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Zee Avi is just 23 but she's an old soul. A huge talent in a petite frame bringing a universal message from the unlikely birthplace of Borneo, an ancient island east of Malaysia which remains an untouched, natural paradise, an apt description of her songs.
How Avi came to record her debut album in L.A., the first joint release from Ian Montone's Monotone Label and Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records, is a true 21st century tale of the way the Internet has transformed the music business and shrunk the globe in the process.
Born in the tiny town of Miri in Sarawak on the island of Borneo, Zee grew up near the South China Sea in a liberal, encouraging household where her father owned an energy consultancy. "I was bred to be a lawyer," she says, but music was in her blood. Her father's father sang and played double-bass, accordion, violin and guitar in bands.
At age 12, Zee moved from Borneo to Kuala Lumpur where she has been based since. At 17, Zee started locking herself in a room for hours on end to learn to play guitar. Guitar took a back seat for 4 years while she was studying fashion design in London. When she returned to Kuala Lumpur, she picked the instrument back up and began writing songs and performing with a band.
Zee began recording her songs on a webcam and posting them on YouTube for a friend to hear. "I remember getting so excited when there was one new comment from some random person I didn't know... One read 'I'm lost for words - I shall favorite it and ponder if that's OK,' " which was written by Kris Rowley, a U.K. singer-songwriter with a YouTube following under the name Zzzzzzzzap. He began posting her videos on his site, which began a viral snowball effect.