Every now and again, an artist comes along who rips up the rule book and decides to make music their own way.
Malaysian violinist Martin Looi is one such artist. His new EP, Maddy, is out now and available for listening on all major streaming platforms. He plays acoustic violin but with effects added later via plugins. So the instrument can sound like an electric violin at one point, take a saxophone part later on and emulate a Spanish guitar in a third track.
Martin Looi’s musical preferences are equally varied. The five tracks on this EP show influences from jazz, pop, hip-hop, R&B and reggaeton, and the end result is quite unusual. It’s not often you hear 30s style jazz violin these days, but that’s how this EP opens, with a cover of P Ramlee’s 1960s hit Getaran Jiwa. Ramlee was a huge star in south-east Asia and this tune is considered an evergreen classic.
The second track Good Ol’ Bounce does just that. The upbeat violin melody skitters along at a rate of knots propelled by a modern R&B bassline. The juxtaposition is surprising but works rather well.
Bowin’ Bars, track three, is another upbeat tune. Laden with Spanish influences, the violin takes the guitar part and it’s just as insistent as a tango too.
The penultimate track, Songbird, is probably the best known of the tunes. This is a cover of Kenny G’s 80s hit, and yes, the violin can sound like a sax, given the post-recording tweaks employed. It is suitably smooth and laid back, the kind of music that would make an excellent dinner party accompaniment.
The final track, Lil Latina, shares a title with Wes Devine’s tune of the same name, and has similar influences too. That Latin beat is infectious and the violin is singing merrily, suggesting an R&B feel and encouraging tapping fingers or toes.
Martin Looi has been playing violin since he was five and has a smooth playing style further enhanced by the software plugins and other effects added during production. He went to music school in Australia, earning a music degree with a major in audio engineering.
He might only be in his early 20s, but Martin Looi has packed a lot into his time in the last few years. He’s played with many of the top names in Malaysian pop music including Hazama Azmi, Atilia Haron, Syafinaz Selamat and Salamiah Hassan. You will also find videos of some of his collaborations online. He’s determined to make a name for himself and shake up both contemporary music and jazz at the same time.