Few would give a busker any hope of becoming one of the most recognisable crooners in Malaysia and beyond. But Syamel beat the odds. He’s part of a new wave—along with Projector Band and Aiman Tino—bringing ‘90s-style soft-rock ballads back in vogue. But the Akademi Fantasia alumnus doesn’t rehash the past. Steeped in the genre, he’s blessed with a solemn baritone that can capture love at its most fatalistic (“Hidup Dalam Mati”) as well as its most powerful (“Aku Cinta”). Thanks to frequent duets with real-life partner Ernie Zakri, his songs have a unique fidelity to emotional commitment.