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Just Call Him “Dennis”

When Dennis Lau last graced the cover of HealthToday, it was 2008. It was the year when the reformed Spice Girls closed their world tour in Toronto, the last we would see of them in a while; when Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love was a big hit all over the world, putting her and the show The X-Factor UK on everyone’s radar; and Michael Jackson’s Thriller album turned 25 and was certified as the world’s best-selling album for all time.

I had not joined the staff of HealthToday then and when I read the article as part of my research on Dennis, I saw a clean-cut handsome young man who was beginning to make his mark in the local music scene. His accomplishments at that time included performances for Dato’ Khalid and Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza in celebration of their first wedding anniversary and in festivals including the Penang Island Jazz Festival and Europa Awards Orchestra.

Fast forward to August 27, 2015. Dennis has just finished performing a snippet of his most recent composition, The Journey, for the launch of a new Gillette razor at 1 Utama Shopping Centre, and is getting ready for a well-deserved meal at a nearby deli. His manager Daphne Tan takes his request – a quarter roast chicken and lemonade – and kindly orders a lemonade for little old me as well.

Nodding my thanks, I can only marvel at how different Dennis Lau looks compared to that younger gentleman on the cover of HealthToday back in 2008. I have brought a copy of that magazine; his eyes lights up when he sees it, and Dennis shows it to Daphne and several ladies nearby, “See, this was me! Back in those days!” They can only laugh at his exuberance.

Dennis now sports a fauxhawk, a neatly trimmed moustache and goatee. In suit and tie, he is the picture of elegance, albeit a little tired, although I have seen photos of him in more casual ensembles – tank top, pants – letting things rip on stage with his electric violin. Like his music, Dennis can be quite eclectic. Pop music, easy listening, R&B, electronic dance music (EDM) – he has done it all, dressed the part and, of course, lived the music.

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D, for Dennis

Talking to Dennis is a bit of a revelation – he is very easy to talk to, without any pretensions or ego despite his impressive career milestones. He and Daphne share a rapport more akin to that of friends rather than a boss and his employee. Furthermore, he graciously poses for selfies despite looking slightly tired.

He insists on being called Dennis. “Please, call me Dennis.” He thanks me when I tell him that I enjoy watching his YouTube videos and will love to get my hands on his album DiversiFy. For someone who has played for luminaries such as Tun Dr Mahathir, Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, such a display of down-to-earth humility is unexpected, but welcomed.

D, for deliberation

Dennis’s eclectic taste and style are all sincere and innate, as he was raised in a home where music was cherished. His mother was a piano teacher, and Dennis’s earliest childhood memories include the deliberate piano practice sessions under his mother’s strict supervision.

“It wasn’t entirely a wonderful time back then,” he says with a laugh. As a child, he wanted to rebel against his mother’s strict regime, but he is now glad that his mother saw the potential in him and pushed him to achieve that potential. “She taught me the importance of discipline and hard work,” he muses. His current work ethics are based on the lessons she taught him, and they have helped him reach the place where he is today. He will not change any moment of his childhood.

The piano has been a part of Dennis’s life since age three, and he reached Grade 8 at just 11, one of the youngest Malaysians to do this. On top of a Bachelors of Music degree under the Newcastle Australian Music Degree Program, he also has several diplomas in classical piano, including the ATCL, A.M.U.S.A, Dip ABRSM and LGSM (hons).

Therefore, it can strike one as unusual that, these days, he is more often seen and heard performing on his electric violin, an instrument he first took up when he was eight. Why the violin?

“It is the closest instrument to a voice, I feel,” he reflects. “The violin allows me a flexibility and versatility on stage that I can’t find with the piano.” Of course, he still loves the piano, but it is with the electric violin that he struck out and made his mark on both the local and international musical scene.

D, for diversity

How does one describe Dennis’s music?

“R&B, electronic, pop – these are all just labels,” he says when I ask him the question. “Actually, music sometimes transcends labelling. It is more important for both the performer and listener to be moved by the emotions, the sincerity and the passion in the performance.”

Still, his heart has a special place for R&B music. The late Michael Jackson is one of his inspirations, as evident from his playful tribute to the legend in a video on his YouTube channel. Dennis also has a soft spot for various artists from many genres, although his more recent inspirations come from various collaborations with people who may not necessarily be from the music business.

Dennis tells me that these people bring fresh perspective and a repertoire of ideas that can invigorate a muse that may have become complacent or cynical from being too immersed in the music industry.

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D, for developer

Dennis’s opportunities to work with people from both inside and outside the music industry have increased over the recent years, after he established Mosaic Music Entertainment, a musical boutique company that offers a platform for diverse, innovative musicians to both find an audience and perfect their craft as well as entertainment packages for those interested in experiencing some of the best live performances in town.

For Dennis, Mosaic is not just a business – it is his way of giving back to the music industry. Furthermore, he seems to have found his newest calling in life by mentoring promising young talents such as the crooner Michael Leaner and the young talent Abigail Chew.

D, for destiny

So, what is next for Dennis?

He tells me he will be releasing another album by the end of this year, although the distribution of physical copies is still being worked on. For people who prefer digital music, he also intends to put the album on iTunes. Also later this year, he plans to go on tour. “It will be something like the David Foster and Friends tour,” he tells me, referring to the legendary American composer’s recent international tour. Given that Dennis has worked with artists such as Sheila Majid, Francissca Peter and Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza, the line-up should be interesting.

Is there anyone he would like to work with? “Usher,” he says without hesitation. Given that the American R&B vocalist had recently provided vocals for big hits by EDM producers Martin Garrix and David Guetta, and given Dennis’s own EDM involvement, who knows, maybe that dream is not as far-fetched as it seems!

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5 impressive things about Dennis Lau

  1. He has won many awards. Just some recent ones:
    • Global Music Entrepreneur Icon of the Year Award (Masterclass Category) from McMillan Woods Global Awards.
    • Icon in Contemporary Instrumental Music 2015 from McMillan Woods Global Awards.
    • The Brand Laureate Grand Master Brand Icon Leadership Award 2014.
    • ASEAN Leading Violinist Performer 2014 from the ASEAN Retail Chains & Franchise Federation (ARFF).
    • Rising Star Awards Outstanding Performance Artiste of the Year 2013 from McMillan Woods Global Awards.
  2. Aside from creating dazzling interpretations of famous hits, Dennis has released several albums.
    • DiversiFy (2009) – winner of the Best Producer award at the VIMA 2009.
    • The Malaysian Journey – a collaboration with Jabatan Kementerian Kesenian Negara (JKKN) and various local artists.
  3. He has appeared in movies too, such as Nasi Lemak 2.0 and Hantu Gangster. Also, Mosaic has a movie production arm, with some impressive productions to its name.
  4. He has a really cool YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/dennislautv – a great place to get a sampling of his music (and you should, especially if you are a fan of Sam Tsui, Lindsay Sterling and the like).
  5. He also has a cool website at www.dennislau.com.my, with links to his many social media accounts as well as recent news and updates.

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