Indie guitarist, composer and educator Az Samad is teaching music in the virtual world, writes Izwan Ismail
IT’S Sunday, 11.50am and in his apartment in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Az Samad is seated comfortably in front of his notebook computer.
As he is browsing through some music videos on YouTube, a Skype page pops up, signalling an incoming video call. He accepts and immediately, the caller shows in the video window. It’s Sara Renee Moravej, one of his overseas students, calling from the other side of the globe in Livermore, California, US for her music lesson with Az.
Where Moravej lives, it’s 8pm, Saturday. The 16-hour time difference between Kuala Lumpur and California makes no difference to either one of them for the online lesson.
“The Internet has revolutionised the way people learn. They no longer have to attend class physically. Instead, they can be halfway across the globe and still ‘meet’,” says Az, who has been giving Moravej songwriting lessons via Skype for the past couple of months.
Prior to the Skype meeting, she had emailed Az samples of her work, comprising songs she had recorded in MP3 format for Az to listen, comment on and improve.
Now, for the next hour, Az will teach Moravej songwriting techniques he has tailored to her needs. That’s how, basically, the class is done.
Why the Internet
Az says the Internet has allowed him to expand and share his knowledge in music. Prior to giving lessons via Skype, he had taken lessons using that method, from a guitarist in Canada.
“It (Skype learning programme) worked out well and I find Skype a good platform for long distance learning. So much in music can be taught and learnt through Skype, unless one is a beginner,” he says.
Az offers classes in jazz and classical guitar, a singer-song writer programme and complete guitar for beginner. All are done on a one-on-one basis.
“My teaching is personalised because I believe everyone learns at a different pace. I provide materials based on the student’s capability. Some people are visual learners and some audio learners. Basically, everybody learns differently,” he says.
The 31-year-old guitarist-composer’s name may not ring a bell in many people’s mind, yet Az is quite well-known in the international arena, especially among music schools, for his skills in playing jazz and contemporary acoustic and classical guitar.
He has a Master’s degree in Music (Jazz Studies) from San Jose State University, Bachelor of Music in Jazz Composition and Performance (Summa Cum Laude) from Berklee College of Music, Boston, and Bachelor of Music in
Arranging from University of Westminster, United Kingdom. Since coming home, Az has been busy with not just composing and performing but also teaching.
The gigs and recording experiences he got overseas had also given him an edge. Az didn’t perform with just any ordinary musician but top artistes and songwriters like Grammy winners Flaco Jimanez and Max Baca, singer-songwriter
Tara Linda, Rick Vandivier, Hristo Vitchev, world Music Ensemble Bogofusion, electronic jazz-funk group Planet Loop, and string jazz ensemble JazzMine.
He says: “Since I’m teaching people how to become singers and songwriters, I need to have experience in performing. That’s why I still do gigs and performances from time to time.”
Next month Az will be in Manila for a few days, performing at the Philippines International JazzFest.
The son of national laureate Datuk A. Samad Said, who is well-known in the country’s art and poetry scene, Az had his parents’ full support when it came to his choice of career but it was his grandmother who sparked his musical “fire”.
When she noticed her grandson’s interest in musical instruments, she bought him a guitar.
“I was 15 then and the guitar she gave me was what started everything,” he says.
When he was 16, Az took guitar classes to improve his skills, and soon he started following his father around to various universities in the country to read poetry while he strummed the background music. Soon, Az was composing his own music. Good in his studies, the young boy was also a computer geek. “After Form Five, I was torn between continuing my studies and music. I could pursue studies in computer science if I wanted but at the same time I was very passionate about music,” he says.
Finally, Az decide to take the musical route and has never regretted it. He enrolled in local music college Icom (International College Of Music) which offers a degree in music from the University of Westminster in the UK for his first degree.
In the early days, he made a name for himself as guitar player for the Dalcha Duo (comprising Hardesh Singh and indie diva/keyboardist Shelley Leong).
His thirst for learning music didn’t stop there. In 2004, he went on to do his second degree at Berkelee’s College of Music majoring in jazz composition and performance.
It was in Berkelee that Az first became interested in teaching music. “When I was there, I applied to become a music tutor to first- and second-year students. I taught stuff I enjoyed and made lots of friends from around the world,” he says.
After he graduated, he became a faculty member, teaching the summer programme. He also completed his Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from San Jose State University. “Then I taught for another year, before I returned to KL last year,” he says.
New music generation
For Az, an artiste is not just about making music or signing to a record label and letting the company do the rest.
“What worked in the 1980s and 1990s will not work anymore today. The traditional way of recording and selling music via CDs, records, etc is a thing of the past, unless you’re a big name (artist) in the industry,” he says.
Having recorded five albums to date, all of which are sold online, Az believes the Internet is where music should be heading.
“People are selling albums online now. It doesn’t make sense to spend RM50,000 making an album and promoting it, only to find that not many people are willing to buy it,” he says.
The current generation and future ones will get their music from Internet downloads. “The money will come from other sources such as concerts and merchandise,” he says.
Selling music and teaching online works well for Az. “I just create a song and publish it on YouTube immediately and I will have people asking if they can learn from me. It’s a viral network,” he says.
“That was also how new artistes like Justin Bieber and a few others were discovered, via social media,” he adds.
Teaching and tech
It’s no surprise that all his students came to know him via Twitter, Facebook and website (www.azsamad.com).
Currently he has 12 students here who come over to his place for a one-on-one guitar lesson, and a couple from overseas who learn via Skype.
“Normally, they will tweet me or send an SMS to fix the time for the lesson. And I will send them audio files or YouTube links to listen to,” he says.
His students include students, graphic designers, a language teacher, singers, songwriters and music students.
“In the old days, people took music lessons because they wanted to be artistes, but today, they just want to learn to play. They don’t care about grades, etc,” says Az.
Az’s latest project is a music soundtrack he wrote for a movie by Khairil M. Bahar titled Relationship Status, which is about the social media and how it has affected modern relationships. The cast includes Gavin Yap, Davina Goh, Tony Eusoff, Daphne Iking, Baki Zainal, Ruzana Ibrahim, Alfred Loh, Shuba Jay, Benji Lim, Amanda Ang, Adeline Ong and Susan Lankester.
This year, Az will continue to do what he’s doing but with refined materials and teaching styles. And yes, he wants to add performing to the list.