It can sometimes be quite surprising to see your fellow countrymen be making a name for themselves in the wider world, and it’s nice to be reminded when trends like #IAmPoCinPlay and similar self promotion crops up, knowing that you too can be inspired by them. Az Samad is one of these figures: you might recognize him from his performances at Final Fantasy concerts together with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, at GameStart Asia, and most recently, as a guest composer for NO STRAIGHT ROADS, itself a Malaysian-made action-rhythm game. He spent a few measures with us for some questions.
For the unfamiliar, Az Samad is known as a jazz guitarist, composer, and educator, with a career in music spanning the past 24 years: being both a professional musician as well as having both studied and taught at Berklee College of Music, Boston, Massachusetts (USA), bearing four degrees in music as his credentials.
His past consisted of gaming on the Atari 2600, NES, Sega Genesis, Game Boy and Super Nintendo, with titles including Zelda, Metroid, Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, but his first actual involvement in video game music was as a guitarist in a video game music band in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’d later on be featured as the classical guitar soloist for Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy and performed with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
As for his involvement in NO STRAIGHT ROADS, as guest composer, he composed DK West Encounters, a rap battle that combined Malaysian traditional music elements like Dikir Barat with hip hop.
Since the game’s launch, I’ve started streaming on Twitch playing No Straight Roads and also talk about music and the composing process while I played the game. It’s been interesting to stream on Twitch in addition to my regular Facebook Live and YouTube Live streams.
If you’ve liked his performances or his style, Az Samad is also expanding into online guitar and music education product lines, the latest of which being Kelab Gitar Az Samad. Here, guitarists can subscribe monthly for new guitar courses every month when you sign up.
He’s certainly no stranger to the games industry, and he believes Malaysia’s video game dev scene is growing pretty healthily. He points out the LEVEL UP KL events – which have been virtual this year – and says that especially has been helpful for so many people. There’s a place for local game devs to shine, and he likes checking out their new games when he can.
Being the music guy, it’s not surprising for him to take an interest in the game audio community, hoping to see more involvement in making the music, and its implementation, within Malaysia. The country’s in no shortage of culture to be blended together in harmony.
I can see a growing need for [ audio implementation ] and audio is very important for games as it can help develop the game’s identity, in addition to other aspects. From Dikir Barat to Malay Jazz and to Joget, Inang, and Ghazal – there is just so much to play with. I believe that the more we bring those elements into game music, then we can create more impact.
He mentions Malaysian hip hop – Too Phat’s work, and Malay rapping as just two examples – which make the local music scene shine brightly. Naturally incorporating more Malaysian-sourced sound effects, words, and musical instruments would only make locally developed games richer.
Then there’s the whole thing about video games influencing music trends, or vice versa. The most ready example Az Samad provides is the by-now ubiquitous K/DA, Riot Games’ League of Legends girl group: K-pop, video game culture and dance are all rolled in one. These virtual idols have garnered an immense following, and it doesn’t hurt that they get well-made music videos to go with their tracks too. Even earlier than that, Guitar Hero reintroduced classic rock to a new generation. You could say the opportunities are open for the musically inclined to capitalize on.
With all that said and done, Az Samad is planning to work on more video game music projects, speaking highly of his time with NO STRAIGHT ROADS, and will be looking forward to their future projects. Education wise, he wants to expand his guitar educational products, as well as develop more courses for musicians to cultivate a sustainable career. The arts does not necessarily have the same acclaim as the sciences, and he wants that idea of ‘starving musician’ to be left behind. You can also look forward to more of his compositions and new music to release in the upcoming year.
When you think about it, how often have you listened to a game’s soundtrack without actually playing the game yourself? Or that you recommend tracks from your favourite games to a non-gamer who enjoyed it? Maybe even tried a new genre of music because you liked how the style was used in something you played or watched being played? That’s the power of music.
While we probably won’t be getting any concerts in a while, the music must go on, and in these times, a good tune or many could be just the ticket to raise those spirits of yours. Think of all your favourite music, and know the people who made them. Wouldn’t that be something?