Tarakucha Band: A Malaysian big band with a vintage twist

Bringing its brand of feel-good songs to the world.

Sean Ghazi and The Kuchettes (Photo: Tarakucha)

If the word “ tarakucha” sounds familiar to you, it might be because of the black-and-white movie Labu dan Labi, which was written and directed by P Ramlee, who also starred in the 1962 comedy. In a scene that produced one of its classic songs, Bila Larut Malam, the iconic Malaysian legend plays himself at a nightclub, performing with his wife Saloma.

Today, hearing the song’s refrain of “tarakucha, tarakucha cha” evokes a pang of nostalgia that brings a smile to one’s face, and for many, memories of a familiar melody that set the feet a-tapping.

This is the mood the Tarakucha Band has been creating in its shows since its first “workshop” performance back in October 2016 at Bobo Kuala Lumpur, and this week, KLites will have the opportunity to savour the same experience at the band’s Marilah Menari concert.

Cheekily dubbed “The Terrer Menerrer Big Band Experience”, the brainchild of veteran Malaysian singer and actor Sean Ghazi is also on the cusp of a leap towards what may be a game-changing season. What started out as an experiment has since grown into a vision of something that its founder and core members hope will exemplify entertainment of a distinctively Malaysian kind.


Veteran Malaysian singer and actor Sean Ghazi (Photo: Haris Hassan/The Edge)

“The idea for Tarakucha was probably an extension of my 2006 album Semalam, and the idea — I’ve always wanted to bring back the big band sound — to make it a platform for the vintage Malay songbook. It has been sort of a quiet dream to imagine those great songs as a live act today,” Sean says of how the band came about.

As for what Tarakucha aims to encapsulate, he says, “It’s not just about Malay songs but also English, Mandarin and more, everything that the era embodied, that particular sound and spirit. I love that. I think it represents a time when we were very sophisticated, the golden days of our music history. I imagine it was a very exciting time to be around then; there was a lot of promise of being a new country, and people like P Ramlee himself as a prolific songwriter and filmmaker. Also, it was a freer and more stylish time, and I love that too — everyone dressing up, the kebayas, jackets and ties.”

His desire is for Tarakucha to become a brand that represents Malaysia abroad, a goal that, he says, is partly inspired by his experience working with American musical group, Pink Martini. Sean had recorded a Malay version of one of the group’s original songs for his album in 2006, and as a result, performed with it at the Hollywood Bowl and in a few other US cities as part of its tour. He was also guest vocalist at Pink Martini’s concert at Dewan Filharmonik Orchestra.

“Having seen the machinery behind Pink Martini, the way it has sustained this for 24 years, selling out show after show, with a line of people buying the merchandise after ... I think Tarakucha can be a Malaysian brand that truly ticks all the boxes of who we were in an inclusive way, a way that is instantly recognisable. That’s our challenge, and we’ve worked towards that,” states Sean.


Tarakucha at Pesta Raya 2018 (Photo: Tarakucha)

Having worked on cultivating a particular style and growing the band’s repertoire in the last two years — last year, it put on its first big concert at The Gardens Theatre as part of the Diversecity KL International Arts Festival, and this year, the band performed in Johor Baru and Singapore, where it represented Malaysia at a Pesta Raya concert at The Esplanade — the founder says there is big potential for creating a lifestyle brand centred on the Tarakucha experience.

That said, he emphasises that music will always be the band’s focus, even though it has had the privilege to effect far more than entertainment. “We’ve had people come up to us, literally, with tears in their eyes after — even though it was a joyous show — and tell us that we’ve helped them fall in love with Malaysia again, or even changed their minds about moving abroad, I’m not kidding! They said they didn’t know why but they felt emotional. I think it’s the microcosm of Malaysia that they see on stage, and it’s the reason why we’ve kept going. This whole idea of an intangible but very human experience,” Sean reflects.

Marilah Menari promises a focused musical experience that will, nevertheless, carry the trademark playfulness and surprise elements that Tarakucha has come to be known for. “We have a lot of fun but it’s all very organic,” Sean adds.

Besides him and his co-lead, songstress Ida Mariana, the show will feature a boosted 12-piece band and three long-standing back-up vocalists, also known as the “Kuchettes”: Maya Tan Abdullah, Izlyn Ramli and Ruzana Ibrahim.

“It won’t be any less of an experience. We have invested our resources in what is important — the music, be it covers or original songs. We’ve increased the strings section and for the first time, we’ve worked with outside arrangers as well. It used to be just our music director Nish Tham but to bring different colour to our songs, this time we worked with Vivian Chua, Dennis Lau, Luqman Aziz, and Leonard Yeap,” says Sean.


Co-lead and songstress Ida Mariana (Photo: Tarakucha)

Tarakucha has also opted for a unique funding method that it hopes can become the start of a potentially long-term model, at least until it is on a sound financial footing.

For the show, the band launched a “Friends of Tarakucha” initiative that is not unlike the angel investor models used by theatre companies. “We’ve started via word of mouth, through our own contacts and friends — every member of the show — where we’ve invited them to pledge a certain amount. There are three levels: Diamond, Gold and Silver, which is RM5,000, RM2,000 and RM1,000 respectively,” Sean explains.

Confessing an interest in the shared economy, the founder says the idea helps Tarakucha eliminate the problems often faced in sourcing for corporate funding, including potentially being cut in the last period of preparations.

“In many ways, this is a purer relationship and transaction between the act and the person who wants to support it,” Sean says. Besides giving them show tickets as a gesture of appreciation and acknowledgement, the investors — whether individuals or companies — will also be invited for an after-show cast party, although Tarakucha is aware that the ultimate return on investment is for it to put on a fantastic show and succeed.

It will know that when people start dancing, which is happening more and more frequently at its shows. “Even when at the beginning I think this is going to be a tough crowd, at the end of each show, people get up and dance. And it’s becoming less of us needing to pujuk and more, ‘Oh, they’re dancing’. And it’s all kinds of people, from tudung ladies to uncles and children. That’s what this show hopes to do, to let people forget all their troubles and just come and dance,” Sean concludes with a smile.


'Marilah Menari by Tarakucha Band' is on from Dec 6 to 8 at The Platform, Ken TTDI. Tickets are priced from RM125 to RM300. Buy tickets here. This article first appeared on Dec 3, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.


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