Jerome Kugan’s Songs For A Shadow

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In Indonesia. Two more famous poets were cropped out. Teehee.

Have you ever experienced a piece of art and become overwhelmed with the amazement that someone you know, a beloved friend whose fridge you’ve raided, whom you’ve fought with, whom you’ve travelled with, produced so breathtaking a creation?

Because that’s what happened to me when I heard the album version of “Flowers”, from Jerome Kugan’s debut album Songs For A Shadow, to be launched on Saturday April 12. I’d long admired him as a singer-songwriter, but to hear his familiar folksy, acoustic tunes given an electronica spin blew my mind. “Flowers” was suddenly like the moment when something cracked in me while listening to Boys For Pele that turned me into a devout Toriphile. It was some sort of breakthrough; it was the moment I realised the culthood my friend is destined for.

If I could pinpoint a single person whose impact on my life radicalised it for the better, it would have to be Jerome Kugan. I met JK when I was 15. I had just finished school and was working at a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur. I was heading nowhere, in that cute, quirky, blasé, dishonest way that precocious and rebellious teenagers head nowhere, and had no idea how that point in time and the couple of years they precipitated were going to be so pivotal for me. JK had moved to the city fairly recently. He edited and published a photocopied zine of writing and illustrations, called Poetika, which lasted for a good 9 months. He was also organising these indie events, in which people performed music or read from their work. I don’t know how many people took all these efforts seriously in the beginning, but for me, it was a whole new world. A world in which I belonged.

It was because of Jerome’s early efforts at sparking off an underground poetry scene that I have a spoken word career today. Being a part of that scene in its newborn years, before the British Council’s involvement and the visiting poets and the slams with crowds of hundreds, put me in a position I am privileged to have had. The right place, the right time, and rewards for years to follow. Through him, I met countless people, some who became confidantes or collaborators. Heck, it was because of Jerome that I met my closest friend. But above all was the chance he took on me, a kindness I try to keep in mind when I meet younger aspiring writers.

When I had to leave Kuala Lumpur last year, Jerome’s farewell present was a CD with the rough cut of the album as of September 30. Since then, I’ve listened to parts of it nearly every day. My morning auto ride to work feels incomplete without one of my favourites from it.

The album is hypnotic, addictive, mystical to a surprising depth. Omens and miracles, calls for guidance, the mysteries — all have a place. From the dangerously brooding undertone in the hum in Jerome’s voice in “Song For The Service Industry” to the alluring a cappella of “Lightfalls”, there is a powerful quality in this work that defies terminology. Jerome Kugan channels the duende, alright. Only abstraction can describe it: you either feel it or you don’t.

And of course, Jerome as poet and Jerome as troubadour are inseparable. His lyrics are complex, but not overly obscure. Conveniently, he discusses the experience of creating and recording each individual song on his blog (see sidebar index Lyrics and Notes).

My three favourites from this album are “Song For The Service Industry”, “Tomás” and “Flowers”. The first two incidentally have strong political undercurrents. There is something a little manifesto-like in the quiet conviction with which the persona in “Song For The Service Industry” says he will wait (for the day when the tables turn), and “Tomás” was written for Tomás Diego, a Cuban persecuted for his sexuality, and who was immortalised before this song in a small part in the film Before Night Falls. “Flowers” is a spiritual song, an acknowledgment of a power, higher or equal to the creator in his/her element, that will guide and allow the fullest experiences.

And so it is with every happiness that I congratulate Jerome Kugan on the launch of his first album, Songs For A Shadow, on April 12. I’m so proud of you!

Below is the video for “Tomas”. The album is available for sale in Malaysia, will be available shortly in Chennai (I am a pimp, remember?), and for you lucky credit card holders, via digital download.

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