Zee Avi

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Zee Avi
زي اۏي
Zee Avi in 2009 at TechCrunch event
Zee Avi in 2009 at TechCrunch event
Background information
Birth nameIzyan Alirahman
Also known asKokoKaina
Born (1985-12-15) 15 December 1985 (age 38)
OriginSarawak, Malaysia
GenresIndie rock,[1] pop rock, jazz, Indie pop, Indie folk
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
LabelsMonotone Label/Brushfire
Kenji Matano
(m. 2021)

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]

Musical career[edit]


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]

2009–2011: Debut with Zee Avi[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]

2011–2012: Ghostbird[edit]

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] She opened for the multi-talented Jack Johnson during his concert at the Greek Theater, UC Berkeley on 6 October 2010,[14][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]

Zee Avi performing at South by Southwest on March 18, 2009 in Austin, Texas

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]

2014–2016: Nightlight[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); "The 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.

On 26 November 2016, Zee Avi won her first major international award with Best Original Film Song at the 53rd Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards for Arena Cahaya, the theme song she co-wrote and performed for one of Malaysia's highest grossing films of all time, Ola Bola.[29]

2019-present: Third studio album, Ellipses[edit]

In August 2019, Zee announced that she is working on her upcoming third studio album titled Ellipses, which is her favourite punctuation.[30] The first single of the yet-to-be released album, "Who are U?" was released on 2019 Malaysia Day. Ellipses will feature nine songs that she wrote over the past seven years and will be released independently.[31] In December 2019, Novartis Malaysia chose Zee to compose a song, "My Skin" with the aim of creating awareness on psoriasis. The song was produced by Yuswa Ansari. The music video features psoriasis fighters from different background and was uploaded on Novartis Malaysia's YouTube channel on 9 December 2019.[32]


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.[33][34] Some of her artworks, emblazoned on ukuleles, are also given away as gifts to a selected number of her fans.

Musical influences[edit]

She cites swing bands, Gershwin and America jazz from the 1920s as influences.[35] She has been likened to Ella Fitzgerald many times and one writer called her "the next heiress in the bloodline of young women with supernaturally classic voices".[36]

She also describes herself as a "rock lover at heart". She has a diverse musical preference from The Carpenters to The Cranberries.[37] She draws inspiration from Cat Power, Regina Spektor, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Jolie Holland, Daniel Johnston and Chris Garneau, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Velvet Underground and Led Zeppelin.[38]

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.[39]
  6. Is This The End a song written and performed by Zee Avi, and featured in the independent film Transatlantic Coffee, was the recipient of the Bronze Medal for Excellence in the Best Impact of Music in a Feature Film (Artistic Excellence) category at the 2012 Park City Film Music Festival.
  7. 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.[4]
  8. Nightlight was named one of iTunes Best of 2014 Albums in the Children's Music category.
  9. The song Arena Cahaya, which she performed and co-wrote for the movie Ola Bola, won the Best Original Theme Song award at the 28th Malaysia Film Festival held on 3 September 2016[40] and Best Original Film Song at the prestigious 53rd Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards held on 26 November 2016.[41]
  10. Zee Avi was awarded "International Young Artiste Award" at the 2018 Top Asia Corporate Ball held in Jakarta, Indonesia.[42]


Studio albums[edit]

Title Details Peak chart positions
US Heat[43]
Zee Avi 2
  • Released: October 29, 2013
  • Label: Bushfire Records, Monotone
  • Format: CD, LP, digital download

Tribute album[edit]

  • Nightlight (2014)


  • One More Time With Colors (2010)
  • Concrete Wall (remixes) (2012)


As lead artist[edit]

List of singles as lead artist, with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
Title Year Album
"Bitter Heart" 2009 Zee Avi
"Just You And Me"
"Is This The End"
"The Book of Morris Johnson" 2011 Ghostbird
"Concrete Wall" 2012
"31 Days" 2013
"Saya Kamu" 2019 Non-album singles
"Who Are U"
"Good Things" 2020
"Ok" 2022

Non-album singles and collaborations[edit]

Year Track Artist Album Notes
2008 "No Christmas For Me" Various artists This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 1
2011 "Frosty The Snowman" Various artists This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2
2012 "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" Various artists Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan
2013 "Heart Of The Moment" Mansions On The Moon Full Moon (EP) Guest vocals
2014 "We'll Be Happy" Aizat Amdan Legasi Duet
"Heart Of The Moment" Mansions On The Moon Mansions On The Moon Guest vocals
2015 "All The Way Up" Haute Sound N/A Lead vocals
"Our Vintage Love" Dawen Wang Kuai Le Bu Kuai Le (Happy Or Not) Duet
2016 "Arena Cahaya" Various artists Ola Bola (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
2020 "Make It Through" Faizal Tahir and various artists N/A Lead vocals


Music videos[edit]

Title Year Director Notes
"Bitter Heart" 2009 Emmett Malloy
"The Book of Morris Johnson" 2011 Aran Reo Mann
"Concrete Wall" 2012 Jason Baum This video earned Jason Baum a nomination for "Best Directional Debut" at the 2013 Music Video Production Association (MVPA) Awards.[44]
"31 Days" 2013
"Saya, Kamu" 2019 Syahmi Norsan
"Who Are U" Hafreez Amminuddin[45]
"Good Things"
Official Lyric Video
2020 Filmed in Johor.
"OK" 2022 Animation by Fiorella Bassil

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

Charity videos[edit]

Year Music video Notes
2020 Make It Through
  • Fund-raising video for Covid-19 related charities. Alongside Faizal Tahir, Ning Baizura, Nabila Razali, As'ad Motawh, Alyssa Dezek, Nanasheme, Syada Amzah, Wafiy, Jestinna Kuan, Reshma, Eliya Keesha, Tilla Hanna, Adam Sang and Jay C.[46]

Concerts and tours[edit]


  • 2011: Homecoming Tour[47]


  1. ^ "Zee Avi Songs, Albums, Reviews, Bio & More". AllMusic.
  2. ^ Subashini Nair. "Simple Zee". Sunday People - NST Online. Archived from the original on 29 May 2009.
  3. ^ last.fm Koko Kaina
  4. ^ a b "Musicians receive state awards". BorneoPost Online. BorneoPost Online. 15 December 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  5. ^ a b Zee Avi - An Introduction. Zee Avi Music. 24 February 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  6. ^ a b Browne, Heather (16 May 2009). "Interview: the refreshing Zee Avi". Fuel/Friends Music Blog. Fuel/Friends LLC. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  7. ^ Zee's Open Road
  8. ^ "Brushfire Records to World-Premiere Their First-Ever Holiday CD Compilation Exclusively via iLike". Business Wire. Business Wire. 6 November 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  9. ^ Brown, Quinn (2 June 2009). "YouTube leads to fame for singing sensation". CNN. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  10. ^ "The 10 best albums of 2009". TODAY. NBC News. 3 January 2010. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  11. ^ TV.com. "Last Call with Carson Daly: June 18, 2009: John Scurti; Zee Avi". TV.com. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  12. ^ TV Fanatic: Zee Avi Music
  13. ^ KCRW Events schedule
  14. ^ Yahoo Events schedule
  15. ^ Moore, Nick (8 October 2010). "Concert review: Jack Johnson's 'chiller instinct'". UWire. Daily Californian. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  16. ^ "World Cafe 20th Anniversary Concert with Ani Difranco". Chameleon Club. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  17. ^ Liang, Jeanette (23 March 2009). "SXSW 2009 Festival Review: Zee Avi, Port O'Brien, The Mae Shi". REDEFINE. REDEFINE Magazine. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  18. ^ Ty, Kanara (9 April 2009). "Riding on the Outskirts of Outside Lands". Asia Pacific Arts - UCLA. UCLA Asia Institute. Archived from the original on 7 October 2013.
  19. ^ Marianne (27 April 2010). "The 21st Annual Byron Bay Bluesfest". Filling The Pages. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  20. ^ Chun, Megan (22 January 2010). "Jones and Avi at Lilith Fair 2010". Asia Pacific Arts - University of Southern California. University of Southern California. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  21. ^ Ward, Justin (26 January 2012). "Mountain Jam 2012: Steve Winwood, Mule, Franti, The Roots & more…". Live Music Blog. Live Music Blog. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  22. ^ Broughton, Simon (18 July 2012). "Rainforest Festival". Songlines World Music News. MA Business & Leisure, Ltd. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  23. ^ Zee Avi (27 October 2011). "Two more Asian dates in Indonesia added to tour". Zee Avi. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013.
  24. ^ Zee Avi (5 January 2012). "Happy New Year". Zee Avi. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013.
  25. ^ "Zee Avi California Tour Dates". The Book Of Zee Avi. 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  26. ^ "Zee Avi among three artistes bestowed state awards". The Star Online. Star Media Group Berhad. 14 December 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  27. ^ Dreamtime With Zee Avi's Lullaby Album
  28. ^ "Zee's music for grown-ups and kids". Lite and Times - New Straits Times. 18 March 2014. Archived from the original on 30 April 2014.
  29. ^ Loong Wai Ting (27 November 2016). "Zee Avi's Ola Bola anthem wins Best Theme Song at Golden Horse Awards". New Straits Times. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  30. ^ Liyana Hassan (7 August 2019). "ASEAN in View: Zee Avi". The ASEAN Post. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  31. ^ ANITA KANDHAVEL (24 January 2020). "Zee Avi: Home is where her heart is". The Edge Prop. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  32. ^ Tahir Alhamzah (11 December 2019). "#Showbiz: Zee Avi raises awareness about psoriasis with 'My Skin'". New Straits Times. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  33. ^ Cheong, Bervin (2 September 2011). "Zee Avi - Singer/Songwriter". StyleKandi. Antics Media. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  34. ^ "Zee Avi: 'Ghostbird' : New Album Release!". Pledge Music. PledgeMusic. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  35. ^ Hall, Russell (10 September 2009). "Zee Avi: An Old Soul's Organic Sounds". BMI. Broadcast Music, Inc. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  36. ^ Martin, Erin Lyndal (15 June 2009). "Zee Avi: Zee Avi". PopMatters. PopMatters.com. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  37. ^ "The accidental star". JetStar Magazine. Ink Publishing. February 2012. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012.
  38. ^ MacLeod, Clark (12 June 2009). "Inspiration: Zee Avi". Popwuping. Clark MacLeod. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  39. ^ "ICON Awards 2011". The BrandLaureate. The BrandLaureate. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013.
  40. ^ "Festival Filem Malaysia 28". Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia. 3 September 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  41. ^ "(Showbiz) Zee Avi's Ola Bola anthem wins Best Theme Song at Golden Horse Awards". NST Online. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  42. ^ "Zee Avi receives top honour at Top Asia Corporate Ball 2018". The Borneo Post. The Borneo Post. 26 November 2018. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  43. ^ "Zee Avi - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  44. ^ 2013 MVPA Award Nominees
  45. ^ Tahir Alhamzah (20 September 2019). "#Showbiz: Zee Avi's nomadic soul". New Straits Times. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  46. ^ BOTS Team (21 April 2020). "#TECH: Maxis, Faizal Tahir, Zee Avi and more collaborate on Covid-19 charity". New Straits Times. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  47. ^ Lorna Stewart-Thornton (23 November 2011). "Zee Avi Homecoming Tour @ KL Live". Juice Online. Retrieved 29 January 2019.

External links[edit]