In 2008 I had a big life change. My decade-long job in London ended, as did my marriage. My mother — who also lived in London — passed away. With these ties cut, I decided to move to my parents’ birthplace, Sabah, Malaysia. Kota Kinabalu had a British international school for my son, and relatives from both sides of my family were there. I had never lived there and had some vague idea of discovering my roots.
In time, I got a gig as a pianist in the lobby of the Jesselton Hotel. It was a perfect gig for me, and I met a lot of musicians. I wanted to write about them so I started a blog on WordPress. It was called SabahSongs.
I wrote about instrumentalists, luthiers, conductors, sound engineers, lighting engineers, event managers and academics. The music was contemporary and ranged from jazz, rock, blues, thrash metal and both Western and Chinese pop music, to classical music and modern Chinese orchestra.
Locals loved it, as did Sabahans living abroad. I would rock up to a music festival with photographers in tow, and we had a blast publishing articles with good photos.
When I said I was moving to Australia, people asked me to turn the blog into a book. The Minister for Tourism and Culture liked the idea, as did the publisher North Borneo Publications. The result was a glossy, coffee-table book which is now housed in the Sabah State Library and sold at the Sabah Tourism Board and in bookstores across Malaysia. It is gifted to visiting dignitaries, and I have even heard that university students cite it when writing about the development of Sabah fusion music.
My late father had been a journalist, and his written work is in the Sabah Archives. He was Press Secretary to the last British Governor of North Borneo, and he migrated to England in the 1960s. In a circle of life moment, someone pointed out that his daughter’s book was going into the Sabah Library fifty years later.
When I said this at the book launch, Sabahans were very moved.
SabahSongs: Contemporary Music in Sabah was published in late 2012.
I am indebted to everyone who was part of that time. Four years living in Sabah filled a void that I had barely acknowledged even to myself.
Here is a post about the making of our book. I say “our” book because it is a collection of fabulous stories about Sabahan musicians and without them, there is no book.