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Tommy Emmanuel once said, “Put a guitar in a boy’s hands at a very young age, and magic will happen.” Sungha Jung is a personification of this statement, bringing music to his listeners either vicariously through the internet, or into their hometown via concerts.
On December 16, some one thousand fans of the 16-year-old fingerstyle guitarist had the privilege of witnessing his first ever concert in Kuching, Sarawak. The concert was organized by Borneo TruEvents, a strong force in corporate event organization in the region. “We started out heavily focused on music, but the situation in Sarawak was such that we had to move to corporate events to grow. Now, a couple of years on, we feel it’s time to give back to the community, and we chose to do so through this concert, which also signifies our underlying passion for music,” CEO of TruEvents Silas Michael mentioned.
Indeed, ‘Sungha Jung Live in Kuching’ was a milestone event for the city. It is not often that an artist of his caliber stops by. Hopefully, his visit has inspired fans to take up the guitar seriously, and will be a catalyst to birth new talents.
Sungha opened the concert with an original piece, ‘Irony,’ which is also the title of his second solo album. In halting English, he addressed the crowd, and was careful to thank them for listening to his music. It took a few pieces, however, before he settled down to the atmosphere of the crowd. The transition to the next song, a cover of Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’ gave signs of his not being fully settled yet as he took a while to tune his guitar from the non-standard tuning of ‘Irony.’ Still, the crowd seemed not to notice, as the song was clearly a crowd favorite.
Sungha gave a preview of his third solo album, due for release next year, with an original tune called ‘Nostalgia.’ Later on in the set, he surprised the crowd by playing two Malaysian songs: ‘Rasa Sayang’ and ‘Sejahtera Malaysia.’ It gave a warm feeling to the listeners to hear their own country’s songs being played so well by someone not from their homeland. It portrayed the ability of music to unify despite differences.
Nevertheless, Sungha’s first set of 8 songs had perhaps one too many covers, each having a heavy rhythm segment. There were a few K-Pop pieces, no doubt to please his teenage fans, as well as a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep.’ It was only the last song of the first set, ‘Lupan,’ a Japanase piece arranged by Akihiro Tanaka, that revealed more of his fingerstyle prowess. A running bass line, as his smooth fingers carried it together with the lead and melody, was pleasing to the musically-inclined ear.
After a short intermission Sungha came onstage for the second set with a ukulele. He delighted the audience with a rendition of Goyte’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know,’ followed by a playful interpretation of the ‘Super Mario’ theme. But by that stage, you’d have had this notion that this young man is still trying to discover himself, despite his prowess on the guitar. He played to draw reactions from the mainly adolescent crowd, and perhaps that’s why he had a wide range of covers that had the sign of being quickly strung together, in order to be current. But then again, he’s only 16.
Back on his Lakewood guitar, he played a beautiful medley of Christmas carols, just right for the festive season. Right after that, the crowd perked up as quizzed them (“What’s the most famous K-Pop song right now?”) as he went on to play ‘Gangnam Style.’ It brought some of the front audience to their feet, and Sungha flashed his trademark grin at them.
Sungha probably did not do himself full justice in his choice of songs. He has a number of original compositions in his manuscript collection, and it was a little disappointing that he only played three of them (‘Sorry’ was the other). Some fans commented after the concert that they would have liked to have heard more original tunes, like ‘Waterfall,’ ‘Hazy Sunshine’ and ‘For You’.
However, towards the end, Sungha displayed his maturity in the guitar, which showed the the level where he is. He played ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ theme, both excellently arranged by him. These two arrangements showed more thought and elaborate chord work in it. With fewer strums and rhythm, he was able to give more clarity in the individual notes and greater room for dynamics to capture the intent of the pieces.
At the end, he was called back on for an encore, playing ‘Guitar Boogie’ as arranged by Tommy Emmanuel, to cap off an inspiring evening for this young man.
Perhaps it will take a few more years for Sungha to craft his concerts into something that is truly his own, using pieces to hold the set as a whole instead of bringing them out as individual entities. But having said that, Sungha Jung is indeed a remarkable young guitarist with a bright future ahead of him.
Photo Credit : Abdul Malik