Samui Wining & Dining
Under the Spotlight

Mellow sounds in a chic setting – Zoe Sky at Red Snapper.


20Most of the best ones are from the Philippines. That country is famous for producing musicians and, at an estimate, about one-tenth of the county’s population at any one time is on the move, making music around the world. Thus it comes as a slight surprise when you meet Zoe Sky. She’s petite and bouncy and speaks perfect English with just a touch of an American accent. She sounds and looks exactly like a Filipina. But she’s not. She’s 100% dyed-in-the-wool Thai. And, as with every member of her family, she’s also an accomplished musician.


Zoe hails from the southern Thai city of Had Yai, being the youngest of three sisters and with a father who was a drummer and a Country and Western fan. “We all grew up surrounded by music, with thousands of tapes and CDs, and instruments and equipment lying about everywhere,” Zoe explained. “My parents even named us accordingly; my eldest sister is Khun Bass, the middle sister is Khun Piano and my nickname is Khun Saw – my grandfather played the musical saw! The house was never quiet for an instant and most of the time there were several lots of music, either recorded or people jamming, going on at the same time. We were raised to sing, play and perform; it filled our lives from the day we were born and we all became successful professionals in later life.


When she was 14, Zoe and the rest of the family made the move to Bangkok, where the opportunities were more plentiful and where Zoe later went on to gain a BA degree in Motion Pictures and Photography at Rangsit University (“I must be the black sheep of the family; the others stuck with music but I’d always longed to make films.”). And having graduated, then promptly joined forces with her sisters, formed a group called ‘The Sis’, releasing their first album in 2001 and with another four following over the next three years.


But she was still hoping for a break in the film world and so headed for America in 2005. It never quite happened. What did happen was that Zoe’s English improved from merely ‘good’ to ‘totally in-there, dude’. But her biggest break happened on her return to Thailand in 2008. She became involved with Todd ‘Tongdee’ Lavelle, the legendary American musician, broadcaster, TV personality and writer, who had adopted Thailand as his second home. And, as well as becoming one of his backing singers on numerous television appearances and several national tours, plus two international ones, she also became his administrator and co-ordinator.


But this kind of work is sporadic rather than continual and when her agent came up with a solid contract on Samui, Zoe thought about it carefully for a minute or two, and then accepted. And she began working here just after the Christmas and New Year high-season of 2010/2011. There are not so many places in Chaweng where you can enjoy a live band and when you can, without exception, they’re all rock and roll. And if you’re sick to death of hearing numbers by The Eagles, then the effortless and glossy presentation of Zoe’s style of music will come as a refreshing change. As, indeed, will the chic and laid-back lounge where she’s resident.


Red Snapper Restaurant & Bar is something of a Samui institution. And, as well as sporting a superlative International and Thai menu, courtesy of today’s renowned Executive Chef, Sébastien Meunier, the actual layout of the venue itself is equally inviting. The open kitchen next to the entrance is enticing and the tables cascade in layers down towards the screened area of the lounge. The décor is what might be dubbed ‘eco-minimal’, with the subtly-understated use of natural stone, wood and fabrics played-off against the low-key lighting. At one side, running along the open interface with the street, is a short colonnade, but cunningly separated from the dust and bustle by means of a tumbling water feature in which lemongrass forms a comforting screen. And at the far end of the extremely cosy lounge is the stage area where you’ll see Zoe and the band.


The line-up features acoustic bass, drums and keyboard. Which right away gives a big clue as to quite what sort of music you’re going to hear. The word ‘jazz’ covers the same kind of enigmatic musical landscape as does ‘R & B’ and ranges from the Zen free-form wanderings of Sun Ra through to the smoky midnight blues of John Coltrane and includes such extremities as the full orchestra of the swinging Count Basie and the psychedelically-intense offerings of the Soft Machine, with Bessie Smith and Ella Fitzgerald appearing somewhere in the middle. Which, as it happens, excluding the obscure Zen and psychedelia, is more or less the repertoire that you’ll encounter.


Zoe begins her first set at 8:30 pm. The band will already have prepped the diners with several numbers beforehand, but when Zoe joins them on stage you’ll notice a sudden lull in the background buzz and see more than a few knives and forks poised in mid-air. It’s traditional – considerate, too – for the first set to be unobtrusive and little more than a dining backdrop. But Zoe likes Sade (the singer, not the Marquis). And when her breathy voice weaves its way amongst the fois gras and the tournedos, the lounge suddenly acquires another dimension.


But it’s not until the second set that the tempo picks up a little. Zoe is a true professional. There’s none of the posing that you’ll see with bands that have memorised their moves from MTV. She’s languid, graceful and utterly un-self-conscious. Her vocal range varies from sheer satin to a gutsy growl, with effortless glissandos, and the scary talent to suddenly step up one octave in passing. And she and the band will play through to their last set at 12:15 am, by which time everything is bright and bouncy and people are cheering with appreciation.


There are quite a few places that offer an evening meal with entertainment. But when it comes to quality in both areas there’s only one Red Snapper Restaurant & Bar. And only one Zoe Sky, who has proved herself to be totally at home under any spotlight you care to throw at her!


Rob De Wet


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