Samui Wining & Dining
Under the Spotlight

The professional sounds of the Duo Band (and company) at Nora Buri

8When it comes to dining you have a choice. On the one hand you can go out to a great venue and eat fabulous food. The chances are that it’ll be outside under the stars, too – this is a tropical paradise after all! You’ll dine on some of the finest Thai or European cuisine that you can find anywhere on earth, and at a very moderate cost. Or the alternative is that you could go to a great venue and eat fabulous food – plus also be entertained at the same time. And, given this choice, the majority of people would most certainly consider the second option.

     Although I suppose it all depends on just what the ‘entertainment’ involves. Nobody wants to eat right next to a stack of power amps and speakers! And, at the other extreme, a solo singer with a jangling computerised repertoire of lobby music is not much fun either. But, given the right sort of talent and a sensitive choice of material, there’s no doubt that a group of musicians will enhance your experience. And that’s precisely what you’ll find when you avail yourself of the dining choices at Nora Buri Resort & Spa.

     ‘Nora Buri’ is the flagship of the very successful (and local) Nora Group. With four resorts already established in Chaweng this impressive project took a full 18 months to build and was finally completed in the December of 2010. Just a little way outside Chaweng, on the road towards Choeng Mon, the resort straddles the road, with the majority of its 144 luxuriously appointed rooms and pool villas riding up the hill on the landward side.

     Inside,Everything here is of the highest quality, from the two pools, to the state-of-the-art gym and fitness centre, to the superb conference room and business centre. And the large and airy Manora Restaurant has become an object lesson to its competitors in how to successfully organise a whole range of different nightly dining experiences, including Italian, Japanese, Hawaiian and (naturally) Thai themes.

      It’s all hugely impressive. But, if that wasn’t enough by itself, on the other side of the road you’ll see one of Samui’s outstanding architectural landmarks – the dramatically-designed ‘The Barge’ – Nora Buri’s signature fine-dining restaurant. Descending on three levels down the hillside, this contemporary Thai-styled building actually contains two separate restaurants. At the entrance there’s the ‘Rice Barge’ Thai fine-dining restaurant. But making your way down to beach level you’ll discover the terraces of The Barge which extends right down to tables that are actually on the sand. And you’ll be able to enjoy the music from the resident 4-piece group, the Duo Band whichever side of the road you decide to visit.


It really takes something to match
the power and range of singer
Bono, but Barbie can do it

       Yes; I know. It’s a 4-piece group called the ‘Duo Band’! But there’s both a reason for that and a story behind it, too. Were you to go back a few years, you’d come across a talented rock band playing at the Coyote (Mexican Restaurant and Bar) in Chaweng. This was fronted by a highly-experienced Filipina vocalist, Nej Martin. Also playing in the band were her cousins Barbie De Gracia and Dante De Gracia. The Coyote Band split up in the late part of 2010, and the survivors looked around for both another contract and another member. Barbie’s former school friend, Jasper Pineda, filled the gap and the re-formed group were subsequently signed-up by Nora Buri. Today, Dante has moved on, to be replaced by Roger Abatayo on bass.

      And so to the ‘Duo Band’! The reason being that a 4-piece band just wasn’t conducive to the fine-dining experience, and was therefore reduced to the more-mellow presence of Nej accompanied by Barbie on guitar and keyboard. But all four members are still there and continue to play, although they rarely appear together any more; the only occasions being weddings and similar parties. The Lobby Bar usually sees Jasper, whereas Roger is often to be found at The Barge. Leaving Nej and Barbie to entertain the majority of the diners, up on the hillside at ‘Manora’. They kick-off at 7:00 pm with the gentler ballads and love songs, many of them ’60s and ’70s classics from the likes of The Beatles or John Denver; ideal material with which to begin the evening.

       But what will strike you right away is the quality of their voices. They’re a great combination, both being powerful yet subtle, and having the right complementary pitch to blend together in chilling harmonies. Nej has a dynamic, clean contralto which can both whisper and also power-in-and-out of covers of numbers by Alanis Morissette or Meredith Brooks. Barbie (he’s a guy, by the way) also has a superb voice. For some of the time it almost seems like he takes a back-seat to the dominant lead of Nej. But keep an ear out for his solos, in particular when he swings into the U2 classic ‘With or Without You’. It really takes something to match the power and range of singer Bono, but Barbie can do it, and when Nej comes in on the harmonies it’s truly joyful stuff.

      The Duo Band continue playing right through to 10:30 pm, but with a couple of 15-minute breaks every hour. As the evening wears on then their material becomes livelier, and pieces by Queen, Santana, Sting and Annie Lennox start to appear. As Nej told me, it’s hard to predict how the last set will turn out as it all depends on what the audience response is like. But given an enthusiastic crowd, this is the point where you’ll hear some of the bouncier numbers as shoes get kicked off and couples take to the floor.

      Although every evening at Nora Buri features a different gastronomic delight, their buffet evenings have been refined into a format that’s the envy of all. The food is lavish, there’s a huge range of fare on offer and the service is impeccable. (And the cost will impress you most of all!) On Monday it’s the Hawaiian Buffet, on Wednesday it’s the BBQ Steak Night and on Friday it’s Royal Thai Night, complete with outstanding classical Thai dancers and musicians. Plus, naturally, the very professional sounds of the Duo Band. What more could anyone ask!



Rob De Wet


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