Wednesday August 6, 2008
Soul of Atilia
Take a peek at Atilia Haron's Sangkar album cover and Kate Hudson's Almost Famous movie poster.
You will see the likeness between the songstress and the Hollywood actress - the big round sunnies, the wavy long hair and the unmistakable smile that is Kate Hudson's also lights up the face of the Malaysian jazz singer.
Atilia herself acknowledges that she and Hudson share some traits in family background. Both grew up with celebrity mothers. Like Hudson, Atilia too has a brother and was raised by her mother following her parents' divorce.
And when both were eager to launch their careers, they were each told by their mothers to finish their education before stepping into the entertainment world.
Her mother renowned singer Salamiah Hassan cautioned: "You have to finish school and get a job."
"I had a lot of offers to record an album when I was in school," Atilia remembers. "But my mum had this rule where I have to finish school, get a proper job and then if I still chose to sing, I may go ahead. "At least then you know the business side of things and can negotiate deals for yourself'," she said, mimicking her mother.
Atilia, who started singing for commercials when she was nine and has 500 jingles under her belt, reckons her mother spoke from experience and only wanted what's best for her.
"She started singing (right) after secondary school so she didn't have anything else. She only knew how to sing, how to perform which is not a bad thing but she wanted more for her daughter."
So the obedient daughter went to university, got a job at an advertising company and was in that scene for 10 years before deciding six years ago that it was time for her to answer her calling.
Atilia juggled both her job and the production of her album with producer Roslan Aziz. And when her album was released, the 34-year-old quit her job and the rest as they say is history.
Aware that she's not exactly young by newcomer's standards, Atilia says she has plenty of catching up to do and hopes to release her second album by the beginning of next year.
Fans of the humble diva should be pleased to learn that the sounds of her second album would be fairly similar to her first, though critics have lamented that Sangkar lacks commercial value, unlike albums by Datuk Siti Nurhaliza or Akademi Fantasia 3 winner Mawi. It was suggested that she commercialise her album to receive more airplay.
But Atilia will hold true to her principles, ignore the comments and continue to write blue-sy melodies. "Whether people call it too urbane or not, I think it's time to educate the listeners on a variety of music lah especially in Malaysia."
The petite songstress has scored a duet with Indonesian band, Malik and the Essentials, and may record one more with another Indonesian band. But nothing is firm yet. She says Indonesians are very receptive of her music.
"The first time I sang (songs from) my album in Indonesia was at the Java Jazz Festival in March. I was overwhelmed by the response. They said they've been waiting for something like this to come up after Sheila Majid."
Atilia considers it a compliment, to be compared with her idol.
Asked which foreign artist she would like to collaborate with, Atilia quickly answered, "Oh my god! It'll be Sade. I love her for the quality of her music, she's very sincere and writes her own stuff.
"I like singers who sing from their heart and Sade has produced a lot of good music. I love her concerts and yeah, if there was a chance to collaborate, it'll be her," she said dreamily, adding that other dream duets would be with Brand New Heavies and Incognito.
Married to Ariff Johan Abdul Jalil for 10 years, the jazz singer said she and her husband planned not to have kids during the first two years of marriage.
Currently she plays mother to two Persian cross cats - Precious and Smeagol. Not surprising for a self-confessed Lord of the Rings fan to name her felines for a character from the trilogy.
Meanwhile, Atilia will still busy herself with negotiating movie offers and doing gigs at local jazz clubs such as No Black Tie, Alexis and Bangkok Jazz.
"I try to do a couple of gigs every two or three months because that's when I get to sing my favourite songs with the band and I can meet the fans, really sit down and talk to them. It's always fun and it's something I really love doing. But I still get nervous," she reveals, admitting that her palms can get quite clammy.
To calm nerves before going on stage, the vocalist eats. A lot. And it's rice that comforts her.
"It'll be perfect if I have something heavy like nasi briyani. I love Indian food, Indian food, Indian food," she chants.
And what does she hate? "Japanese food. I don't know why. I don't like taugeh (bean sprouts)! It smells like soil even after you take it out of your kuey teow soup for example. Taugeh is bad!" claims the carnivorous charmer who only eats a selected few vegetables.
She also clues me in on a "freaky" routine - she instinctively checks the time at 11.47, be it am or pm, every day! And no, her watch or clock is not broken.
"I have looked at the clock at 11.47 daily since I was 15. Automatically babe. Like yesterday, I was sleeping and then I woke up. I took my (black) berry and it was 11:47. It's like a body clock reminding me it's 11.47. It doesn't matter whether it's morning or night, I look at it once. Everyday."
The singer says family members and close friends know about the strange habit, and they think she's crazy to deduce the paranormal habit as a mere coincidence.
"But everyday? Maybe I'll die at 11.47 too one day," she jokes.