LOOKS definitely deceive Van Umar Shahid, for when sun with him, the rising singer-songwriter was taller than he appeared in the photographs.
And then, how his boyish face betrays the timbre of his voice.
“I sing in a baritone voice,” says Shahid, who sings folk songs under the stage name “Kite Sounds.”
“When I first took up the guitar, to tell the truth, I sang mostly pop songs, like [those by the band] Fall out Boy. At one point I tried to sound like Maroon 5. Then there were the Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, but I couldn’t sing “well,” he explained.
After learning about and falling in love with the baritone musician Richard Hawley, Shahid began experimenting with singing in that range.
“I realized that when I sang (Hawley) songs back, I could reach the notes and it was very convenient. It also felt like it gave me a unique advantage,” he said.
However, anyone who has heard at least one of his songs will tell you that despite the fact that they have folkloric overtones, Sounds of Kites is different from other contemporary folk projects.
In a way, Shahid’s baritone makes his folk songs unique.
Like Sounds of Kites, Shahid recently released his second album, Faceless namesafter his debut Remember the plane treefour years ago.
Suggesting that the gap between releases was due to factors such as balancing office work and making music, or even perhaps the pandemic, Shahid was quick to debunk that suggestion.
“When I released my debut album in 2018, I didn’t want to keep releasing an album year after year. I wanted it to be.”
“I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” Shahid says, quoting the song “The Wild Hunt” by Christian Matsson/The Tallest Man on Earth.
“That line stuck in my head.”
“When I released the first album, I thought I would just go on tour promoting it as much as possible, but once I’m done, I’ll just let it be complemented by other albums. I was happy with this idea.”
Though it took some time Faceless names to materialize, Shahid would not have done it any other way.
Stories and songs
The name of the project “Kite Sounds” comes from 32-year-old Shahid’s memories of his teenage years, when he saw a man successfully fly a kite in a park surrounded by magic trees.
“This is a park,” he said, pointing to the restaurant we were in, across SS14.
Memories seem to be important to Shahid and they play an integral role in the concept behind Faceless names.
The album cover is a photo taken by Shahid’s wife, while the photos inside – behind the cover and in the lyric booklet – were taken during his travels.
In the middle of the CD cover are two photos of transvestites from Bangkok. Their eyes, digitally scratched out.
“It’s a name without a face. The album revolves around the people I’ve met and when I look at the pictures I know what memories go with it, but I don’t really know their history. Like a transvestite.”
Shahid included more samples on the new album than on his first album.
“I grew up listening to a lot of post-rock like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros. They used all these samples in their songs, and I always wanted the album to be with samples,” he says.
The pattern that stands out the most is on the “Ipoh/Infinity” of the cendol seller, which was also a memory.
“When I played Infinity, it felt like something was missing. So I looked at my phone because I like to go around and just turn on the audio recording to record what I can.”
“Once I was in Ipoh, and when I was walking down the street, my aunt was selling sendol. It sounded good, so I cut it, looped it, and matched it (to the original song).”
Generally, Faceless names marks a departure from Shahid’s sophomore debut. A lot more thought, effort and character went into the album.
“It was not deliberate that my second album sounded different than the first. But I would say that over the years I realized that I should pay more attention to singing and not playing the guitar.
Noting how short the lyrics were on the first album, how little he sang and how much more he focused on playing the guitar, Shahid did just the opposite for the first album. Faceless names.
“I would like to think that I have managed to do this, although I am still not the best in this business. We continue to work on improvement.”
Although nothing has been confirmed at the moment, Shahid is planning a tour in Ipoh, Johor, Kedah, Kelantan and Singapore sometime from mid-September to October, and tonight, August 4, he will play a concert in Merdekarya.
Faceless names available for purchase at soundofkites.com, the album is also available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube.