Samui Wining & Dining
Under the Spotlight

The Barge Band at Nora Buri Resort & Spa really does make dining an entertaining experience.

 

­19“If music be the food of love – play on.” Although I’m not sure that when Shakespeare said that he was thinking of fine-dining! On Samui there are very few quality restaurants that don’t provide some kind of melodious background for their evening diners. And for the many that do, it comes in various forms. Sometimes there might be a wandering troubadour with a Spanish guitar. But more often it’s a pair of musicians, with either acoustic guitars or a synthesiser. And every now and then you’ll come across a live band. But what they play, when they play it and how it’s presented is yet another story.

On the one hand, you’ll hear a fair bit of ‘knife and fork music’, as one wit once put it – music designed not to be really noticed – the restaurant equivalent of ‘lobby music’. But then, lurching to the other extreme, nobody wants a full-tilt rock band in their face when they’re enjoying their evening meal, particularly in the smaller restaurants.

But somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, you’ll be able to enjoy a fine-dining experience and be entertained in the right way, too. A big, open restaurant, perhaps, with a live band playing appropriate music. A full, rounded sound; not tinny and synthesised from a computer. Slow and mellow to begin with and more energetic as the evening progresses. And that’s exactly what you’ll find when you head off to Nora Buri Resort & Spa for one of their buffet evenings.

‘Nora Buri’ is the flagship of the Nora Group. With three successful resorts already established in Chaweng, this ambitious project took 18 months to build and was finally completed this month. Just a little way outside Chaweng, on the road towards Choeng Mon, the resort straddles the road with its 96 Deluxe Villas and 46 Pool Villas.

And here you’ll find one of Samui’s architectural landmarks – the dramatically designed ‘The Barge’ – Nora Buri’s signature fine-dining restaurant. Terraced into the hillside and effectively descending on three levels, this contemporary Thai-styled edifice actually contains three separate restaurants. At entrance-level you’ll come across the ‘Rice Barge’ Thai restaurant (with a private dining terrace on the floor above). But making your way down to ground level you’ll find the big varied layers of the international ‘The Barge Fine Dining’ which extends right down to tables that are actually on the beach itself. And this is where you’ll be able to enjoy the music from the resident 4-piece group, The Barge Band.

Fronting the line-up is their experienced vocalist, Nej Martin. As with the group members, she was born and brought up in the Philippines and began her musical training at a very early age, both at school and within her church. She’s been making music in Thailand since 2005 when she joined up with a 6-piece rock band in Bangkok. Nej later moved to Phuket, and then Hua Hin, before coming to work on Samui in 2009. She was one of the original members of the well-known Coyote Band and enjoyed a year-long spell playing at the Coyote (Mexican Restaurant and Bar) in Chaweng.

Also playing in the band with her were the cousins Barbie De Gracia and Dante De Gracia. The group split up in the late part of this year and these three survivors quickly looked around for both another contract and another band member. Samui’s high season was not so far away and so both problems were quickly solved. A phone call to Phuket released Barbie’s former school friend, Jasper Pineda, and the re-formed group were subsequently signed-up by Nora Buri.

You’ll find the whole group playing together every Tuesday and Thursday evening – although individual members play solo or combine as a trio on other evenings in different locations around the resort. These two nights are when Nora Buri becomes a touch flamboyant with their all-you-can-eat buffets. On Tuesday, it’s the ‘Steak BBQ’ and on Thursday, the ‘Ao Thai Seafood BBQ’ on the beach. Both of these are lavish in presentation and also exceptional value-for-money, at 850 baht and 950 baht per head, respectively. And the quality of the sound and the choice of songs by The Barge Band are just perfect for the occasion.

They are almost a regular soft-rock band, but minus that unwieldy drum kit. Instead, Jasper doubles up on the keyboard and the midi-synthesiser which provides the drum tracks. Dante’s on the bass and Barbie’s on lead guitar. 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, John Denver and Carol King.

They continue playing up to 10:30 pm, taking a couple of short breaks between times. And each set they play becomes livelier as the evening progresses. Music from Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks begins to appear, with some Sting and Santana numbers also being featured. And then, later, depending on audience response and the overall atmosphere, you might get to hear some real rock ’n roll!

But what’s interesting is the quality of their voices, both individually and in harmony. Barbie (he’s a guy, by the way!) has a stunning voice. It really takes something to match the vocal power of Bono singing the U2 classic ‘With or Without You’ with its three-octave range, but Big Respect to Barbie; he can do it. And when Nej comes in on the harmonies, it’s spine tingling. And Dante is no slouch, either. Just listen out for him doing the Freddie Mercury lead on Queen’s ‘I Want to Break Free’. It’s all clear, strong, powerful stuff and it’s hardly surprising that towards the end of the evening folks have kicked off their shoes and are skipping to the beat.

There are hundreds of singers around Samui’s resorts and nightspots but very few bands. And it’s actually quite rare to find a live band resident at one of the resorts. But they’ve got one here, and a good one, too.

 


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