Samui Wining & Dining
Under the Spotlight
The sublime sounds of Acoustic 101 at Red Snapper Restaurant & Bar in Chaweng.


Under the SpotlightThe dining scene on Samui is flourishing. There are cafés and bars and snack-shops aplenty. And, more to the point, there’s a positive plethora of upmarket venues, too. But, what’s more, they’re all very affordable. That’s one of the things which makes Samui so attractive. And, to go with the air of quality and refinement, you’ll usually be able to enjoy some correspondingly subtle music, too. Sometimes it’s a troubadour; a minstrel with a guitar to serenade you. Other times it’s a duo. Every now and then you’ll find a trio. And this is precisely what you’ll come across at the Red Snapper Restaurant & Bar, in the northern section of Chaweng Beach Road, next to Chaweng Regent Beach Resort.


Red Snapper has been around for some time now and has maintained a consistently-admirable reputation for both the excellence of its Mediterranean cuisine and also for its entertainment. It has a world-class chef, Sébastien Meunier, who has worked at no fewer than three different Michelin-starred restaurants in his native France. And it’s one of the very few restaurants on the island that has an integral lounge, which is not only extremely comfy but also has a fully-equipped soundstage with lighting. This is a restaurant which probably places as much importance on the quality of its entertainment as it does on its food.

And that’s reflected in the calibre of the groups which have been resident there. For several years there were Latin-style bands from South America. Then jazz and blues became popular. And now, in a not-so-different vein, there’s Acoustic 101. It’s hard to put a neat label on them. It’s not jazz; their material is wider than that, and less improvised. R & B springs to mind, but that has different meanings, depending upon quite what age you are. If I tell you that they’re playing acoustic guitar, electric bass and drums, with no MIDI tracks or computer synthesis, then you’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow; it’s a curious combination and one that right away implies some interesting re-arrangement of many of the classic tracks they cover. You’ll get more of an idea of what their style is like when you hear them play. But one thing that lifts them firmly above most of the other groups is that you’re looking at three guys; there’s not the usual female vocalist. And, secondly, their three-part harmonies are utterly sublime.


We knew exactly what we wanted,” Red Snapper’s PR & Marketing Manager, Nadine Rouget, explains, “and our request to the agent was quite detailed, although it was easier to tell him what we didn’t want. No amplified rock; no tinny, computerised backings; smooth-but-not-slick, and laid-back but not laid-out! We don’t always get quite what we want but this time we definitely did – they’re great.


All three of the band come from the provincial capital Butuan City, in the Philippines, and have been playing together since way back in their schooldays, and working together professionally under this name for the last three years. And it’s not only their first visit to Thailand; it’s their first time anywhere away from home! “The name is a little bit of a private joke,” the group’s guitarist, Paolo Polan, confessed. “You know how the elementary college courses have the ‘101’ number on them? Well that’s how we saw ourselves back in the early days,” he said with a grin, “as poor students – with a lot to learn!


Another thing that sets the Red Snapper apart from the other local restaurants is that the music, and the lounge bar, runs late, not winding-up until 1:00 am (although the kitchen closes earlier; last orders at 10:40 pm). This also means that the band’s first set begins later than is usual, at 8:30 pm. And Acoustic 101 performs four sets altogether, essentially playing right the way through with a short break every hour. Even before they strike up the first chords they’re impressive in their fedoras. Just the right image to go with the lounge, with its sculptured basketwork pillars and glowing multicolour wall panels.


To start off, the tempo is restrained; most of the customers are still dining in the restaurant section, although the layout is semi-open-plan. “We play a lot of classics,” says Louienyzar C. Biong, the group’s drummer. “But we’re aware that people want to enjoy their meal and talk together, so we do mainly ballads to begin with.” And, yes, it’s really all most enjoyable, with numbers like James Taylor’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ or ‘I think I’m Going Out of My Head’. And then the diners all look up at the same time, as Paolo launches into Sinatra’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off of You’. His voice is just superb: an effortless tenor, low and mellow in the slow sections and dynamic, high, and powerful in the chorus. This is one of the first numbers where all three singers crank up the volume in the harmonies – they really are good!


And then the boys start to loosen up a bit, letting the smooth alto voice of Allen Silvestre, the group’s bass player, come to the fore in the multi-part harmonies. Listen out for the way the three voices weave in and out of each other in The Platters’ classic, ‘Only You’ (and it’s got a great wap wap doooo! in the middle!). Or the similarly-spine-tingling harmonies of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’. But it’s not all ‘old’ material. After the first set, the pace picks up and you’ll understand why it’s so hard to slot this group into any defined musical genre. Yes they are covering ‘oldies and goldies’ but with their own individual interpretation and arrangement. And then you’ll also hear Bobby McFerrin, Israel Kamakawiw’ole, Jason Mraz (maybe the fedora hats are connected?): there’s a lot of contemporary material onboard and these guys are by no means rooted in the past.


But there are more surprises, as they’ll suddenly leap into a foot-tapping Spanish number or bounce into a The Gypsy Kings hit. As the evening grows late the pace picks up, the lounge begins to fill and people take to the dance floor; it’s hard to resist. Great material, excellent musicians and super voices – Acoustic 101 are sublimely impressive in every way!


Rob De Wet

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