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Zee Avi

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Zee Avi

Zee Avi
Zee Avi (left) performing at the Filter Party at South by Southwest, Cedar Street Courtyard, Austin, Texas, 18 March 2009
Background information
Birth name Izyan Alirahman
Also known as KokoKaina
Born (1985-12-15) 15 December 1985
Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia
Origin Sarawak, Malaysia
Genres Indie rock,[1] pop rock, jazz
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, musician
Instruments Vocals, acoustic guitar, ukulele
Labels Monotone Label/Brushfire
Website .com.zeeaviwww

Zee Avi (born Izyan Alirahman,[2] also known as KokoKaina[3]),PBK[4] is a Malaysian singer-songwriter, guitarist, and ukulele player. She hails from the oil-rich town of Miri, located in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. She moved to Kuala Lumpur at 12 and at 17, she taught herself to play the guitar.[5]


In September 2007, Avi posted a video of her first song, "Poppy," on YouTube for one of her friends who had missed her first performance in Kuala Lumpur. The friend convinced Avi to leave the video online even after he had seen it, and soon she received positive feedback. This inspired her to put more videos on YouTube.[6]

On the eve of her 22nd birthday (2007), Avi posted what was supposed to be her final video "No Christmas For Me." The next day, YouTube put the spotlight on her video and Avi's mailbox was bombarded with more than 3,000 e-mails and a slew of offers from record labels.[7]

After discovering her video, Patrick Keeler of The Raconteurs, passed the link to Ian Montone, the manager of The White Stripes, The Shins, The Raconteurs, M.I.A. and others. Montone then passed her music on to Emmett Malloy, who signed her to Brushfire Records, a record company that is partly owned by Jack Johnson.[5] "No Christmas For Me" turned out to be her first official song with Brushfire Records. It was featured on Brushfire Records's 2008 charity Christmas album This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday (Vol. 1).[8]

Career highlights

Avi's self-titled debut album was released on 19 May 2009. The album was co-produced by Brushfire Records and Ian Montone's Monotone Records. On the day of the release, YouTube featured her on the front page in Spotlight: Music Tuesday. A day after that, she performed to a full house at the famed Roxy Theater in West Hollywood.[9] The album went on to become the ninth best album of 2009 according to the Associated Press.[10] She made her US television debut on 18 June 2009, performing her debut single "Bitter Heart" live on Last Call With Carson Daly.[11]

Her second album Ghostbird was released on 23 August 2011. "The Book of Morris Johnson" was the first single off her sophomore effort. Ghostbird topped the US Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart and spawned hits like "Swell Window" and "Concrete Wall" after both songs were featured in Season 5 of the hit television series Gossip Girl.[12] Avi has the distinction of being the first Malaysian singer to have albums on the US Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart and top a Billboard chart (Heatseekers Album).

She toured the United States with Pete Yorn from June to August 2009, the final leg being at the Music Box, Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, California on 27 August 2009.[13][14] She opened for the multi-talented Jack Johnson during his concert at the Greek Theater, UC Berkeley on 6 October 2010,[15] and had the honor of collaborating with Johnson on a live mash-up of their respective hits "Just You And Me" and "Breakdown." She also opened for Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and feminist icon Ani DiFranco at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on 21 October 2011 to mark the 20th anniversary of World Cafe.[16]

Avi has performed sets at some of the most celebrated music tours and festivals, namely SXSW in Austin, Texas (March 2009),[17] Bonnaroo in Tennessee (June 2009), San Francisco's Outside Lands (August 2009),[18] Byron Bay Bluesfest in Australia (April 2010),[19] Lilith Fair in Ohio, New Jersey and Massachusetts (July 2010),[20] Mountain Jam in New York (May–June 2012)[21] and Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak (July 2012).[22]

She toured Asia in November 2011, performing in Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bali, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Miri.[23] This was followed by a US East Coast Tour in February 2012, with gigs in New York, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Maryland and North Carolina.[24] In September 2012, she performed in six cities during her California Tour.[25]

In December 2012, Avi was conferred the state order and medal of Pegawai Bintang Kenyalang (Officer of the Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak) for her service to the state of Sarawak by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Head of State). The award is the Fifth Rank of the Darjah Yang Amat Mulia Bintang Kenyalang Sarawak (Most Illustrious Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak).[26]

New release

Avi's latest offering is Nightlight, a 9-track album consisting of covers for children that was released on 22 April 2014. The album, which was recorded in Woodstock, New York within a span of just four days, includes covers of "Ben" (Michael Jackson); "The Rainbow Connection" (Kermit the Frog); "Circle Game" (Joni Mitchell); "Colors of the Wind" (Judy Kuhn); and a medley of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," "Lima Anak Ayam," "Air Pasang Malam," "Lagu Tiga Kupang," "Sing A Song of Sixpence," and "Rock-a-bye Baby." Avi released two tracks from the album, The Velvet Underground's "Who Loves The Sun" and Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in February 2014, as teasers for her new record.[27][28]


Avi studied fashion design at American InterContinental University in London, but as it turned out, fashion was not her true calling. She claims that she was "bred to become a lawyer" and even studied law at one point.[6] Avi's artwork is featured on the CD of her second album. She also produced three art pieces for a charity project with Pledge Music.[29][30]

Musical influences

Avi has often been called an old soul and it comes as no surprise because she is a huge fan of swing bands, Gershwin and America jazz from the 20s.[31] She has been likened to Ella Fitzgerald many a times and one writer called her "the next heiress in the bloodline of young women with supernaturally classic voices".[32]

She also describes herself as a "rock lover at heart". Her musical preference is pretty diverse, listening to everything from The Carpenters to The Cranberries.[33] She draws inspiration from eccentrics Cat Power, Regina Spektor, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Jolie Holland, Daniel Johnston and Chris Garneau, to jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and classics like Velvet Underground and Led Zeppelin.[34]


  1. Youth Icon (International) Award, presented by the Sarawak State Government in conjunction with Hari Perhimpunan Belia Negara 2011 Peringkat Negeri Sarawak (National Youth Assembly Day 2011 Sarawak State Level). She expresses her gratitude in a video posted by herself in YouTube[35]
  2. The BrandLaureate Grandmaster Brand Icon Leadership Award 2012, presented by the Asia Pacific Brands Foundation for Zee's achievements as a singer and songwriter, and for establishing a successful career in the international music scene.[36]
  3. Pegawai Bintang Kenyalang (Officer of the Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak).She received the order by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Head of State) in an investiture ceremony held in Kuching on 12 December 2012.[37]


Full-length albums

Album Zee Avi Ghostbird
Release Date

19 May 2009

23 August 2011

  1. Bitter Heart
  2. Poppy
  3. Honey Bee
  4. Just You And Me
  5. Is This The End
  6. Monte
  7. Kantoi
  8. I Am Me Once More
  9. First of the Gang To Die
  10. Darlin' It Ain't Easy
  11. The Story
  12. Let Me In
  1. Swell Window
  2. Anchor
  3. 31 Days
  4. Milestone Moon
  5. Siboh Kitak Nangis
  6. The Book of Morris Johnson
  7. Madness
  8. Bag of Gold
  9. Concrete Wall
  10. Roll Your Head in the Sun
  11. Stay in the Clouds
Charting History
  • No.130 on Billboard Hot 200
  • No.2 on Billboard Heatseekers
  • No.129 on Billboard Hot 200
  • No.1 on Billboard Heatseekers
  • No.20 on Billboard Alternative Albums
  • No.32 on Billboard Rock Albums
  • No.64 on iTunes (US), No.83 on iTunes (Canada)

Tribute album

Album Nightlight
Release Date

22 April 2014

  1. Don't Worry, Be Happy
  2. Colors of the Wind
  3. Who Loves The Sun
  4. Ben
  5. Rainbow Connection
  6. The Circle Game
  7. Mockingbird
  8. Dream A Little Dream of Me
  9. Nightlight Medley
Charting History
  • No.5 on iTunes (Malaysia, Brunei), No.54 on iTunes (Singapore), No.84 on iTunes (Taiwan)
  • No.8 on Amazon (Children's Music)
  • No.1 on Amazon (Lullabies)


Year Album Tracks
2010 One More Time With Colors
  1. Is This The End (Remix)
  2. I Wish I Never
  3. Just You And Me (Remix)
  4. The Story (Remix)
2012 Concrete Wall (Remixes)
  1. Concrete Wall (RAC Remix)
  2. Concrete Wall (Mario C & David Hurwitz Remix)
  3. Concrete Wall (Mansions on the Moon Remix)
  4. Concrete Wall (Robert Carranza Remix)


Track Notes
Bitter Heart
  • No.63 on Billboard Japan Hot 100
  • Featured in Walmart (USA), Spa Citron (the Netherlands), Hyundai Marine & Fire Insurance (South Korea), Buavita (Indonesia) and Mitsubishi Attrage (Malaysia) television commercials.
  • Featured in the film The Oranges (2012) starring Hugh Laurie and Leighton Meester.
  • Featured in the TV series Parenthood (Season 2, 2010)
  • Featured in the SBS Korean drama Master's Sun (Episode 13, 2013)
  • Featured in the KBS Korean Drama Marry Him If You Dare (Episode 12, 2013)
Just You And Me
Is This The End
  • Featured in the film Transatlantic Coffee (2011)
  • Recipient of Bronze Medal for Excellence in the Best Impact of Music in a Feature Film (Artistic Excellence) category at the Park City Film Music Festival (2012)[38]
Swell Window
Concrete Wall
  • Featured in Volksbank (Romania) television commercial
  • Featured in the TV series Gossip Girl (Season 5, 2011)
Siboh Kitak Nangis

Non-album tracks and collaborations

Year Track Type Album Artist
2008 No Christmas For Me Solo This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 1 Various Artists
2011 Frosty The Snowman Solo This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2 Various Artists
2012 Tomorrow Is A Long Time Solo Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Various Artists
2013 Heart Of The Moment Guest Vocals Full Moon (EP) Mansions On The Moon
2014 We'll Be Happy Duet Legasi Aizat Amdan
Heart Of The Moment Guest Vocals Mansions On The Moon Mansions On The Moon


Official music videos

Year Music Video Notes
2009 Bitter Heart
  • Director: Emmett Malloy, Producer: Mike Sarkissian, Director of Photography: Giles Dunning, Editor: Brenden Mendez
2011 The Book of Morris Johnson
  • Director: Aran Reo Mann, Producers: Michael Graham & Tyler Caldwell, Director of Photography: Gavin Kelly
2012 Concrete Wall
  • This video earned Jason Baum a nomination for "Best Directional Debut" at the 2013 Music Video Production Association (MVPA) Awards[39]
  • Director: Jason Baum, Producers: Leah Dempsey & Rose Krane, Director of Photography: Ryan Carmody, Editor: Arianna Tomasettig, Production Designer: Ethan Feldbau
2013 31 Days
  • Director: Jason Baum, Director of Photography: Ryan Carmody, Production Designer: Ethan Feldbau

Promotional videos

Year Music Video Notes
2008 No Christmas For Me
  • Recorded live
2009 Medley (Honey Bee, Bitter Heart, Kantoi, Monte)
  • Recorded live from and above the Solar Powered Plastic Plant
Slow Hands
  • Interpol cover (live)
  • Director: Tim Wheeler, Producer: Josh Nicotra, Editor: Brenden Mendez
2010 Frosty The Snowman
2011 Medley (Anchor, Swell Window, The Book of Morris Johnson, Milestone Moon, 31 Days)
  • "Ghostbird" live performances


  1. ^
  2. ^ Simple Zee
  3. ^ Koko Kaina
  4. ^ "Musicians receive state awards". The Borneo Post. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  5. ^ a b YouTube – Zee Avi- An Introduction
  6. ^ a b Interview: the refreshing Zee Avi
  7. ^ Zee's Open Road
  8. ^ Brushfire Records to World-Premiere Their First-Ever Holiday CD Compilation Exclusively... | Reuters
  9. ^ YouTube Leads To Fame For Singing Sensation
  10. ^ The 10 Best Albums Of 2009
  11. ^ Last Call With Carson Daly, Season 8, Episode 115
  12. ^ TV Fanatic: Zee Avi Music
  13. ^ KCRW Events schedule
  14. ^ Yahoo Events schedule
  15. ^ Jack Johnson's Chiller Instinct
  16. ^ World Cafe 20th Anniversary Concert with Ani DiFranco
  17. ^ SXSW Review: Zee Avi, Port O'Brien, The Mae Shi
  18. ^ Riding the Outskirts of Outside Lands
  19. ^ The 21st Annual Byron Bay Bluesfest
  20. ^ Jones and Avi at Lilith Fair 2010
  21. ^ Mountain Jam 2012: Steve Winwood, Mule, Franti, The Roots & More
  22. ^ Rainforest Festival
  23. ^ Two more Asian dates added to tour
  24. ^ Happy New Year
  25. ^ Zee Avi's California Tour Dates
  26. ^ Zee Avi Among Three Artistes Bestowed State Awards
  27. ^ Dreamtime With Zee Avi's Lullaby Album
  28. ^ Zee's Music For Grown Ups And Kids
  29. ^ Interview With Zee Avi – Singer/Songwriter
  30. ^ Pledge Music: Zee Avi
  31. ^ Zee Avi: An Old Soul's Organic Sound
  32. ^ Pop Matters: Zee Avi
  33. ^ The Accidental Star
  34. ^ Inspiration: Zee Avi
  35. ^ Zee Avi's Thank You Speech After Receiving the Youth Icon Award 2011
  36. ^ The BrandLaureate Awards Brand ICON Leadership Awards
  37. ^ Musicians receive state awards
  38. ^ Park City Film Music Festival 2012 Awards
  39. ^ 2013 MVPA Award Nominees

External links

  • Official website
  • Brushfire Records Artist Profile – Zee Avi
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