Zee Avi

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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 (age 29)
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 www.zeeavi.com

Zee Avi (born Izyan Alirahman,[2] also known as KokoKaina[3]),PBK[4] is a Malaysian singer-songwriter, guitarist, and ukulele player.

Early life[edit]

She is originally from Miri, located in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. She moved to Kuala Lumpur at the age of 12 and taught herself to play the guitar at 17.[5] Avi played rhythm guitar in a couple of bands while in Kuala Lumpur before moving to London to study fashion design at the American InterContinental University. After returning from London she started writing songs.[6] Avi currently resides in the United States.


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]

Several months later, on the eve of her 22nd birthday, 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[edit]

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[edit]

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] Nightlight made it on the iTunes Best of 2014 Albums (Children's Music) list.


Avi is also a visual artist and a lover of art. "The Book Of Morris Johnson", which is the lead single from her second album, was inspired by paintings by Morris Johnson, a Floridian folk artist. Avi's original artwork is featured on the CD of her second album Ghostbird. She also produced three art pieces for a charity project with Pledge Music.[29][30] A few lucky fans are also proud owners of her artworks that are emblazoned on ukuleles given away as gifts.

Musical influences[edit]

She cites swing bands, Gershwin and America jazz from the 20s as influences.[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]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  1. The Associated Press named Zee Avi (album) one of the Top 10 Albums of 2009 alongside albums by big names like Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Norah Jones and The Black Eyed Peas.
  2. Zee Avi was nominated for "Break Out Award" and "Pop Star Award" at the 2010 Shout! Awards in Malaysia.
  3. MSN Malaysia named Zee Avi one of the Top 10 Young Malaysians in 2011.
  4. Zee Avi was bestowed the Youth Icon (International) Award by the Sarawak State Government in conjunction with Hari Perhimpunan Belia Negara 2011 Peringkat Negeri Sarawak (National Youth Assembly Day 2011 Sarawak State Level).
  5. The Asia Pacific Brands Foundation presented Zee Avi with The BrandLaureate Grandmaster Brand Icon Leadership Award 2012 for Zee's achievements as a singer and songwriter, and for establishing a successful career in the international music scene.[35]
  6. Zee Avi was conferred the Pegawai Bintang Kenyalang (Officer of the Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak) by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Head of State) in an investiture ceremony held in Kuching on 12 December 2012.[36]
  7. Zee Avi's album Nightlight was named one of iTunes Best of 2014 Albums in the Children's Music category.


Full-length albums[edit]

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[edit]

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.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 TV series Parenthood (Season 2: Episode 7, 2010)
  • Featured in the film The Oranges (2012) starring Hugh Laurie and Leighton Meester.
  • 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)[37]
  • Featured in Mistresses (U.S. TV series) (Season 1: Episode 13, 2013)
  • Featured in the TV series Red Band Society (Season 1: Episode 13, 2015)
Swell Window
Concrete Wall
  • Featured in Volksbank (Romania) television commercial
  • Featured in the TV series Gossip Girl (Season 5: Episode 11, 2011)
Siboh Kitak Nangis
  • Featured in the KBS2 Korean drama Good Doctor (Episode 4, 2013)
I Am Me Once More
  • Featured in the KBS2 Korean drama SPY (Episode 7, 2015)

Non-album tracks and collaborations[edit]

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
2015 All The Way Up Lead Vocals N/A Haute Sound
Our Vintage Love Duet Kuai Le Bu Kuai Le (Happy Or Not) Dawen Wang


Official music videos[edit]

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[38]
  • 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[edit]

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


External links[edit]