KUALA LUMPUR, April 26 ― Jalan Padungan in Kuching may be bustling with activity by day but once the sun sets, the old prewar Chinese shophouses go to sleep along with its inhabitants.
At least that's what I initially thought, as my friends and I drove past the area at 10pm, searching for “Noh Salleh's cafe.”
I was in Kuching for a friend's wedding, and was told that the Hujan vocalist had opened up a cafe not too long ago, and that there were “live” acts on that evening.
Quietly tucked between a backpacker's hostel and an empty shophouse, it took a while for us to find the elusive “Sanjuro Cafe“, the cafe-cum-art space owned by Noh. Quaint and rustic in design, what greeted us certainly piqued our interest.
Just outside the cafe, a group of customers were huddled together, playing a game of carroms, while another group stood nearby chit-chatting and smoking. Inside, some were having their dinner while waiters were busy taking orders and serving guests.
“You guys here for the ‘live’ show? It's upstairs,” a cafe staff told us, pointing at a wooden flight of stairs right next to the restroom. Not knowing what to expect, we went upstairs and walked in on a performance by an acoustic set. People sat on the floor and were busy listening or taking pictures and videos.
At the opposite end of the room, dressed in a black tracksuit, cap and shades was Noh himself, tinkering with the sound controls for the gig. After the band's set, the rock star casually went up on stage with a guitar and delivered an intimate acoustic set of songs from his solo album. And the crowd loved it.
“You can discover people here. The idea was to to have a cafe, a place to hang out, have drinks and food and also where people can showcase their art a multicultural hang-out spot,” Noh told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.
The musician said that the cafe has been in operation since last September, and served fusion food; local delights and staple dishes like fried rice as well as sushi, with the menu constantly changing.
He said that he wanted a space in Kuching whereby people could showcase their art, and get enough exposure to build their careers.
“It can be mime, theatre, it doesn't matter... the point is to give a platform for local talent to shine. We have a lot of talent in Kuching and I want to nurture that, give them room to grow,” Noh explained, saying that Padungan is an iconic centre in Kuching but by night there is almost no activity.
“Everything dies at night. I want to try and build it up like Changkat, I want to be a pioneer for Padungan, I want Sanjuro to be a place where people stop by before, or even after clubbing.”
How did the name for the cafe come about?
According to Noh, it was coined after a song by Indonesian band Sore called Come by Sanjuro. He said the name stuck because it wasn't the typical name of a place in Kuching.
Noh said that he wanted the place to be somewhat “informal” where people can unwind and just have a good time.
“In the short time we've been operating, we have a loyal crowd of customers who frequent the cafe a lot. Some of them just bring along a guitar on the off-chance there's an open mic set,” he said.
But Noh stressed that while Sanjuro cafe offered a venue for artists to perform, this did not mean that he guaranteed them mainstream exposure or popularity.
“There is no guarantee of exposure. Every week that you perform here you hone your skills and talent. What you do with that is up to you.”
He also said that the cafe did not serve alcohol, and that they wanted it that way... to show people that you can have a good time without being intoxicated.
“As you know, Hujan and Noh Salleh have not performed in venues that serve alcohol for a long time, and the cafe is the same. We can have a good time with music, company while being sober.”
Sanjuro Cafe is located at 175 Jalan Padungan, Kuching, Malaysia. It opens from 5pm to midnight every day and is closed on Tuesdays.