Malaysia’s Queen of Soul Elvira Arul will wow audiences as Brian McKnight’s opening act in his concert in Kuala Lumpur tonight. She shares her excitement with Kerry-Ann Augustin

WHERE WERE YOU, WHAT WERE YOU DOING AND WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU RECEIVED NEWS THAT YOU’D BE OPENING FOR BRIAN MCKNIGHT?

A friend had called and asked if I was free on the date but didn’t say why. A couple of days later, they told me that they wanted me to be the opening act for Brian McKnight. I was over the moon! I couldn’t believe it, I really couldn’t believe it. I was pinching myself!

YOU BANTER QUITE A BIT WITH YOUR AUDIENCE WHEN YOU ARE ON STAGE. IF YOU COULD IMPRESS BRIAN MCKNIGHT WITH ONE JOKE ON THE DAY YOU MEET HIM, WHAT JOKE WOULD YOU TELL HIM?

I would never try to tell him a joke!

YOU’VE PERFORMED ALONGSIDE SO MANY BIG ACTS FROM LOCAL LEGENDS LIKE SHEILA MAJID AND LEWIS PRAGASAM TO THE LIKES OF DAVID FOSTER AND ERIC BENNET. YOU EVEN PERFORMED A DUET WITH RUEBEN STUDDARD. WHICH STAR HAS LEFT YOU IN COMPLETE AWE SO FAR?

Eric Bennet. And John JR Robinson — he has performed with literally, everyone. Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Quincy Jones. It was so humbling being able to perform alongside him.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT OPENING ACTS?

People think that it’s easy and it’s really fun, and you just go up and do whatever but it’s not. It’s a very stressful thing because you are literally the one who hypes the crowd. You are the cheerleader before the main act — you need to prep the crowd and get them to the level that they need to be out when the main act comes out. It’s a big crazy deal!

ONE OF THE THINGS YOU DO ON STAGE IS TELL THE AUDIENCE THE STORY OR MEANING BEHIND A SONG. WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE SONGS TO TALK ABOUT ON STAGE AND WHY?

My Funny Valentine. There’s a line in the bridge that goes “Is your figure less than Greek?” Many use to ask me what that line meant. It’s all about body image — the Greeks idea of a woman’s body was voluptuousness. Their curves were worshipped. It was a mark of prosperity and fertility. Just paying attention to the lyrics is just that — are you any less than what you are supposed to be?

YOU ARE KNOWN FOR PERFORMING QUITE A FEW GENRES — R&B, JAZZ, SOUL, BALLAD, POP, GOSPEL. WHAT GENRE DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD NEVER TRY?

I would not use the word never. Never say never! I love all genres but if there’s one that I wouldn’t touch, it would be trash metal.

PEOPLE ALWAYS SAY IN ORDER TO COMBAT NERVOUSNESS ON STAGE, ALWAYS IMAGINE THE CROWD NAKED. HAVE YOU TRIED IT AND DOES IT ACTUALLY WORKS?

Imagining someone naked. How bad can it be? It works for me.

YOU HAVE AN ALTER EGO, OLGA. HOW IS SHE DIFFERENT FROM ELVIRA ARUL?

Olga is fierce and fearless. She’s outgoing and the kind who will call you out for being rude, etc. Elvira is more of the shy, introverted one.

WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT BEING A WOMAN IN THE MALAYSIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY?

Being taken as an equal.

WE HEAR YOU LOVE YOUR FOOD. IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE KIND OF FOOD OR DISH THAT YOU COULD EAT FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Oh yes, I love my food. I love Asian food but I’m going to go with Malaysian food. It’d eat that for the rest of my life.

YOUR PARENTS ARE MUSICAL. YOUR MUM LOVES GOSPEL AND STUFF LIKE THE RAT PACK, WHILE YOUR DAD WAS MORE OF A LED ZEPPELIN, THE WHO, LYNYRD SKYNYRD FAN. IF THE THREE OF YOU WERE TO PERFORM, WHAT SONG DO YOU THINK YOU’D AGREE ON PERFORMING?

The Beach Boy’s Sloop John B. We use to sing it together when I was growing up!

MOST PEOPLE KNOW YOU FOR YOUR VOICE BUT YOU ALSO PLAY THE GUITAR. HAVE YOU USED YOUR GUITAR AND VOCAL SKILLS TO SEDUCE ANYONE BEFORE?

Can I plead the fifth? Yes, it worked and it worked well. That’s all I’m going to say about that!

IF YOU COULD INVITE ANYONE FAMOUS TO DINNER, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE AND WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO FIND OUT FROM THEM?

1. Sting — I want to find out about his ability to write songs.

2. Bonnie Rait — to ask her about her storytelling.

3. Ella Fitzgerald — I want to know how she sang the way she did, what her thought processes are while singing.

YOU CARRY A BIG BAG AROUND WHEN YOU PERFORM. WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN THAT BAG TO YOU?

People always think I’m going somewhere or running away from home. If I had to choose three things, it would be my make-up, my accessories and my lozenges!


Elvira Arul

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