(Photo by Wong Horng Yih)
To understand the sheer genius that is Roger Wang, you have to lock yourself in a room with him alone. No distractions. Just Roger Wang. With his guitar. And his AER amplifier. And let him do his magic. Finger-style. Then, you’ll understand why some have dubbed him the “Guitar Superman”.
As Malaysia’s most renowned finger-style master guitarist, Wang produces brilliant and exhilarating music with just six humble steel strings of an acoustic guitar. Comfortable performing solo or with other musicians, Wang is an “audio-visual” wonder. Watching and hearing his deft finger work at break neck speeds usually leaves his audiences awestruck, whether they hear him live or on CD.
A sound engineer by training, Wang is also a producer who runs his recording studio in Sabah. And as if working full-time in the studio isn’t enough, Wang also composes songs, performs at gigs and concerts, teaches music technology, organises music festivals and concerts, AND produces and arranges his own albums.
With eight collaborative albums and one solo albums under his belt already, Wang isn’t resting on laurels though. He has many plans for the future.
In The Beginning
Wang first attracted attention as part of the famous jazz duo, Double Take. He formed the group in 1999 after a 16-year-old girl walked into his studio in his hometown, Kota Kinabalu, with her mother to record a demo. When he heard Mia Palencia sing, he knew he had found a winning combination: rich sultry voice accompanied by just one acoustic guitar. A Malaysian Tuck-and-Patti combo was formed.
It proved to be a runaway success, Malaysians and neighbour Singaporeans loved them. Gigs poured in for the duo: from intimate clubs to large corporate functions. Three albums, one nomination for BOH Cameronian Arts Award’s Most Promising Artist award in 2003, and one big Double Take concert at Stadium Negara later, both artistes discovered their own niche in their respective fields. Today, they take breaks from their hectic individual schedules to perform together when the public scream for more of that Double Take allure.
In 2002, Wang was bitten by a bug. Infected by an insatiable need to define himself as a solo artiste, Wang undertook a massive project to write, arrange, produce and record his debut solo album. What started as a “joke” prompted by his best friend transpired into “Journey Home”, a 15-track album that married Asian folksongs with a generous dash of jazz, giving life again to Malaysian classic “Bunyi Gitar” by the late great Tan Sri P. Ramlee, Chinese megahit and evergreen “Sweet Honey” by Teresa Teng, “Wedding Eve” by then new Hong Kong artiste Emil Chou.
When released in August 2003, “Journey Home” debuted at number 18 on the Tower Records (Malaysia) International Chart and number 8 on the HMV (Singapore) Jazz Chart.
A year later, EQ Music (Singapore) Pte Ltd combined the best of Wang’s music from previous Double Take albums and “Journey Home” into a spanking new packaging and released the “Platinum Collector Series: Roger Wang” album to the region.
That same year, Wang met musical compatriot Farid Ali a.k.a. Mr. Gambus, the well-known and respected gambus forerunner in the country, at the first and only Kuching Jazz Festival. Something between them clicked. Later that same year, they met again at the Penang Island Jazz Fest.
“The first time they got together and played was in the Festival Secretariat on the afternoon before the show – sort of like a practice session – discussing the songs and styles and running through the repertoire for the show,” said festival organiser Capricorn Connection’s Paul Augustin. “The crowd was blown away when they played that night and couldn’t believe that it was the first time they (Wang and Farid Ali) were performing together.”
Despite geographical differences – one lived in Kota Kinabalu and another in Kuala Lumpur – the two produced and recorded “No Strings Attached”. Released in 2006, the jazzy, folk-flavoured album features 11 tracks written and arranged by two seasoned musicians who created an album based solely on the need to create music.
On a music high after the success of “No String Attached”, Wang started looking out of his comfort zone for new experiences. That was when the Malaysian Audiophile Society called him and suggested he team up with two local singers, Winnie Ho and Regine Tai, to record an album of Chinese songs. Western-influenced Wang was apprehensive at first but was willing to take his first baby steps into this strange genre.
2V1G (short for Two Voices, One Guitar, the album is named after the trio), was launched during an intimate affair in June 2008. The audiophile-standard Chinese acoustic album comprised of Chinese classic love songs from the 80s and 90s, played by one acoustic guitar and accompanied by a female voice.
The album turned out to be such an overwhelming success that it surprised most people, including Wang himself. As the first Malaysian-made audiophile album to gain international recognition, “2V1G” was Hong Kong Metro Radio’s Pick of the Week for two weeks in September 2008. Sale of the album was available only online but it sold over 3,000 within a month of its launch. The Internet is filled with praises for the trio and its debut album, some calling it the “best album ever”.
The trio went on to release another two albums: 2V1G in 2010 and Bloom in 2013.
A year after the first 2V1G album was released, Wang teamed up again with the trio’s producer Leslie Loh to produce another audiophile album. This time, it was an English album called “Love’s Tapestry” featuring Gina Panizales on vocals, Peter Lau on drums, Wan on double bass and Jonathan Oh on the cello.
“Love’s Tapestry” is a compilation of covers of songs from the 70s and 80s, hand-picked for the album by Loh. Loh wanted the album to be a fresh and heartfelt interpretation of the songs and had the performers record the songs together live in the studio – a rare practice these days.
“Love’s Tapestry” is also the first album that features Wang’s new toy - the harp guitar made for him by Malaysian luthier Edward Hiew.
In 2010, international mega-Cantopop star and Hong Kong artiste Jacky Cheung released his 57th album entitled “Private Corner”. It was a significant moment for Wang because Cheung had included one of his original composition “Love Scale” in that album.
Later that year, “Love Scale” bagged two awards at the Malaysian 11th Entertainment Journalists Association Music Award: “Top 10 Original Songs (International)” and for Cheung, “Best Overseas Interpretation Artist”.
Roger Wang – the Man Behind The Guitar
When Wang is performing onstage, he comes alive. He is animated, he is passionate, energetic, his love for his music rubs off on the audience. But offstage, this family man is a totally different being. Quiet and unassuming with no airs about him, Wang surprised Malaysian journalist Kevin Soo who met the guitar legend for the first time recently, “I could not believe how down-to-earth this guy was!”
Who knew that this is a man who has been chosen as endorsee for three major music conglomerates: Yamaha (for their acoustic and silent guitars), Germany’s AER (for acoustic guitar amplifiers) and the Australian Maton guitars? Who knew that this man was voted “Most Outstanding Young Malaysian 2007” by the Junior Chambers Malaysia? And that the Guitar Institute of Malaysia has made a Roger Wang guitar?
Wang’s father was his first guitar teacher who sat the boy down with a guitar for the first time when he was just eight years old. Later, Wang enrolled himself in Ocean Institute of Audio Engineering, Kuala Lumpur where he graduated with a diploma.
It took a bit of dabbling with various forms of music and guitar styles but Wang finally found his voice in the acoustic guitar, playing fingerstyle in the mid-90s. He was intrigued by the guitar’s versatility and how it is such a self-contained instrument, “I believe this one-man-band approach to guitar has a lot to do with my personality, I enjoy working alone and like the liberty of being able to do everything myself.”
He learnt much from his idols, Tommy Emmanuel and Tuck Andress, but it was the father of modern fingerstyle guitar, Chet Atkins, whom Wang is most influenced by. The enterprising young man took it upon himself to learn as much about the technique as he could through the limited numbers of books, magazines, albums and videos he could find in those pre-Internet days.
Like his idols, Wang is known for his ability to play melody, chords and bass parts of songs like a solo pianist.
“Most people don’t think much of a humble guitar, much less about a solo acoustic guitarist. It still amazes me sometimes to see how versatile and powerful just one acoustic guitar can be,” he added.
Back in his hometown, Kota Kinabalu, Wang is the forerunner in the music industry.
He is the Deputy President of Sabah Performing Arts Society, involved in organising the annual Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival, is often called to be a judge in talent shows, and contributes to charitable organisations by playing at their functions.
What does the future hold for this young father of one? Wang wants to improve himself further and to evolve as an artist, “I would like my music to reach a new and wider audience.”
He is already working on new albums, writing new songs, exploring new avenues to create music in different genres. “The opportunities are endless,” he said excitedly. It is when you are Roger Wang.
Albums released to date:
2002 Double Take’s (Roger Wang & Mia Palencia) “1 Voice, 6 Strings, 12 Moods”
2003 Roger Wang’s solo album “Journey Home”
2005 Double Take’s (Roger Wang & Mia Palencia) “1 Voice, 6 Strings, 12 Days of Christmas”
2006 Roger Wang & Farid Ali’s “No Strings Attached”
2008 2V1G’s (Roger Wang, Winnie Ho & Regine Tai) “2V1G”
2009 Gina Panizales’ “Love’s Tapestry” featuring Roger Wang
2010 Roger Wang’s compilation album “Milestones”
2010 2V1G’s (Roger Wang, Winnie Ho & Jeffrey Lim)’s “2V1G”
2013 Roger Wang, Winnie Ho, Tay Cher Siang, Serena Chong, Z Yan & Lydia Chew’s “Bloom”
What Others Say:
- Roger is a jazz guitar virtuoso, amazing technique, fiery improvisations and a keen sense of the melody – Raymond Goh, 8 Days Magazine (Singapore)
- A tastefully crafted album, musically and technically – Sujesh Pavinthran, The STAR
- Brilliant! The sun shines on traditional music as Roger Wang transforms 12 dry and dreary standards into catchy, bright and breezy delights and makes them immediately accessible to a new generation – Errol de Cruz, The Malay Mail
- On stage with just his guitar, Roger Wang is cool. He’s good, he knows it – and what really comes across – he loves playing for you – Errol de Cruz, Business Times
- Impeccable techniques, imaginative and bold arrangement, the virtuoso in Wang cooks up a tasteful and eclectic mix of familiar tunes improvised to varying degrees to suit his already familiar fingerstyle guitar-playing…. Great melody & smart pop sensibility, Journey Home is the kind of album that even your dad or mum or girlfriend can enjoy – Leslie Loh, www.music-matters.net
- Every once in a while, from out of nowhere, someone will come along who will remove the bar from its present position and nail it back a full metre or so higher. Such a person is ROGER WANG… You will see technical mastery married to a genuine passion for the guitar. Roger Wang will blow you away! – Rafique Rashid, No Black Tie
- ….always very tasteful and inspiring. His is the sort of talent that will appeal to layman listeners as much as it will to hardened guitar aficionados – Sujesh Pavithran, The STAR
- The sounds of Roger Wang have always been and will always continue to be a listening pleasure – Shamini Darshni, New Straits Times
- If the recent concert was anything to go by, Wang and his friends have shown that they are passionate about music - Jaswinder Kaur, New Straits Times
- Roger Wang is one of the most humble, easy going, good-natured, professional and affable musicians we have ever worked with. Absolutely no air, no attitude, but with plenty of sardonic humour, you would never hear Roger bitch or badmouth about his peers, not even the slightest criticism or negative comment, he always maintains neutrality, level-headedness and a sense of balance – Leslie Loh, www.poppopmusic.com
- Johor Baru Arts Festival 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
- Tip of Borneo Music Festival 2010, 2011, 2012
- Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival 2007, 2009, 2012
- Damai Sunset Musical Concert 2012 and 2013, Labuan, Malaysia
- Penang Island Jazz Festival 2010, 2011
- The Roger Wang Trio concert at Bonding With Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (2013)
- The 2nd Philippine International Jazz & Blues Guitar Festival, Manila, Philippines (2013)
- The 2nd Cultural Center of the Philippines Jazz Festival, Manila, Philippines (2013)
- Utmost Love Fingerstyle concert at Damansara Performing Arts Centre, Selangor (2013)
- 2V1G at Singapore Esplanade, Theatre On The Bay (2013)
- Malaysian International Guitar Festival 2013
- BELLA Presents: A Jazz Soirée With Double Take (2013)
- The Roger Wang Trio, featuring Angeline Perete & special guest Hiroshi Matsuda, THE VENUE at Pavillion, Kuala Lumpur (2012)
- The Jazzy Sounds of Teresa Teng Concert, Ipoh, Malaysia (2012)
- Double Take in Concert 2012, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
- Singapore Guitar Show 2011
- UCSI Contemporary Music Festival 2011
- Tommy Emmanuel Live in Johor! Concert (2010)
- 2V1G at No Black Tie, Kuala Lumpur (2010)
- Bangkok Audio Visual Exhibition, Thailand (2010)
- The 1st Beijing Fingerstyle Guitar Festival, China (2010)
- Beyond Boundaries Concert with re:mix, Singapore's premiere crossover string ensemble, Kota Kinabalu. (September 2009)
- Guest appearance with re: mix at the Esplanade, Singapore (December 2008)
- KL Sunrise DIGI Jazz Festival 2007
- Equatorial Hotel KL Summer Jazz Series 2007
- Solo Guitar Recital, Johor (May 2007)
- City Day Celebration 2007, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
- Visit Malaysia Year 2007, Tasik Titiwangsa, Kuala Lumpur
- Gaya Christmas Celebration 2006, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (2006)
- Penang Jazz Festival 2006, Penang
- No Black Tie's Acoustic Series 2006
- Equatorial Hotel KL Summer Jazz Series 2006
- Taiwan Open Strings Guitar Concert 2006 tour
- No Strings Attached Malaysian tour with Mr. Gambus, aka Farid (2006)
- Double Take’s “Made in Malaysia” concert at the Stadium Negara, Kuala Lumpur (2005)
- Penang Jazz Festival 2004, Penang, Malaysia
- Kuching Jazz Festival 2004, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
- Yamaha Music Endorsee Concert 2004
- Pasar Malam Besar 2004, De Haag, Netherlands
- Acoustic Strings Festival 2004, Netherlands
- The Brunei Music Society presents Double Take, Brunei (2003)
- Huayi Festival at the Esplanade, Singapore (2003)
- Hard Rock Café, Singapore (2002)
- Sunrise Jazz Festival 2002, Kuala Lumpur
- (and arranger for) Malaysian movie made by Namewee in 2011 “Nasi Lemak 2.0”
3. Artistic Director / Co-chairman & founding member
- Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013 (www.kkjazzfest.com)
4. Event organiser
- Roger Wang & Friends 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
- soundtrack for documentary “Return to Kinabalu” by Ikhwan Rivai,
- “Love Scale” which was later sung by Hong Kong artiste Jacky Cheung in his album “Private Corner” (2010),
- “Fairy Tales”, a song Wang wrote for his daughter and released on YouTube on Father’s Day 2013.
6. Music Director
- Carlsberg Diamond Idol 2013
- (working on) Gee Mojina’s album
- Gee Mojina’s single “A Gorgeous Day” (2013)
- (produced some songs for) Linda AF3’s album “Linda” (2008)
- Z Yan, Malaysia’s bossa princess’ album Brasilairo (2012)
- Karen Kong’s album “Mulakan” (2007)
9. Collaborated session on tracks / albums
- “Simple” on Malaysian-made movie by Namewee “Nasi Lemak 2.0” soundtrack (2011)
- “Love Scale” on Hong Kong artiste Jacky Cheung’s album “Private Corner” (2010),
- Juwita Suwito, vocal coach for Malaysian Idol, on a Christmas single “Silent Night” (2008)
- Karen Kong’s album “Mulakan” (2007)
- Music Technology for Sabah Institute of Arts
- Conducts workshops while on the road for concerts