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Has Anybody Here, Seen My Friend Paul ........

I was not in the country over the weekend, I wanted to post something immediately on Paul. Such a wonderful person, had the chance to drink with him a few times, what a lovely soul, and the talent, OMG ... Paul has had some bad breaks in his life, in particular with the car accident in the 90s, and now leaving this world owing to organ failure. I love you man, missed you already! I am so sad ... has anybody here, seen my friend Paul ......

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Paul Ponnudorai - Simply The Best

Been to many of his gigs around Malaysian pubs, shared many a Black Label on the rocks with the man. Know him only casually. As we both came from the same hometown, there was instant familiarity. Paul is easily the most gifted musician from Malaysia.Unfortunately the country is not ready to recognise greatness in his form of musicianship, neither is Singapore. I can also lump Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and HK into the same group - all victims of pop culture to the detriment of recognising real musicianship and musical integrity. The only country in Asia which I think has a higher level and more varied base of appreciation is Taiwan. If Paul were to ply his trade in Australia, UK or US, I think he can achieve a similar level appreciation akin to John Legend or Norah Jones. Still, I think Paul would stand a better chance of getting the right exposure by playing at the various music festivals in Singapore. I believe great things will come for those who have been blessed with significant gifts at birth, at the proper time, in His time.

That's the thing, we need an international magazine like Time to highlight what we should know ages ago. Why do we need a foreign source to tell us that someone in our local shores is great? Is that the validation we need before we recognise real ability? Please don't be crass by awarding a Datukship to Paul now!

Readers in Singapore should try and catch his gigs, I think he might still be playing at Harry's Bar. Paul's brilliance is taking any song and making it different, new and refreshing. His guitar playing is like a pandora's box, its amazing to see what he can do with it. In 2002, lengendary trumpeter Wynton Marsalis showed up at a performance and was so taken by it, he grabbed his instrument and went onstage to play alongside a Paul. Marsalis said "Ever since I got off the plane I've been hearing about nothing but you". The pair jammed together for the next two nights.

Paul is a bit like Jose Feliciano coupled with Tommy Emmanuel, but with the jazzy dexterity of Earl Klugh. Plus he can sing as well, not the American Idol type, but from the heart. Available album, Right On Time. Go to cdbaby and have a listen to all the songs on his album, order a few and give them as gifts, your friends will love you for it. Listen to Killing Me Softly, an instrumental that haunts you even more without the words. The melody lines taken and the phrasing grab your heart and soul and demands to be listened in totality - you just have to surrender. Listen to his rendition of 500 Miles and you can feel that he has walked the bloody "500 Miles" on his own terms.

Article in Time magazine:
TIME MAGAZINE: A man who is quite possibly the greatest musical interpreter of our time performs every weekend at Harry's—an ordinary bar in a Singaporean shopping mall. There, before a half-empty room, while soccer matches are screened and waitresses ferry beer and fries, Paul Ponnudorai sings with astounding virtuosity, accompanied only by his Spanish guitar. His voice swoops and growls with the range and soulfulness of mid-period Stevie Wonder, and his fluid, polyrhythmic style of guitar playing appears to have little precedent. But it is his choice of material, and the inventiveness with which he arranges it, that cloaks Ponnudorai in the aura of genius.
Ponnudorai's style is to deconstruct a hackneyed standard, reassemble the parts in startlingly creative ways, and then perform it with a passion that nobody has previously dared. Thus the campfire dirge Five Hundred Miles becomes a spine-tingling R&B ballad, dripping with anguish. The Beatles' chirpy Can't Buy Me Love is transformed into a complex jazz exercise, incorporating some of the Karnatakan rhythmic phrases of Ponnudorai's South Indian ancestry. The Cascades' saccharine Rhythm of the Rain metamorphoses into the purest Burt Bacharach, with unexpected chord changes and lush melodic lines.
Comparisons could be made with José Feliciano, the Puerto Rican singer-guitarist who had 1960s hits with stylish remakes of songs like California Dreamin' and Light My Fire. But Ponnudorai is better. His ability to dice songs up, look into their hearts and perceive the common veins connecting every genre has won the attention of top international players who go to Singapore on tour. Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans, drummer Billy Cobham, guitarist Tommy Emmanuel and vocalist Bobby McFerrin have all been in the audience. In 2002, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis showed up at a performance and was so taken by it, he grabbed his instrument and leapt onstage to play alongside a startled Ponnudorai, who did not recognize him. "He told me 'Ever since I got off the plane I've been hearing about nothing but you,'" Ponnudorai recalls. The pair jammed together for the next two nights.
Marsalis was referring to the buzz Ponnudorai generates among local and overseas musicians. Among the public, it is another matter. If you watch Ponnudorai play, there will typically be a handful of fans near the stage. Everyone else will be at the other end of the room, noisily drinking and making a mockery of Singapore's reputation as a city at the forefront of smoking cessation. The kind of musician that the world produces only a few times in a generation is in the house, but the laity barely notice.
Given that his life has already seen enough hardship and redemption to warrant full bluesman stature, Ponnudorai is unfazed by the indifference. A Tamil by ethnicity and Malaysian by birth, he grew up in the tin-mining town of Ipoh, the youngest of 10. Ponnudorai's parents were too poor to buy him a metronome: he learned his exquisite sense of timing by playing along to the creak of an old ceiling fan. Naturally left-handed, he taught himself to play on a right-handed guitar because it was cheaper than a model strung for left-handers (and this is how he still plays). A car crash in his early 20s ("we were road racing and I drove my car into a ravine") gave him the limp that he still walks with at 45; in his head are two drainage holes, covered merely by a thin layer of skin, bored during brain surgery, the legacy of another smash that almost killed him. He will sit and drink Scotch after Scotch with disconcerting ease and tell of a bluesman's life—of scrapes with jealous musicians wanting to cut his fingers off, and of playing to audiences of gun-toting triads in Kuala Lumpur nightclubs. And like so many who have flirted with the devil, he is a product of the church.
"I grew up soaked in the brine of the Bible," he says. "As Lutherans, we would go to church and sing as a family." His father was a locally famous countertenor, but in fact the entire family was talented and the house never silent. If it wasn't one of the children playing guitar or piano, it was classical Indian music or the Beatles on the turntable, and the Johnny Cash Show on TV. "I used to watch my brothers and sisters and pick things up," says Ponnudorai. "At 6, I was playing guitar."

At 14, Ponnudorai was good enough to win a national TV talent contest, playing an instrumental rendition of Killing Me Softly. But despite this early success, he had no thoughts of becoming a professional musician until lack of money stymied his desire to read English literature at university. At a loose end, and with the family having moved to Kuala Lumpur, he persuaded his mother to let him earn a few ringgits by playing a couple of hours a night at a bar where one of the older Ponnudorai boys was a regular. "That was 1979," Ponnudorai says. "I walked into that bar and I haven't walked out of a bar since."
His next dozen years were spent in cover bands, trading on Top 40 hits and rock standards and occasionally touring to Singapore or Indonesia, but returning to the same smoky rooms in Kuala Lumpur. They were colorful times. "Malaysia was in the middle of a massive timber boom in the 1980s, and the timber graders were licensed to carry weapons because they were carrying huge sums of money around with them," he says. "But many of the timber graders were also gangsters. You would have to play the same song several times a night, otherwise a gangster would say, 'Why don't you give me some face?' and show you the bulge under his shirt. My record for Careless Whisper is 17 times in a row."
This is how he may have continued, a jobbing musician in a seedy netherworld, were it not for an epiphanic injury in 1992. His friend fell asleep at the wheel of a car and ran off the road, sending Ponnudorai, a passenger, headfirst through the window. Initially, he appeared miraculously unscathed and was sent home with a head full of stitches. But days later, he was unable to fret guitar chords or walk a straight line. Fresh tests revealed a massive blood clot covering an entire side of his brain, just waiting to rupture, and he was rushed into surgery. Against medical predictions he survived, but the experience left him emotionally transformed. "Things that were so important—success, recognition, accolades—suddenly didn't matter anymore," he says. "And as a byproduct of my heightened awareness after the accident, I started listening to music—reallylistening to it. That's when I started appreciating songs like Five Hundred Miles. There are lots of songs that many people don't think about, but they are very good songs."
In coaxing the inner beauty out of moribund folk-song fodder like Five Hundred Miles or Fire and Rain, which he performs with spellbinding verve, Ponnudorai drew on the vast musical vocabulary amassed during his barroom years, and used it to execute the material with arresting freshness. His new solo act emerged in 2000; effortlessly spanning genres and periods, and quoting songs within songs, it is perfectly attuned to ears raised on unfettered sampling, but beneath the complexity is the sincerity of a man celebrating all that is musical and the simple fact of being alive. This is the combination that lures the cognoscenti to Harry's. To date, A.-and-R. representatives from major labels have not been among them. In fact, Right on Time, Ponnudorai's blinding first album (of mostly covers but with a couple of originals), was only released in 2005, produced and paid for by a friend, the Italian blues guitarist Enrico Crivellaro. Available only online—except for the half-dozen copies Ponnudorai carries around in his bag—it hasn't sold in significant numbers. Neither Crivellaro nor Ponnudorai have sufficient resources to promote it, nor is Ponnudorai of an MTV-friendly age.
In Ponnudorai's circle of friends and family members, the only person untroubled by his lack of fame is the man himself. Since his accident, he has been content simply to make a living. "It took me a while to figure it out," he says, "but as long as I can play, I'll be a happy man." And so it happens that this remarkable musician will perform at Harry's this weekend, while most of the drinkers have their backs to the stage. It doesn't matter if 10 people are listening or 10,000. His music ascends like a prayer or a thanksgiving, an end in itself.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1619102,00.html#ixzz2039tWHif

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