Paul Ponnudorai, the maestro who did - Jahabar Sadiq
JULY 8 — Paul Ponnudorai first made news years ago as a precocious nine-year-old kid with the guitar at the 1971 Bakat TV. He died last Friday, rising from that talented boy to a guitarist recognised by his peers across the globe as a world-class musician who in his own words, “deconstructed music and reassembled it again” as his own.
There are really not enough words to describe Paul or his talent.
It went beyond music. His wide vocabulary and turn of phrase enlightened those whose lives he touched. The ready smile he flashed for friends was as warm as the voice that delighted many as he plucked, picked, strummed, scratched and thumped his guitar in public and private shows.
He was the ultimate performer with the scintillating wit. He was the best friend you always wanted to be with, be it a bar or a coffee-shop. Paul had songs, words, ideas and philosophy on tap anytime of day. And he shared it generously with all.
That talent and wit attracted the best across the world to perform with him. The list is endless and among them, Wynton Marsalis,Tuck Anderson, Jeremy Monteiro, Eldee Young, O’Donel Levy (of Herbie Mann fame), Sheila Majid, Jamal Abdillah, Seha, Michael Veerapen, Nora, Isaac Hayes, Steve Thornton (Miles Davis Band), Alex Blake (Manhattan Transfer), Arman Sambahleko (Paul Simon), guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, hornsman Terumasa Hino and drummer Billy Cobham.
And his old friends that he played with in Made in Malaysia, the superband comprising him, Allan Perera (keyboards), Jerry Felix (drums) and Daniel Soliano (bass guitar) that made waves in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta, Indonesia.
After that, he went solo and performed in Malaysia and Singapore, where he was a hit in the night circuit, ending up as the musical director in Harry’s, the chain of pubs across the island republic.
Time magazine wrote about him in 2007, describing him as “A man who is quite possibly the greatest musical interpreter of our time performs every weekend at Harry’s — an ordinary bar in a Singaporean shopping mall.”
This was the long-haired musician who was also the guitarist and lyricist for Sudirman’s One Thousand Million Smiles performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1989. He had fame and perhaps fortune, but he continued to play every day in pubs and clubs for friends and fans.
This was Paul Ponnudorai, the legend and icon who made a name for himself all these years as one of the best guitarists in the world. The maestro who did it all and who helped his friends whenever he could, getting some of them to perform with him in Singapore and elsewhere.
Time magazine was right when it said, “His music ascends like a prayer or a thanksgiving, an end in itself.”
Rest in peace, Paul Ponnudorai. We have your music and memories but the world is a dimmer place without your presence, old friend.
* Jahabar Sadiq runs The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.