making particularly in Malaysia and Singapore. That's how important BDB is.
The band recently released Reunion, a compilation featuring remakes of its classics like Khayalan, Nasi Goreng, Geram, Joget Bujang Di Rantau and Relax.
And tomorrow night, the band will be performing at Planet Hollywood for a special one-off showcase. This is BDB's first official show in Malaysia since its `retirement' in 1981.
The beginning of the band goes back as far as the early 70s in Singapore (which was in a transition period from being the capital of both the film and music industry then).
At that point, the domestic music industry was in an unproductive period. Most of the radio hits were supplied by imported music from Indonesia (remember Emillia Contessa, Wiwiek Abidin, D'Mercys, D'loyd or even the all-women nasyid band El-Suraya?).
Then, along came a bunch of similar-minded musicians who decided to get together and form a band.
"Honestly, we never planned to become a recording act. When guitarist Izzar Masrom (Razzi M) offered me to join his band our intention was to mainly do the club circuit," Black Dog Bone's drummer and vocalist Jatt (original name Tahir Ali) said during an exclusive phone conversation with Buzz recently.
Together with Masron Ali, (trumpet, valve trombone), Hamid Ahmad (bassist), James Chai (flute and saxophone) and Michael Heng (keyboards), the yet to be named band did their time performing at Chinese clubs, sometimes backing up Hong Kong and Taiwanese singers who came down for a visit.
"We didn't have a specific name during the first year. Only when we hired a manager, the late Sunny Goh, we started to use the name Black Dog Bone. He just decided on it and we just kept it!" Jatt continued.
At the same time, fellow musician and immediate friend S. Atan was offered a job as the artiste and repertoire personnel with Tony Wong Company (Pte) Ltd (S). Atan saw the band's potential and offered them a recording deal.
"Since we were more of a club band, we didn't really have that much time to concentrate on writing our own music. Atan basically did everything for us. We just went to the studio and record. That's why most of the songs on our debut album were mainly covers, while some are Atan's own compositions," Jatt said.
"As for the musical direction of BDB, Atan suggested that since we had a brass section and our major influence was mainly Motown music from bands like Earth Wind and Fire, the Commodores and Tower of Power, maybe we should go for funk."
Despite the lack of originality, such musical style was something totally new for Malaysian and Singaporean ears.
As a result, Sindir Sindir Sayang became a huge hit with catchy songs like Bila Rindu, Bibir and Relax.
"We were astounded when we found out that the album, in a way, ended the domination of Indonesian bands like the Favourite Group and D'Lloyd. Everyone was raving about BDB. The funny thing was, because there was not much exposure in the print media then, no one really knew that BDB was actually a Singaporean band," he laughed.
Beyond the commercial success, Sindir-Sindir Sayang also jump-started the domestic music industry back to life.
"We could see that things started picking up even faster after we released our third album. Still, it was rather a small pool and everyone came from one company - EMI."
He also recalled that during those days, BDB even did the backing vocals for upcoming artistes like the late Sudirman Arshad, Anita Sarawak, Gaya Zakry and Sharifah Aini.
When S. Atan moved to EMI, BDB also followed. With EMI, the band released another six successful albums - Si Gadis Ayu, Khayalan, Dulu dan Sekarang, Diganggu Kenangan, Bahagia dan Derita and their last album Diskorama. The last one was released in 1980.
Songs like Khayalan, Gadis Ayu, Geram, Nasi Goreng and their disco remix of Kwek Mambo are now considered classics, while Cahaya Di Aidil Fitri of course has become one of the Hari Raya staples until today.
What is so significant about Khayalan?
"We were inspired to record Khayalan when were playing at a club in Amsterdam called Moulin Rogue. We played there for about six months and that time Fantasy was a big hit there. So when we got back, we told Atan that we wanted to record the song," he recalled.
After Diskorama, things were no longer the same in the band. With the emergence of disco, and the fact that 70s pop funk was considered passe, the band members were in dispute over their musical direction.
"There were a lot of conflicting ideas. The music scene was changing at that time, and people were heading towards a more disco direction. Some of us did not want to go there. To preserve our friendship, we decided that it would be best if we retired. I'd consider that as the lowest point of our careers," Jatt said.
Band leader, Razzi M was the first to go and Jatt then followed suit to go solo.
Officially the band was disbanded in 1981 but according to Jatt, after he left, the band (which had a new line-up) was still active playing at club circuits.
Jatt also released a solo album, Merpati Putih in 1983 but without the rest of Black Dog Bone, it wasn't as `magical'. That album flunked and Jatt went on hiatus (to the mainstream music fraternity, at least).
He was actually alive and good at the club circuit. He was performing with Hard Attack (70s rock band) up till 1993 before playing another band called Rockerfella up to 1998.
And the most recent, Jatt sang in a band called Black Sweet Hunters (a band which features members of two other big Singapore bands in the 70s - Sweet Charity and Lovehunters).
The rest of the gang were also doing their own thing. Hamid and Masron are still active playing the club circuit, while James is now a sound engineer.
Razzi M currently runs his own music outfit Razzi M Production. The only member who is not involved with the music scene is Michael - he works for a freight company.
BDB's reunion was originally supposed to happen in 1996 but due to Jatt's problems with the religious authority - he was banned for a year by the `music fraternity' following his `tangkap basah' case with an actress, who later became his wife. (They are now divorced, by the way).
"It's the fans. They are the ones who've been persuading us to make a comeback," Jatt said of the band's reunion.
"After all, I also think that it is the right time for a reunion. Since everyone is going retro nowadays, you know, going back to the 70s and 80s, we might as well catch up. We don't know how the trend is going to be in 2005, so we better do it now."
Since BDB's upcoming reunion show and compilation are meant for the band's fans, they hoped for nothing else but the ultimate satisfaction from all sides.
"I think the expectations from our fans for this upcoming performance are very high. I know most of them are quite curious on stuff like `can they still pull it off?' or `Can Jatt sing Khayalan like he did before?'.
"I can tell you now that it's a tough song to sing at this age!" Jatt laughed.
Being in the same form as they were during their peak or not, Jatt however assured that BDB fans would definitely get something from the gang - a `one hell of a down the memory lane show!'.

The Black Dog Bone Discography
1976
Sindir-Sindir Sayang (Tony Wong Company (Pte) Ltd (S))
Notable tracks: Bila Rindu, Bibir and Relaks
1977 Si Gadis Ayu (EMI Music)
Notable tracks: Gadis Ayu and Hatiku Luka Lagi
1978 Khayalan (EMI Music)
Notable tracks: Khayalan
1978 Dulu dan Sekarang (EMI Music)
Notable tracks: Dulu Dan Sekarang
1979 Di Ganggu Kenangan (EMI Music)
Notable tracks: -
1980 Bahagia dan Derita (EMI Music)
Notable tracks: -
1980 Diskorama (EMI Music)
Notable tracks: Kwek Mambo and Minyak Urutan

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