Percussionist Mohamed Noor chases his dream

Mohamed Noor (left) will perform with close collaborators, such as pioneering local Tamil pop outfit Vasantham Boys, at his upcoming show.
Mohamed Noor (above) will perform with close collaborators, such as pioneering local Tamil pop outfit Vasantham Boys, at his upcoming show.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Musician Mohamed Noor, one of the Singapore music scene's most accomplished and sought after percussionists, could gig anywhere in the world.

This is, after all, the veteran who toured worldwide with Hong Kong Heavenly King Jacky Cheung and has made music with artists ranging from Oscar-and Grammy-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman, Taiwanese stars A-mei and Wang Leehom and French group Gipsy Kings.

Still, the 50-year-old, whose repertoire ranges from pop to Indian classical, is willing to give up the lucrative world of playing for the big stars just so that he can focus on his own artistic calling.

On Nov 19, he will headline his third show at the Esplanade Recital Studio, a performance that is part of the Esplanade's Indian arts festival Kalaa Utsavam.

He recalls the early 2000s, when he spent several years playing live shows and recording for Mandopop stars, including a Beijing concert with Cheung in front of 50,000 fans in 2000.

"I had to leave behind everything - family and all. But day in and day out, you play the same music. It was a good experience, but I would rather do what I want to do and have the creative freedom to do things like learn new instruments," says the father of two, who received the Artistic Excellence prize at the 2013 Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) Awards.

In Singapore, he has played with prominent names that include jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro and Sing! China finalist Joanna Dong.

  • BOOK IT / GROOVE TO MY RHYTHM BY MOHAMED NOOR

  • WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Nov 19, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $30 from Sistic and Esplanade

In 2012, he launched his debut solo album, Rebirth, with a sold-out show at the Esplanade Recital Studio.

Three years later, he sold out the same venue again with one of his bands, fusion group Men In Groove.

A skilled musician who can play more than 25 instruments, he will play with gear such as the handpan, a rare percussive instrument that he recently learnt to play, at the upcoming show.

The gig will also feature some of his closest collaborators.

There is pioneering local Tamil pop outfit Vasantham Boys, the band he made his name with which features his brothers Mohamed Raffee and Bashir, and bassist Daniel Sitranen.

Like his brothers, Mohamed Noor picked up music at a young age and started playing classical Indian percussion and singing at five.

Their late father, Syed Yakob, was a musician. Vasantham Boys were popular in local Indian radio and television in the 1970s and 1980s and merged Tamil pop with genres such as Latin and funk.

"At the beginning stage of our lives, we picked up a lot of songs, we learnt songs and tried to sound like what we heard in recorded works because it was a learning process.

"But after a certain period of time, we want to have the freedom to be creative, to come up with sounds that are different. Otherwise, there is no identity."

He will also perform with world music veterans Tribal Tide which comprise musicians Reggie Perera and Joe Jayaveeran, and Men In Groove, with fellow musicians Casey Subramaniam, Leonardo Mendoza and Euntaek Kim.

The show will also feature one of his mentors, Malaysia-based American percussionist Steve Thornton.

Right now, Mohamed Noor says he has found the right balance of playing commercial music and pursuing less mainstream work.

He performs regularly at Clarke Quay nightspot Le Noir as part of a trio, playing what he describes as "Top 40 hits with a twist".

"Creativity is one thing, but I also have to make a living. Some Top 40 bands who play pop covers at clubs, they try to play exactly like what you hear on the CD.

"In Le Noir, we have the freedom to express ourselves, there's a lot of creativity in there. We play pop music, but we change it up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'Percussionist Mohamed Noor chases his dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe