An undisputed doyen of the local ‘live’ entertainment scene, the indefatigable Jennifer Thompson has seen and done it all; from managing and assisting in the careers of legendary acts such as the late great Sudirman Hj Arshad, Francissca Peter and Metalasia, to producing and directing iconic ‘live’ award shows and gigs including Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM), Sunburst and Rockaway.
But with three decades and a half under her belt, “Kak Jenn”, as she is fondly known as, is far from being done. Apart from currently managing rap artist Aman Ra, not a day goes by where she is not championing the local music scene in one way or another.
On social media, you will see her promoting new music and shows by local artists (especially the young and upcoming ones), directing traffic to music-related accounts and sharing valuable nuggets of wisdom to educate and enlighten artists and fans alike.
And when Levi’s announced that the globally successful Levi’s Music Project was finally coming to Malaysia, it was only logical that they roped in Kak Jenn as one of the project’s mentors (along with Jim Hackman) on this mission to empower the next generation of homegrown talents.
After a call for entry for original music by local acts was made on 12th October, a deluge of submissions were received and four finalists were finally picked. The four then worked with the project mentors to create original material that’ll then be performed at a Virtual Showcase on 22nd December, during this first phase.
Gendang talked to Kak Jenn about the project, how the pandemic has hit our local scene and more…
What were your thoughts when you first heard that the Levi’s Music Project was coming to Malaysia?
I was very excited to know that there was a brand that wanted to come in and support local music. Partnerships or collaborations like this are extremely needed to help talent get that added push in their career.
What do you think of the general quality of the submissions received?
There were 200 amazing local talents of different genres and at varying stages of their career that submitted for this. It was an extremely difficult time for us to choose just four out of this talent pool. But that just shows you that there is absolutely no lack of talent in Malaysia.
And what do you think of the four acts that have been selected?
Firstly, they were chosen for their uniqueness. They all differ from each other as well, but are so talented. Each act has a different super power and a distinct style or sound about them that is difficult to have unless you know who you are and are passionate about what you do.
What was your very first advice you gave when sat down with them?
I think the thing that separates the achievers is their mindset and positivity. In an industry like ours you constantly have to move forward, constantly serve your talent and be aware and educated about the business that you are in. These are the things that I have tried in instil in them.
In this today’s world, everything is at our fingertips, including for musicians; music-making tools, marketing tools etc. What are our artists doing right, and what are they doing wrong?
I think the current day artists have to understand that it’s not only about the music and talent, which is of course is THE thing that allows you to go the distance and gives you longevity. But it is now also about profiling, outreach via social media, the ability to perform ‘live’ so really it’s being able to juggle everything at once. Most times an artist gets lost in the understanding what they need to do and how to rise above all the noise that everyone is creating. There is of course no one size fit all answer to any artistic journey because that is what it is, an individual journey, but artists today have to learn to work a lot harder to make it. More tools means more opportunity and everyone has access to the same tools, means having to think out of the box and working much smarter and harder. The biggest mistake would be to deny social media and not use the information and the platforms offered.
What’s the biggest challenge facing local artists since the Covid-19 pandemic began?
The hard part for lesser known artists or those just coming up is that they need exposure and also the ability to engage on the ground. That has come to a grinding halt. It is also much easier to sell merchandise or music in a live situation where everyone is compelled to buy after a great performance. So, for ‘live’ music, there is no such thing as a “new normal”. But whilst waiting for the world to change back to some semblance of normalcy (even if it will never be 100% the same), local artists have to figure out how to reach audiences and also what else they can do to make income to survive. Also learning to collaborate with brands is a powerful tool that can be leveraged to engage consumers. That is why something like the Levi’s Music Project presents an amazing opportunity for local artists.
And what can fans of the industry do to keep the scene alive?
The fans have to understand that they need to support the artists that they love in order for them to survive and for fans to continue enjoying the music. It’s not only about buying but it’s also about the sense of community and spreading the word about the music that moves them or has changed their lives. Music certainly changed mine. I knew from the start that the local music industry was where I wanted to be because I believe in the talent and the music never fails to move me.
What are your hopes for the eventual Malaysian winner of this project and what they could achieve in the next three years?
I truly believe everyone that get a chance to be a part of this project are all winners. You take away from it what you will. I, of course, would want to see every single one of them achieve their goal and attain whatever it is they want to whether they win the music video grant or not. Being a part of the Levi’s Music Project, getting tips and tricks from industry professionals, being able to work with different peers, able to network with people in the industry and having a chance to step up is surely an advantage that any artist would want.
Don’t forget to catch the four finalists of the Levi’s Music Project on 22nd December, 9PM on Levi’s YouTube channel which you can find below.