Folk music unlike others

LOOKS are certainly deceiving for Wan Umar Shahid, for when theSun met him, the rising singer-songwriter was taller than he appeared in photographs.

And then, there’s how his boyish face betrays the timbre of his voice.

“I sing with a baritone voice,” Shahid says, who sings folk songs under the stage name Sounds of Kites.

“When I first played the guitar, truth be told, I sang mostly pop songs, like [those by the band] Fall Out Boy. At one point, I tried to sound like Maroon 5. Then it was Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, but I couldn’t sing ‘good’,” he explained.

After finding out about and becoming enamoured with musician Richard Hawley, who sang baritone, Shahid began experimenting with singing in that range.

“I realised that when I sang (Hawley’s) songs back, I could reach the notes and it felt very comfortable. It also felt like it also gave me a unique edge,” he said.

However, anyone who has heard even one of his songs would tell you that while they have folk undertones, Sounds of Kites distinguishes itself from other contemporary folk projects.

In a way, Shahid’s baritone singing gives his folk songs a unique edge.

No rushing quality

As Sounds of Kites, Shahid recently released his second album, Faceless Name, after his debut Remember Sycamore, four years ago.

Assuming the release gap were due to factors such as balancing an office job and making music, or even possibly due to the pandemic, Shahid was quick to dispel the assumption.

“When I released the debut album in 2018, I did not want to continuously release an album year after year. I wanted to let it be.”

“I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” Shahid says, quoting the song “The Wild Hunt” by Kristian Matsson/The Tallest Man on Earth.

“That line was stuck in my head.”

“When I released the first album, I thought I was just going to tour, promote the album as much as I can, but once I’m done, I’m just going to let it be piled on by other albums. I became content with the idea.”

Although it took some time for Faceless Name to materialise, Shahid would not have done it any other way.

Stories and songs

The project’s name – Sounds of Kites – came from a memory the 32-year-old Shahid had from his teenage years, when he saw a man successfully fly a kite in a park surrounded by towering trees.

“That’s the park,” he said, gesturing outside the restaurant we were in, across the SS14 road.

Memories seem to be important for Shahid, and they play an integral role in the concept behind Faceless Name.

The album’s cover art is a picture taken by Shahid’s wife, and the pictures within – behind the cover and in the lyrics booklet – were taken during his travels.

In the middle of the CD’s cover, are two pictures of a drag queen in Bangkok. Their eyes, digitally scratched out.

“It’s a name, without a face. The album revolves around people that I’ve met and when I look at the pictures, I know the memory that goes along with it, but I don’t actually know their story. Like the drag queen.”

In the new album, Shahid incorporates more samples than he did on his first album.

“I grew up listening to a lot of post-rock, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós. They would implement all these samples in their songs, and I’ve always wanted to have an album with samples,” he says.

The sample that stands out the most is on “Ipoh/Infinity”, of a cendol seller, which was also a memory.

“When I played Infinity, it felt like something was missing. So, I browsed through my phone, because I like to go around and just turn on my sound recording, to record what I can”.

“There was this one time I went to Ipoh, and while walking through a street, an aunty was selling cendol. It sounded nice, so I cut it out, put it in a loop and matched it (to the original song)”.

Never settling

As a whole, Faceless Name marks a departure from Shahid’s sophomore debut. A lot more thought, effort and character was injected into the album.

“It wasn’t a conscious to have my second album sound different than the first. But I would say over the years, I realised that I should pay more attention to singing, rather than playing the guitar”.

Noting how short the lyrics were on the first album, how little he sang and how much more focused he was on playing the guitar, Shahid did the exact opposite for Faceless Name.

“I would like to think that I managed to pull it off, although I’m still not the very best at it. Still working on improving”.

While nothing is set in stone at the moment, Shahid is planning a tour in Ipoh, Johor, Kedah, Kelantan and Singapore sometime in mid-September to October, and he will be playing a show at Merdekarya tonight, Aug 4.

Faceless Name is available for purchase through soundsofkites.com, with the album also available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube.

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