Kimal Mokhtar has a few things to say about staying true to yourself. Sporting long locks and genderfluid clothing, the Margasatwa frontman (winners of Malaysia’s Levi’s® Music Project 2020) cuts a figure that isn’t afraid of expressing himself on his own terms. With such a bold spirit, it’s not hard to see why he shines in this year’s Ramadan campaign. Read on as Kimal talks about music, swapping clothes with his wife, and how he found his Malaysian identity in Japan.
How would you describe Margasatwa’s music style and sound?
I would say it’s a mix of both classic and contemporary. It’s the new classic with a modern sound. But what we wanted to do was to highlight the kind of melodies that represent the Malay traditional sound, especially in my vocals. In some previous albums as well, we incorporated Malay traditional elements.
What shaped this musical direction?
Back when I was studying in Japan, I looked into my own identity very differently. When you’re away from home, you’ll start seeing something you missed when you were here. I appreciated our tradition and culture more. Japan has their own culture, their own music, and we have our own too. So I was like, “When I go back to Malaysia, I want to do something. Write songs in Malay uniquely.” Just to use Malay and highlight all the cool Malaysian music in the ‘70s and ‘80s. We had The Alleycats, Carefree, Kembara—good stuff.
Any influences from your childhood?
When I was a kid, my parents, especially my father, liked to sing P. Ramlee tunes. Most of the time, there’ll be a P. Ramlee film on TV. So it was like family time and when the singing part came on, we’d sing along as well. Besides that, he also listens to traditional stuff like dikir barat. He used to play dikir barat in the car the whole time.
What do you do when you’re out of the studio?
Wherever I go, I’m always making a song in my head. Everything I see, everything I read, it has to be related to the songs I write. I think to be a good composer or musician, you always have to be in that mindset.
I also cook and play instruments. Recently I tried to play the saxophone and flute. I try new instruments because it gives me different kinds of inspiration to create songs.
“THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE. MAYBE OVER TIME, I’LL BE SOMEONE ELSE. MAYBE I’LL BE BALD TOMORROW. FOR NOW, THIS IS THE MOST COMFORTABLE. THIS IS ME RIGHT NOW.”
How would you describe your personal style?
I’m into pre-loved stuff, like [buying from] bundle shops. I think there’s something special about that, because most of the time I’ll look for clothes I’ve never seen before. Most people won’t wear it, but I love that kind of stuff. I don’t think clothes have gender. You can be as feminine as you want depending on how you style it. Sometimes I even swap clothes with my wife.
Margasatwa won RM20,000 to make the “Yang Asli” music video from last year’s Levi’s® Music Project. What was the whole experience like?
It’s been an amazing journey. We learned a lot. We don’t get many chances to properly work with a professional team. It gave us a new breath of life. Because with the pandemic and all, everyone was down mentally. So when we won and got to record, it’s like we were given a chance to be creative, without anyone dictating us.
Where’d you get your inspiration from “Yang Asli”?
My wife. She always asks me if she looks pretty enough. So I always say, everyone is beautiful in their own way. Also, sometimes people write bad comments on social media that can bring you down; it’s things like that which made me want to write a positive song.