Oh, Mawi. In a way, I pity him. He is being pulled apart in all directions by greedy opportunists seeking to exploit him and he is managed by a management company, Maestro, which cares more about milking every last cent out of him rather than nurturing his career. He is thrust into the forefront in every Malay mass medium so that his more insane fans will buy every magazine and tabloid that has his face on the cover. Every move he makes is scrutinized by his fans and the media.
He has no privacy anymore. The Sultan of Johor sees fit to insist that Mawi marries the woman he is engaged to. The IRS tells everyone that Mawi has to pay his taxes. Every political party wants Mawi to do something for it, as if Mawi being a famous Malay celebrity means that he is automatically obliged to help them in order to become a “true” role model to the Malay community. True, Mawi started the ball rolling back in his Akademi Fantasia days when he stated that he wanted to be a role model. Now everyone is intent on exploiting him fully.
This is how Mawi has come to a point where his music doesn’t matter anymore. His career now hinges on his attaining and keeping his superhuman status. One single misstep will destroy his career. With Mawi’s selling point being his pristine image rather than his music, I don’t think it matters much if I point out that Mawi’s debut album, the modestly titled Yang Tercinta, sounds like something one would get if M Nasir records a CD while he was still hopelessly raw and inexperienced. Mawi, with charming simplicity, told the papers a few days before the CD is released that he sounds better on this CD because he has worked hard on his vocals. Allow me to be skeptical because I don’t see how he could fit in vocal lessons in his hectic performance schedule that never stopped since his Akademi Fantasia season ended. I suspect that the lack of broken notes and very little off-key moments on this CD are the result of studio magic rather than vocal lessons.
There are only eight songs on this CD. There would probably be more if Maestro wasn’t forcing Mawi to play dancing monkeys at every function that offers to pay for Mawi’s appearance, I suspect. All but two of these songs are from M Nasir’s Luncai Emas production company. The non-Luncai Emas tracks are the generic Malay ballad Kian, which sounds like every boring electric-guitar driven Malay ballad that has been churned out since 1980, and Cinta Hakiki, a violin-driven catchy song that somewhat ironically sounds more like a M Nasir tune than the actual M Nasir tunes on this CD. Unfortunately, Cinta Hakiki is set to a key that is too high for Mawi – he is struggling for breath ten seconds into the song. That’s a pity because it is a great song.
The duet with M Nasir, Lagu Jiwa Lagu Cinta, is another catchy tune with 1960s bossonova influence, and shows how Mawi, if he ever learns to control his voice and use it well, sounds so much like a younger M Nasir at times. This song, unfortunately, only highlights the huge disparity of singing proficiency between Mawi and M Nasir. Perempuan is a Rabbani-style song pandering to Mawi’s East Coast atuk and makcik fans and Mawi actually sounds very good for the first time here. Perhaps all those claims that Mawi is a better singer when it comes to traditional nasyid tunes are valid because in another song heavy with likewise traditional Arabic influences, Di Pintumu, Mawi is very comfortable and confident and his singing reflects that.
My favorite song and the one where Mawi really sounds good in is Kurnia Tuhan. The melody is fantastic and inspirational and the song is well within Mawi’s comfort zone, vocally, so this is one song that is a joy to listen to.
Mawi’s Yang Tercinta is actually more listenable than I expected and I sincerely hope that the improvements are because of his efforts to improve and not because someone in the studio knows how to use the Autotune machine very well. The studio production still cannot mask the fact that Mawi has a very limited range and he doesn’t fully know how to use his actually distinctive masculine baritone very well yet, and some songs like Cinta Hakiki actually expose Mawi’s weaknesses very cruelly.
That’s why I say it’s a pity that Mawi’s music doesn’t matter anymore. If more people actually care for him instead of seeing dollar signs when it comes to Mawi, maybe one day Mawi will learn how to sing in a way that showcases his strength, whatever that may be. Yang Tercinta hints that Mawi has some potential to shine. At the rate he’s going, he’ll burn out before he even achieves a quarter of what he could probably do. Maybe it’s time for a “Free Mawi” campaign? Anyone knows how Vince, the first Akademi Fantasia winner, manages to escape being mismanaged by Maestro?