NOT every Malaysian band gets to perform for an international audience. The rag tag group of buskers and street musicians who make up Cubit-Cubit Rindu, however, do it all the time on Langkawi’s Pantai Cenang.
Dozens of tourists from around the world gather outside Breakfast Bar around 9pm every night (except Thursdays) to watch the busker collective perform Malay classics with a reggae twist. It’s not uncommon to see passers-by stopping in their tracks to groove along – or random saxophonists popping up to add a solo or two.
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This impromptu street party started three years ago, when Zul Idris, 56, the owner of Breakfast Bar, noticed that a few of his regular customers were often showing up with guitars and other instruments. He introduced them to each other, and soon enough, their laid-back style and attitude were drawing fellow buskers from all over the country to join them.
Zul, a sculpture artist himself, was more than happy to let the band play in front of his premises.
“I know there is a lack of space and opportunity for music lovers to perform. I get a lot of satisfaction watching these guys enjoying themselves while making music.” – Zul Idris, owner of Breakfast Bar.
The group, originally known as Ukulele, lets pretty much anyone join in the fun. You’d see different line-ups almost every night, and the main group itself has changed over the years.
Today, Cubit-Cubit Rindu has six regular members – guitarist and lead vocalist Amirul Firdaus, bassist Adi, guitarists Mie Hassan and Zack, drummer Apit, and Hakim, who plays the guitar, djembe and cajón.
Passing the baton
The secret to the group’s success is its willingness to teach newbies and give them a chance to perform. Hakim was working in the cafe next door when he heard strains of music coming from Breakfast Bar. Intrigued, he listened in and was inspired to start learning an instrument.
“I learnt to play from the seniors here in the band as well as from YouTube videos,” said Hakim who, at 21, is the youngest member of the band. Well and truly bitten by the music bug, he now wants to learn to play the double bass.
Despite being based in Kuala Lumpur, Hakim makes a point to travel regularly to Langkawi so he can perform with the group.
“It relaxes me,” he said while sitting on his cajón. “After a long day at work, it’s great to sit here with my friends and make music.”
While its music has that distinct, laid-back island vibe to it, what Cubit-Cubit Rindu does is not always easy. They face many real-world challenges in pursuit of their dreams.
Amirul, 22, who is now a full-time performer and busker, said that it’s hard to gauge how much you would take home at the end of the day as it all depends on the number of tourists who stop to listen.
“You don’t earn very much from busking. Most of my income comes from private events where we can charge a set price,” he said, declining to share an exact figure.
Ironically, finding a place to perform as buskers is difficult too.
“Zul has been very kind to let us play on his premises,” said Amirul. “We sometimes get kicked out by the police at other locations.”
The band has also found it almost impossible to get a performing permit, even though they said they have letters of approval from a number of authorities, including Langkawi’s head of police.
“In Kuala Lumpur, they are more accepting of busking,” said Amirul. “There are busking permits, and you just have to go to the municipal council to get them. But here, it’s very different.”
Motivated by passion
In spite of Langkawi’s convoluted rules concerning busking, the members of Cubit-Cubit Rindu still love the island. “Langkawi has soul, and it’s the same soul we have in our music. It brings people together,” said Syahril Azwan Salleh, 39, a local who plays the djembe and occasionally joins the band.
Despite their ability to pull crowds every night, the members of Cubit-Cubit Rindu don’t aspire to achieve rockstar status. What drives them is the camaraderie they have and the opportunity to entertain the people at Pantai Cenang.
“I don’t want to be a huge star! I just want my music to be heard.” – Amirul Firdaus.
They also hope to inspire teenagers to follow their dreams.
“Everything lies in your passion! If you really love it, then go for it without any second thoughts,” said Syahril. “Nothing is impossible.”
This passion also inspires them to continue busking even though they have to constantly fight the misconception that buskers are bums.
“We have jobs!” said Hakim with a laugh. “We aren’t homeless people; we just love to play music.”
Check out the BRATs’ video of Cubit-Cubit Rindu’s recording!
This story was written by the participants of BRATs Langkawi 2014 young journalist programme. To find out more about BRATs, and to apply for the 2015 programme, click here!