Ariff AB: The Freak in Folk

source: Keith Chee

“I wear the Ray-Ban and play the acoustic guitar.”

So says Ariff AB offhandedly of who he is; A freak folk act (there are other adjectives involved if you asked him what he plays) who got us thinking maybe there was more to the moribund singer-songwriter scene after all. Despite that rather peculiar pronouncement, Ariff isn’t the sort of weirdo outsider musician, yet he strums harder on his guitar and sings with more conviction than what you’d typically expect of the male singer-songwriter archetype. He doesn’t get on stage to sing saccharine sweet nothings to your ears, the tunes are still sensitive, but more in tuned with the emotional gravitas of his influences – Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, and Billy Idol – than the Jack Johnson bullsh!t singing by the campfire with girls swooning around you crap. You could say that he’s the anti-Narmi.

“The way I play my guitar [isn’t] so gentle as the rest of other male singer-songwriters.”

Admittedly, Ariff Ab isn’t immediately spectacular or anything. The first time we heard ‘Bye Bye Baby’, we didn’t really think anything of it despite that the song managed to climb to #2 on Hitz.FM MET 10 chart. A decent song, we thought, but nothing to write home about. But then rather randomly, we saw him performing live at a charity event and that was the point when we saw something in the raw emotions of both his vocals and guitar coupled with the Ray-Ban-aided stoic expression. The kid’s got something, alright.

“I wouldn’t want to be categorised in the same genre as every singer-songwriter here, I would prefer to be just on my own.”

A self-proclaimed freak folker, Ariff’s brand of music is folk that has branched out of the traditional definition of the genre. While not to be mistaken for folk rock, the genre dabbles with experimentation of other sounds, notably psychedelic and, yes, rock itself too. Contemporising it further with elements of electronica on ‘Elena’, a collaborative effort with Zimbabwean DJ Philo, Ariff creates a dark, elegiac folk that fully realised his potential – the opposite of the effect ‘Bye Bye Baby’ had on us.

“It’s hard to describe what I’m trying to say with my music, it’s about my life experiences – from dark days to brighter days.”

Ariff wasn’t always the singing sort. At 13 he began writing lyrics, but vocalising them was never part of the plan (“Making music was more of an accidental thing”). It wasn’t until late into his life, in 2009, that he actually developed interest in performing, it was right after a kind of clichéd singer-songwriter phase in his life where he participated in an ‘acoustic showdown’. Since then, he has toured China with the likes of Liyana Fizi and One Buck Short, gigged around Kuala Lumpur, played alongside Chris Brown’s DJ in Singapore, and very recently toured London playing at smaller gigs.

“The local music circle is small here in KL, you don’t know where you’ll end up playing.”

His upcoming debut album, Transmissions, has no release date yet, but Ariff shared with us that it will be a ‘spacey’ record that has a movie soundtrack feel to it – the idea of a concept album has always been something he wanted to explore. In the meantime, while he is on the way to finishing up the album, there’s only one other thing on his mind;

“[To] be heard.”

Listen to Ariff AB at and