DAYS AT ROCKAFELLAS – FIRST ENCOUNTER OF THE MAHA KIND
The days of live bands at pubs and bars sadly now, seems like a thing of the past. But if you were a part of it, you’d know it was thriving and at one point, almost a daily affair at different venues – from the early days of Backyard, On Line Pub, No Black Tie to the more recent spots like The Bee, Merdekarya, Dragon’s Den and more.
One such hangout (which I spent probably too much time at was Rockafellas), tucked away at Intan Square near Hotel Armada in PJ. Run by Russell Curtis, Rockafellas was always the place where you could come alone and yet feel right at home. You’d probably bump into someone you knew, or a friend of a friend but either way, you’d be in for one Hell of a night. It also helped that the legendary Tandang (if you know, you know) and 223 nasi lemak were just around the corner too.
Anyway, bands like Hard Kandy, Sharin, Blister and Rhythm Nation (to name a few) pretty much called this place home. And since I was a shameless (still am) Blister groupie who’d follow these guys anywhere to get my dose of Led Zeppelin, it was here that I first bumped into the then, very young and beanie-clad Maha Jeffery who very frequently would have a go or two on stage with whoever was performing that night.
And if you’ve seen Maha Jeffery on stage, you’d probably have noticed 2 things at the very least – 1, his stage presence and vocals are both undeniably impressive and 2, because of number 1, chances are you’d see the girls in the audience swooning away. But that’s a story for another day. Which is odd, as Maha tells us that he had quite a bit of stage fright when he first started. But that’s the thing with Maha, he doesn’t stop growing.
He first met the Blister boys after they opened for Slash (the first time) while chilling in the studio with fellow bandmate and longtime friend Raz. “Me and Raz were chilling in the studio after a jam session and in walked these guys with the full rock and roll get-up – leather jackets and what not and I instantly recognised them as the guys that opened for Slash. Ramon especially ‘cause he did the Jimmy Page thing during the Slash concert – played his guitar with a violin bow. Super cool, by the way, I still gotta learn how to do that,” he tells us. They ended up jamming together and the rest is history. Maha till today, attributes a lot of his growth as a musician and entertainer to watching Blister play on stage.
But the passion for music itself materialised at a young age for Maha thanks to his dad, which shows just where his love for rock and roll and bands like Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Guns n Roses and the likes comes from.
Naturally, a band was formed later on in Maha’s life. “In the early high school days, I was always a social and music outlier. I think one of the few people whose music taste could always relate to mine has always been Raz. I think it’s been close to 15 years now and we’ve played in quite different bands together, with TMJB being the longest standing. Would you believe he used to bully me in high school? Till one day I punched him in the face and we became friends!” Maha tells Gendang.
Singing wasn’t always his thing though. When Raz and Maha started off after high school, they were in a post hardcore band where Maha was on drums and backing vocals. It was only after their vocalist left did Maha volunteer to fill in on the role, despite thinking that he couldn’t sing to save his life.
“Now the funny thing is, I never thought I’d be a singer. I mean I’ve always had the attitude but the actual singing ability came in way later, like, after a year or two of performing. That’s pretty much like drowning before you learn how to swim [laughs] but I feel that expression pretty much encapsulates most of my life.”
After Maha’s post hardcore phase, he and Raz (lead guitar) started performing on average, about 4 open mics a week as an acoustic duo. A few years down the line and TMJB (also consisting of Keith ‘Leon Sapphire’ Noel and Sid Murshid on keyboards) came up as a natural progression both, out of boredom and wanting to evolve their sound and songs along with it.
TMJB’s home ground was none other than Merdekarya, where they share a lot of memories. It was there too that Maha introduced a horn section to the band sometime back in 2017. “I feel that was one of the tightest shows we’ve ever played. And of course, Merdekarya was always homeground to us so every time we played there felt special but nothing beat Merdekarya on a fully packed night and it was one of the few places where we could really go no holds barred on stage,” Maha reminisces. “Aww man, I’d kill to play a show right now!”
They took the live scene by storm, won a bunch of competitions but alas, the MCO came and now that everyone’s got their own thing going on anyway, the band is on an indefinite hiatus. While the band’s music plans which had plans of continuing in the form of album/singles has been put on halt no thanks to the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped the creatively restless Maha from pursuing music on his own for now.
THE SOLO PROJECT. OR IS IT?
So right now, Maha’s picking up where he left off as a solo musician. Late last year, he released a completely random track called ‘Watermelon Juice’ which he describes as a fun, chilled, “f*** all song” that he finished recording in just one night.
But then he got in touch with us with a track called ‘Used to Be’ and we dug further into his latest single which is part of his new album called C.A.I.S.O (slated for release later this year).
“The song ‘Used to Be’ was actually written ages ago and released as an acoustic track on my first EP though I felt it didn’t get the treatment it deserved. Hence why we got a full band on this one complete with strings and horns, the way I felt it was meant to be played. Although TMJB may be on an indefinite hiatus, me and the boys are still very much working together. Sid arranged and helped produced this track. Keith laid down his vocals as well as his bass. And Raz played guitar on it.
“I’ve always had a wanting for a ‘grand’ sound when it comes to the music I write. Hence why TMJB often used to play with a horn section.
“Although ‘Used to Be’ is a more radio friendly, ‘softer’ song, I feel the track gives a little taste of what the upcoming album has to offer – an eclectic blend of genres, mixed in with elegant orchestras and a rock and roll attitude.
“I’ve written tons of songs which most of the time bear no resemblance to each other and I didn’t wanna just dump everything into an album if it wasn’t cohesive as a whole (hence why it took a while) but being stuck at home for the better part of a year left me with nothing to do but write new music and try to fit everything together. I wanted each song to be able to stand out on its own but also for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. I wanted the album to tell a story, and I wanted the story to be able to portray my musical journey thus far.”
CON ARTIST INTERGALACTIC SPACE OPERA
This album he speaks of, C.A.I.S.O (short for Con Artist Intergalactic Space Opera) is a “story about cowboys in space setting out to do one last heist and the songs on the album pretty much set the soundtrack of their final journey”. ‘Knights of Cydonia’ comes to mind for some reason but even more exciting is how he describes it.
“There are heavy, guitar driven tracks reminiscent of the younger, more destructive TMJB Maha, some mellow bluesy piano-acoustic centric tracks akin to my solo stuff, as well as some symphony laden rock operas from this more ambitious chapter in my musical career,” pretty much encapsulating all the different musical parts of Maha Jeffery but making all those different pieces of the puzzle fit at the same time.
When asked about the influences of the visuals used for ‘Used to Be’, he tells us that he’s a huge fan of ‘space western’ type of shows. You know, Samurai Jack, Cowboy Bebop, the more recent Mandalorian… and Maha has also finished playing Red Dead Redemption 2, twice. “A lot of the love also comes from how the soundscaping in this genre of filmmaking really helps make the visuals shine and the world come to life – whether it’s the funk, sometimes sad jazz and blues of Cowboy Bebop, the gritty futuristic synths of Blade Runner or the majestic orchestral score of 2001: Space Odyssey, all of it goes hand in hand in building the universes of these stories” he adds.
In a strange way, I was an unsuspecting audience member of Maha’s musical journey. From the days where he’d courageously take stage with Blister to the days of TMJB winning competitions like ‘Undiscovered’ by Keep It Local (of which I was one of the judges) and then spotting my brother in his music video for ‘Watermelon Juice’. Now, we’re here talking about his latest single from his upcoming album of which I’m certain, you dear reader and I, share the same sentiments of excitement and curiosity.