When Artiste United Records announced the sign up of its inaugural artiste Nicolette Louisa Palikat aka Nikki almost four years ago, many were skeptical of the Malaysian Idol finalist chances of making it in the domestic music industry. After all, she only made it to the Top 6 stage of the popular talent competition. Just what X-factor did diva Ning Baizura and manager extraordinaire Vernon Kedit-Jolly saw in this petite girl from Tambunan, Sabah?
Well, all doubts were cast aside when Nikki released her debut album Maharani in 2005 to much critical acclaim, an album so good that it even has its own Wikipedia entry! Though undeservingly shunned at the AIM awards at that time, Nikki did bag the Best New Female Artiste title at the 2006 APM awards and the 2006 Anugerah ERA award for Most Popular Duo/Group Performance for Caramu (featuring Zahid). Nevertheless, the overwhelming breakout success of Caramu had unfortunately overshadowed the release of the other singles. Which was a shame as album the featured many hit worthy cuts.
So, in releasing the following up album three years later, how does one top Caramu? By refocusing the limelight and attention back to the artiste: its all about Nikki in this album. (Which perhaps is why the Romeo & Juliet duet with Ebi was omitted from the final track listing). In HAWA, Nikki continues to eschew the underlying theme of female empowerment from its predecessor while also chronicling the ups and downs in love and life. Nikki's vocals also have grown in maturity. While the debut effort bears influence from her mentor, this time around she sounds assuredly herself. She is also upping the ante by expanding on her soprano prowess and whistling technique which the general public has come to identify as her trademark.
Upbeat songs are definitely Nikki's forte: HAWA opens up with the sexy, sassy stomper CANTIK then continues with the youthful, full of attitude pop-rock song TAK PERLU which is very in-the-moment and should do well on radio. Guys, you better be warned that the lady means business if she demands you return her Maharani CD! The party continues as 'N-I-double K-I' is definitely in da' house in the funky PRETTY LIKE ME. But the title track HAWA could be Nikki's most sophisticated (and most sensual) club anthem yet, with its ethno trance and electronica vibes punctuated by a slick drum-laden beat. The inclusion of the tribal percussion interlude just begs for Nikki to strut some killer dance moves if there is to be a music video (hint hint)!
Nikki also reveals here softer side in a number of ballads. Of all songs in the album, the easy going first single RELAKAN would most remind fans of her earlier efforts, while BABY BABY showcases a surprisingly country twang, perhaps the first in a Malaysian song! Meanwhile, the Mariah-esque BELAS-MU finds Nikki in a spiritual and contemplative mode while in the breezy and laid back SEMALAM DAN SEBELUMNYA Nikki laments her loneliness in a fast paced and career driven world. Of course, much attention and airplay is currently focused on the sublime second single SELAMAT TINGGAL. Sounding like a geniusly inspired mashup between OneRepublic's 'Apologize' and Rihanna's 'Unfaithful', the evocative ballad features a restrained but emotive vocal delivery and a killer of a bridge which begs repeated listens.
Finally, Nikki also tackles the current trend of sampling old tunes but with a twist: instead of rehashing the tried and tested 60's and 70's or traditional Malay songs sampled by many of today's local R&B and hip hop acts, why not take to Western classical music for inspiration instead! Now, you would think that the great old maestros the likes of Mozart, Bach and Donizetti would be strange bedfellows with your everyday Malay pop. But the concept actually gels perfectly, from the deliciously tango-and-opera-tastic OH! MY,to the haunting overture BETARA SUKMA which meshes into the understated, beautiful book-end ballad CINTA.
In summary, HAWA is a highly enjoyable album right from the very first spin. Nikki has no worries of a sophomore slump here. Her Highness the Maharani of Pop's reign in the Malaysian music industry is definitely for the long haul!
- Cantik (Audi Mok/Amylea Azizan)****1/2
- Tak Perlu (Audi Mok / Faizal Tahir / Rafidah Abdullah)*****
- Selamat Tinggal (Pam Yuen / Imran)*****
- Hawa (Kieren Kuek / Mode)*****
- Baby Baby (Nur Fatima / Nikki)***1/2
- Oh! My (Audi Mok / Ad Samad)****1/2
- Belas-mu (Kieren Kuek / Mode)****
- Relakan (Audi Mok /Nur Fatima)***1/2
- Semalam dan Sebelumnya (Audi Mok / Ad Samad)****
- Pretty Like Me (Audi Mok / Nikki)***1/2
- Betara Sukma (Audi Mok / Ad Samad)****
- Cinta (Audi Mok / Azalea)****