Originally published in the pages of The Malay Mail during the wake of Drone’s release Now that the band will be releasing their third set The Great Battle, it’s only appropriate, well, for me at least…
NO MEDIA EXPOSURES. NO RECOGNITION. NO MONEY. IT TAKES MORE TO STOP BANDS LIKE SEVENCOLLAR T-SHIRT TO STOP DOING WHAT THEY LOVE DOING THE MOST
LOCAL English music.
An act of self-indulgence, a waste of time and money and a fad among the grown ups that might soon outgrew them.
Much have been said about our local English singing acts since it “broke” into the popular music scene, thanks to the surprise success of Old Automatic Garbage back in 1994.
Today, local English bands sprung out like mushrooms after the rain. Acknowledging its existence, two awards – Best Local English Album and Best New Local English Artist – were introduced to Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) in 1996.
From underground music, we can now hear, watch and read about our local English bands in the mainstream media.
Anyhow, despite all the exposure, sadly, until today, not much understanding of it has been developed.
Many are still under the impression that these bands are second grade imitators of their westerns heroes.
Yes, a lot of the bands that have been getting the exposure from the mainstream media, like it or not are copycats, but not known to many, these bands actually represent a small portion of the bludgeoning local English music scene.
Look deeper, one can easily find a lot of other talent that are way better, more original sounding and most importantly, passionate about the music they have been producing. One of these bands that would fit into the description perfectly would be Petaling Jaya’s shape-shifting indie rock quartet, Sevencollar T-shirt.
The name Sevencollar T-shirt may not be familiar to a lot of us but at the grassroots level, it is one of the bands that many local independent music enthusiasts would rely on for innovative homemade music.
Since its formation, it has done and achieved a lot of things that a lot of other acts (mainstream or fringe) could only dream of. And in the wake of the release of its second album, the envelope-pushing and creatively challenging Drones, the story of the band (so far) deserves to be told and be heard.
The band was formed back in 1997 by guitarist Muhammad and frontman Duan together with bassist Nik Justin and drummer Faizal.
The band’s early releases, The White Demo (1997), With Guns in Our Hands (1998) and Smiling Simulator (1999) didn’t really offer anything that are musically interesting but after going through a line-up change (Nik Justin and Faizal were replaced by Fidi and Mokhtarizal), the band’s musical direction swerved to a different direction.
The result of this can be heard on its next release, a self-titled five-song EP in 2000 where elements of Jeff Buckley’s guitar works and Dave Matthews Band’s jam-band-ness were slowly being introduced into its music.
Also, in the same year, the band’s song, Thank Quake – a progressive jazzy-rock jam was included on the notable local English music compilation, Family Day,
In late 2001, the band announced that they’d be working on its independent debut album and producing it would be renowned producer Greg Henderson (Ella, Anuar Zain).
It may not be that big of news on a bigger scale but for a relatively unknown band, having award-winning producer like Greg Henderson to produce them is definitely something to shout about.
When the album was finally released in 2002, it turned out to become one of the exciting albums to be released that year. Toning down its shape-shifting melodies, adding in richer instrumentation and revving up the level of emotions in its vocals department, Freeway, Dreaming and Broke was one of its kinds.
There was a problem though; all the elements somehow did not meet at one point, thus making the album a bit chaotic and loose.
The band’s “quieter” and shorter songs like Glory and Meaning and Breathe anyhow did found a place among local music enthusiast then.
Despite the positive reviews and praises coming its way, things were not really all well within its camp. They were on the verge of becoming one of those bands that cut an album and disappeared completely.
“Things in the band were kind of mixed up. All of us wanted to move on but everyone was moving at different pace and direction. The tensions were building up bit by bit. At the end of the day, everyone kind of lost their drive,” recalled the band’s chief songwriter/vocalist/guitarist, Duan in an exclusive interview with Buzz recently.
Towards the last quarter of 2003, the band announced that its drummer Mokhtarizal would be quitting the band due to personal reasons. His last gig with the band was on Dec 20. It was on the same day, the band met producer Roslan Aziz.
“Musically, he didn’t say much, but he did mention something about us to learn more. He also hinted that if we want to record, feel free to give him a call,” recalled Duan.
Roslan, who was known for his works on Sheila Majid’s Legenda and Zainal Abidin’s self-titled debut, has offered his assistance to help a band he just heard of. There must be something great about the band until it persuaded him to come out of retirement.
Two weeks later, Adil, a young drummer who never had any experiences playing with a band before was roped in to take over Mokhtarizal’s position.
“The first time he rehearsed with us, we felt that he wasn’t that good (laughs). But he could pick up the songs pretty fast. Most importantly, his style of drumming kind of put all the song ideas we had into perspective,” Fidi added.
Adil was the missing link to most of the half-completed songs the band has written.
Having completed the last piece of the jigsaw, the band announced that they would be working on a new album, early this year – a darker, intense and shorter in length album in comparative to the epic-like
“It was difficult process. For the first album, we basically had all the songs written back to the days when we first started but for this one it’s more difficult because we have to start from scratch,” Duan recalled.
Ideas for songs were developed at its own Lab Rat Studio for more than three months before the band headed to Greenhouse Studio to record the basic tracks of its new album, Robots.
“For this album more time were spent on discussions than in the rehearsal studio. Once we have an idea, we would look for supporting ideas that would support the first idea. We kind of set a very high standard this time around. Let’s say one person is not happy with an idea, we would immediately throw it away. Only when everyone is happy about an idea, then only we develop it further,” Duan said of the time spent at their Lab Rat studio.
“When we headed into the studio, we went through another lengthy process of perfecting the songs, which is something we’ve never experienced before. It’s good because along the way, we learnt and discover about a lot of new things that made us all excited again. It was so exciting until it reached a point when the album was completed we felt like going back into the studio and work on our next album,” Muhammad explained.
Having Roslan around in the studio while they were recording was a boost and a pain (in a good way that is).
“He’s a hilarious person who is very particular about quality. Initially we felt a bit awkward because, for God’s sake it’s Roslan Aziz! He didn’t really interfere with the recording process but he did give us a lot of tips and ideas to enhance our songs,” Fidi recalled.
“For that, we respect him because he’s very open with ideas even he knows about things more than us. He made efforts to understand what the band wanted,” Duan added.
“When it comes to quality, he’s the man. We played him some of the parts that we’ve already recorded on our first day in the studio together. After hearing what we’ve recorded, he told us to re-record everything all over again,” Duan added with a laugh.
“We felt that we’ve already did our best, but for him our best was not good enough. That made us more determined to prove to him that we are not a lousy band,” Fidi said.
After months of late night and weekend’s recordings, the album was finally completed in September. Unlike its debut, Drones captured a band that was on the verge of its creative maturity.
Unlike the rather chaotic Freeway, Dreaming and Broke, Drones is well-calculated, precise and loud. Drones made Freeway, Dreaming and Broke sounded like it was a band-members-only compilation of out takes. The creative transformation was enormous.
“I think it was the fact that we grew up a lot while working on this album. We became closer to each other and we communicated a lot more this time around. On the last album we hardly see each other but this time around we would meet up almost every single day,” Muhammad said.
“While working on the new album we found out that there are a lot of things that we could do with our music. I believe Drones is our first step to things to come. We seriously want to expand our music,” he added confidently.
When checked whether the band realised that chances of music of its nature to be accepted or be heard by the masses are like next to none, frontman Duan gave the best answer.
“We know. Since day one we understand that there’s no way you can make a living out of this. But we do what we do because of our passion for music and personal crave for creative satisfaction. If not, we would be writing Malay songs by now and quit our full-time jobs to make music.”
“If there were any money that would come along the way, it’ll be a bonus, if not life goes on. We will keep on progressing with what we love doing the most and hopefully to keep outdoing ourselves along the way,” summarised Duan.
Music by off-kilter bands like Sevencollar T-shirt, Damn Dirty Apes and Lang Mang may not be easily digested and of various qualities but to those who’ve been longing for the so called new sound of Malaysian music, these bands deserve a chance to be heard.
Originally published in the pages of The Malay Mail in a three-parter: March 30, 2005; April 6, 2005; and April 13, 2005
SEARCH CINTA BUATAN MALAYSIA (Polygram/Universal Music)
JUST 30 seconds into ‘Isi dan Kulit’, the first song on Search’s debut album `Cinta Buatan Malaysia‘ released in 1985, it’s hard for one not to be reminded of the old days.
The days when the Malaysian music was dominated by pop, disco leftovers, the short-lived pop yeh yeh revival and most importantly, when rock music was almost non-existent.
Not that we didn’t have good rock bands before the album. We did. There were Burnmarks, D`Febians, Lefthanded, Diamond Head (who then changed its name to Ekamatra) and Rainbow (later to be known as Gersang) to name a few, but none of these bands had what it really took to lead Malaysian rock to the next level. None, except for Search.
Having the reputation as the hottest unsigned band at that time – thanks to their exceptional stage performance and musical capabilities, the band was offered a record deal by Polygram Music in 1984.
The person instrumental in getting them the deal was composer M. Nasir who was practically blown away by the band’s performances.
Impressed, the ever fickle M. Nasir shamelessly blurted out the legendary line, “When I stepped into the club I can see stars in the making.”
He wasn’t quite right though, as the band not only achieved stardom but went on to become almost an institution.
It could have been the other way round if M. Nasir had not convinced Polygram Records then not to get the band to record a pop album along the same vein as the label’s most successful band then, Alleycats.
Given the nod to proceed with a rock album, the band and M. Nasir then packed their bags and headed down to Lion Studios in Singapore to work on the historic album – the first rock album to be released by a Malaysian rock band.
Assisted by engineer, John Hubbard, the band spent the next couple of weeks in the studio, writing songs, recording and shaping up the sound that would later be identified as the Search sound. It was not an easy process though.
“It was rather difficult. The process of changing my singing lingo from English to Malay took sometime for me to adapt. But we were determined to come out with the best and we really worked hard for it,” vocalist Amy told me during our chat last year.
Musically, Cinta Buatan Malaysia was unlike anything that was produced by any Malaysian artiste before.
Man Kidal‘s guitar works and Amy’s high-pitched vocals, complemented by hard yet uplifting rock music, made just about anyone tap their feet and bang their heads. Search seemed to have released the perfect album at the perfect time.
With lyrics that go Si pemuzik jalanan/ dengan seribu impian/ berpandukan naluri/ sehangat mentari walau dunia/ gelap gelita, Balada Pemuzik Jalanan was like an inspirational saying to all the mat rock out there to defy the odds and believe in their dreams.
Also creeping its way into the heart of rockers from all walks of life were songs like Isi dan Kulit, Cinta Buatan Malaysia, Cinta Sepi and Kejora.
Despite going down extremely well in the grassroots level, the critics somehow had a different view of the album. Cinta Buatan Malaysia was slammed. Some even went to the extent of saying that Amy’s voice spoilt the album. Still, it didn’t stop the album from selling more than 40,000 copies, a feat that would later open many eyes to the commercial potential of Malaysian-made rock.
SEARCH LANGIT DAN BUMI (Polygram/Universal Music)
OKAY, ‘Cinta Buatan Malaysia’ was a shot in the arm that the Malaysian ‘mat rock’ badly needed then – the first rock album by a local act.
After it was released, the rock scene developed rapidly. More bands started to come out and were offered recording deals. Not just that, Search also, in a way, popularised the Glam look – the sprayed hairs, eyeliners and all those flashy, sometimes gawdy suits and make-ups.
Any band, given such achievement, would be more than happy to sit down and bask in their own glory of moving the whole rock industry along.
And having paved such a road, any other band would be more than happy to play safe and repeat the same successful formula in their second album.
But Search was not any other band.
“What we were doing was then the trend of the world, we just helped to bring it here. We just wanted to move along. We wanted to be on par with them,” Amy humbly said.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect much from our first album. It was only to introduce the band. I wanted Cinta Buatan Malaysia to set a platform for us. Only when a platform is ready can one take the next step. We didn’t want the first album to be really huge and then nothing happens next. We believe in taking one step at one.” Amy said one of the reasons the band progressed rapidly after Cinta Buatan Malaysia was they spent most of their time working together. “That’s how we used to work in the early days. We spent time in the studio, rehearsed, wrote songs with M. Nasir and worked on everything together. As a band, each of us knew what kind of sound we wanted. So when we went into the studio everything was ready to create a Search sound,” Amy said. Apart from knowing what they wanted, the other factor that helped shape Langit dan Bumi and the band’s future sound was guitarist Hillary Ang. The band’s original guitarist, who was not around during the recording of Cinta Buatan Malaysia, was back in the fold. That was a huge bonus to the band.
“Hillary was different. Whatever song he plays, he’ll only play the first few original bars. The rest, will be played in his own flavours. He knows how to fill up all empty spaces in a song,” Amy said.
Determined and focussed, the band, together with engineer Johnny Herbert, Tien and producer M. Nasir, headed down to Lion Studio in Singapore to work on the follow-up to Cinta Buatan Malaysia. When Langit dan Bumi was finally released in 1986, it was unlike anything anyone expected.
From the first 36 seconds into the first song, Musnah – creepy footstep sounds, screams of a person that sounded like he’s about to be killed followed by Hillary and Din‘s dual guitar intro – Langit dan Bumi was nothing but jaw-dropping for an average Malaysian back then.
If songs on Cinta Buatan Malaysia like Balada Pemuzik Jalanan, Cinta Buatan Malaysia and Isi dan Kulit were rocking, songs like Langit dan Bumi, Musnah and Pasti were, er, f**king rocking. Really. Langit dan Bumi also saw Amy truly silencing his detractors with his delivery be it on the slower songs like Kau Pergi, Rozana and Bisa or the hard rocking ones like Musnah and Langit dan Bumi. Hillary’s guitar wizardry was also eminent here. He hardly let the songs go dry and he exceptionally utilised all the available space in all the songs with either his guitar solos or riffs. Not that Langit dan Bumi was flawless – songs like Mencari Sebuah Nama and Pada Satu Kedudukan are certainly not the band’s best work and songs like the anti-corruption-themed Tumbuk Rusuk sounded a bit out of place – but the other seven songs were powerful enough to make up for the misses.
Detractors may dismiss the band’s success simply because they were the only one around, but if you listen to tha album again today, you’d agree that Search’s success was no fluke. Until today, we have yet to hear any rock bands come out with anything as infectious and engaging as Kau Pergi or as hard rocking as Langit dan Bumi.
SEARCH MENTARI MERAH DIUFUK TIMUR (Polygram/Universal Music)
LANGIT dan Bumi’, the second album by Search, had a tremendous impact on the local rock scene. Bands like D’Febians (the winner of Juara rock competition 1983), Burnmarks (the winner of Juara rock competition 1984) and May by then had their big break when they were featured in the Juara-Juara Rock compilation in 1987.
A year before, one of the prime movers of the local rock scene, Ali Bakar, had come out with the legendary Battle of the Bands compilation.
Those featured SYJ, Ella and the Boys and Bloodshed, who went on to become very successful rock entities.
The compilation also featured Lefthanded, who by then had released two successful albums Keadilan (1985) and Seruan (1986) and were also considered pioneers in the rock scene. Despite the sudden influx of these rock bands, the music remained undiluted. Each band had its own distinctive sound.
“The mentality among bands back then was different. Everyone was competing with each other. The artiste and repertoire (A&R) personnel in the industry played an important role then in guiding and ensuring that these bands survive. Take the Battle of the Bands compilation as an example. It was their initiative that got these bands the opportunity to be heard. From there, only the best would move on and come out with full albums,” Amy pointed out.
Search was already establishing itself as the leader of the pack. The song Rozana from Langit dan Bumi became an anthem and played a pivotal role role in Nasir Jani’s musical feature, Rozana Cinta 1987.
Search members didn’t act in the movie though (members of Lefthanded had a minor role instead), but they gave their fans a taste of what was to come in their upcoming third album in the song Gadis Ku, that was featured.
The song blended the best of Search’s hard rock. Its soulful strains made it one hell of a listen – why don’t people write anything like it anymore?
Amy’s affectionate lines such as – Tak peduli kata orang terhadap dirinya/ aku tahu dia gadisku/ Tak peduli nista yang terlempar padaku/ dia tahu dia gadisku – perfectly describe how it is like when a girl falls for a Mat Rock – no bull, just you, me and full on passion.
The song also, in a way, sent a message that if fans had thought Langit dan Bumi was Search at its best, they were dead wrong. As we mentioned earlier, Search was an evolving unit. If Langit dan Bumi nailed its direction, Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur showed Search at its best in that direction.
Not just that, the recording process of Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur also saw Search at the most productive period of its career. “While we were working on Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, we recorded a lot of songs. A few, like Kepala Angin, Setelah Hujan and Di Pintu Sepi, somehow didn’t make it to the album,” Amy recalled.
Amy said these songs and a few more they recorded in Indonesia the next year were supposed to be featured on its next album with Polygram.
However, before this fourth album was released, the band parted ways with the latter. Di Pintu Sepi and Berpaling, when eventually released, had to be pulled off the market by court order.
Back to Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, out of the dozens of songs that were recorded, only 10 made it into the final tracklisting.
The album started off with Pelesit Kota, a crunchy, hard rock ditty that served as a reminder to fans that though their slower tracks like Rozana and Kau Pergi were chart-toppers, Search was still a hard rocking band.
Less than five seconds after Pelesit Kota, listeners would be pleasantly led by the sound effects of the next track into the best rock ballad in the history of Malaysian rock `n’ roll, Fantasia Bulan Madu.
Stripped to its barest, Fantasia Bulan Madu was solely driven by Hillary’s acoustic plucks, Nasir’s thumping bass lines, minimal keyboards in the background and one of Amy’s most engaging vocal performances. The song would later become one of the band’s trademark anthems.
It also further nailed the fact that Search was the best rock band around then and definitely in a league of its own.
For the third time, the band proved its detractors and fans wrong. They might feel that Cinta Buatan Malaysia and Langit dan Bumi were the band’s best but for a band who believed that they were meant to make timeless music, the best is always yet to come.
“We want to stay relevant. Whenever we meet our fans new or old, we’ll always try to find where we fit into their lives,” Amy said. Listening to Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, you could tell that Search explored new possibilities with their music by toying around with a lot of chord progressions and tempo changes and these were most evident in songs like Gelora Cinta Ku, Pembakar Perasaan, Serigala Segalanya and Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur.
Speaking about Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, one can’t ignore the song Mat
Word by word, Amy cried out to be accepted by Mat Rocks across the board – Janganlah tuduh melulu/ Aku bukanlah kacang hantu/ kalau nak gelar/ gelarlah aku Mat Rock.
Not just that, he also threw in words about the struggle to keep on rocking regardless of what the obstacles are – Orang kata kita tak betul/ kerana cinta pada rock `n’ roll/ tapi aku tak peduli/ aku akan rock sampai tua.
Have you ever wondered about the origin of the phrase `Rock will never die?’ or rock sampai tua? Now you know.
This was originally published in the pages of The Malay Mail on March 25, 2005.
MALAYSIANS, in general, don’t really appreciate music. There, I’ve said it and I’m not about to take it back.
Judging from buying trends and the kind of music that we have been subjected to – all too formulaic and mundane – one sometimes wonders why we even bother.
Those in the music industry – damn I hate the word industry as it represents most of the thing that I hate – have been asking themselves the same questions – again and again.
“What is wrong with the Malaysian music industry, why is it no longer exciting?”
In fact, things are so bad, for the industry that it has reached a stage where the best way to overcome all the problems is to “kill’ the whole industry, and start all over again from scratch. That bad and I seriously couldn’t care less, especially when more and more savvy bands and entrepreneurs have been emerging of late.
Now, we are not saying that nothing is being done to re-ignite the growth of the music industry.
As it is, a number of projects have been initiated to jump-start the interest in Malaysian music.
For instance, credit should be given to Airtime Management and Programming (AMP) for coming out with Xfresh FM (now XFM after yours truly joined), the only station that plays 100 percent Malaysian music, read; songs that are, more often than not, by unknowns or not played at all on other stations.
We are also familiar with stories about the more adventurous individuals who run labels that are proactive in trying out new ideas, as well as artistes who are daring enough to fight for what they believe in – people who strive for musical integrity more than commercial viability.
Still, what’s the point, when all these efforts fall on deaf ears and closed minds?
For instance, Butterfingers made a very good album in Selamat Tinggal Dunia, an album viewed by many as ‘credibility and commercial suicide’, as it was recorded entirely in Bahasa Malaysia.
The band’s reason for recording the album?
“Untuk memartabatkan muzik Malaysia,” guitarist Loque said during an interview on Astro’s Muzik@Ria. Did anyone take notice? Not quite.
Another band, Sevencollar T-shirt, produced a genre-defining album with its second project, Drones, but sadly, it has so far only been bought by less than 2,000 people.
Not that the music by both bands is too `kasar’ (harsh), or too advanced for our Malaysian ears (how dare we underestimate the `up-to-date’ musical tastes of Malaysians eh?) It’s just that we might have lost the ability, or rather, the willingness to even try to appreciate good music.
This could be the best answer that all record execs have been looking for. The ‘target’ audience is simply not listening.
The blame, however, should not be put solely on the audience because the truth is that not many of us are brought up to properly understand or appreciate the true value of music.
Most of us are not really taught about how important music is to us – culturally, economically and historically.
Generally, in Malaysia, music is purely seen as `free entertainment’. It’s frivolous, and at times, `glamorous’.
More often than not, music (and the people in it) have been regarded as ‘socially damaging’ and `the source of all evil’. Malaysians are, to a certain extent, still governed by that `Kassim Selamat stigma’, where musicians are regarded as not quite the pillars of society.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m are not saying that music needs to be intellectualised. We are merely saying that it should be documented so that it would be better appreciated.
Our music is our cultural heritage – be it popular or traditional music. Yes, purists may dismiss the importance of Malaysian popular music, claiming that it’s too frivolous to be taken seriously, but then again, it is part of our history.
No matter how funny a certain period is, and how weird the music from that period sounds, there’s no denying that everything that takes place is part of society’s revolution and evolution.
As long as a certain piece is penned, played, recorded, marketed and heard even by only one living soul in Malaysia, it is still part of our heritage and deserves to be documented.
Currently, what we know about Malaysian music is basically hearsay and more often than not, distorted.
Nothing concrete. Nothing factual. Apart from the late Tan Sri P Ramlee and the late Sudirman Arshad, that is.
Just try to look for any information on Kassim Selamat and the Swallows or Search or SYJ, you might just get to a dead end.
Official information about how these bands started out, how many albums they’ve released and what made them so important in our history as well as their role in the development of Malaysian popular music, cannot be found anywhere.
Not many people have access to such information, and unless we see any effort taken in salvaging the historical remnants of these trailblazers, all these names will just fade away.
Yes, these acts will go down as legends. Legends for what? Unless there’s someone out there who is willing to document or chronicle the movement of Malaysian popular music, no one will truly know why.
The lack of knowledge would only breed ignorance, and that’s exactly what’s happening now.
Malaysians know more about Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Elliott Smith, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Phoenix, Mono, The Beatles, Queen, Nirvana, Converge and many more imported names.
Even boybands like New Kids on The Block, Menudo, Backstreet Boys, `N Sync, Westlife, Take That and many more have their respective place in history.
They are known for their music (good or bad) and information on them can be found in various publications, books and recordings.
In Malaysia’s case, music is like a passing fad. No back-up whatsoever. Try and find all the original recordings of songs that have made it to the charts in the past three decades, and you might just get frustrated.
Our performers, musicians and singers seem to be so disposable. Superstars today, nasi goreng seller tomorrow. If they got a bit more adventurous than trying their hand at selling insurance or venturing into some direct-selling scheme, they might just hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Drug abuse and trafficking, wife battery, domestic violence, caught in the middle of Jawi raids are but among the many `juicy stories’ that keep their names alive.
Their music? Well, no matter how good it was at any point, it will be secondary at best.
In Malaysia, beyond their radio hits, artiste get more attention for their good looks and personal lives.
Sad, but true. We take our creative music people for granted. In the long run, nothing is taken seriously and the vicious cycle continues.
As long as we don’t have a proper education system that could put a little bit more emphasis on music that, in turn, would perhaps sprinkle a little bit of respect on those who choose it as a career, the industry won’t have anything to cling on to.
Well, here are some suggestions that could give a little more `face’ to the industry:
START AN ARCHIVE
BELIEVE it. We don’t have a properly catalogued archive on Malaysian music! Currently, the only place that has the biggest collection of local music would be RTM’s music library. Still, it is not accessible to the public. Wouldn’t it be great if those with the financial and logistical strength get together and start archiving all the recorded materials, newspaper and magazine cuttings, Press releases and what not?
There are people who have been collecting EPs, LPs, music cartridges, cassettes and CDs by Malaysian artistes from the `50s up to today, and we are pretty sure that these people would be more than happy to lend a helping hand. Even if they can’t give the original copies, we can always make duplicates in digital format. So, the next time you are curious about how Mike Ibrahim and the Nite Walkers sounded like, you could always head down to the archive and get a taste.
ONLINE MALAYSIAN MUSIC PORTAL
I have always been fascinated by All Media Guide’s online database chain – All Music Guide, All Movie Guide and All Game Guide. Currently the world’s largest and most comprehensive information database, all its three sites cover both in-print and out-of-print music, movie and video game titles, including reviews, biographies, ratings, images, titles, credits, essays and thousands of descriptive categories.
Currently, we do have similar local web sites but they mostly focus on the independent music scene. There’s Guapedia, but it hasn’t been updated since I can’t even remember when? No, they are not as comprehensive either.
Just pay a visit to allmusic.com and imagine how interesting it would be to have a similar website that covers Malaysian music, right from the beginning until today.
INTRODUCE RE-ISSUES AND BOX SETS
JUST in case you’re in the dark, reissues are basically back-catalogue albums that are being released again. This means albums that were released before CDs came into existence or long-out-of-print albums re-released in CD format.
So, in our case, we have a lot! Last year, after a long wait, we finally got to see quite a number of reissues from our local labels. Universal Music Malaysia reissued a string of albums by artistes under the Iramanada Musical Industries (IMI) like M Daud Kilau, A Ramlie and Ahmadi Hassan when it bought over all the rights in June last year. The company then reissued Search‘s first three albums, Cinta Buatan Malaysia, Langit dan Bumi and Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur for the first time ever on CD format.
EMI reissued Ekamatra‘s debut album Satu Persinggahan Irama while Warner Music, in the meantime, re-released all Lefthanded‘s and Sweet Charity‘s albums.
The best series of reissues so far would definitely come from Gold Video Land (formerly known as Pusat Muzikal Intan), a very small independent label based in Cheras.
The label re-released a compilation of songs by the legendary Kassim Selamat and the Swallows and a couple of other nearly forgotten artistes from the late `50s and `60s!
Though these albums are basically being reproduced into CD format without any additional bonus tracks of demos, `live’ performance or rare tracks or notable liner notes, it is still a good start.
As for the box set, it may be too early and costly for it to be introduced here. BMG Music did try to do something through the Search Terunggul compilation – with an extensive booklet that includes rare pictures and a detailed biography of the band. The box set also contains carefully-selected songs that truly capture the essence of Search. Power Records also did the same by putting out Wings’ Terunggul recently.
WRITE A BOOK
Look for a book on Malaysian music and you won’t find any! So far, there’s only one book that somehow touches Malaysian popular music, entitled Dance of Life: Popular Music and Politics in Southeast Asia – and it’s not even written by a Malaysian!
We have a lot of aspiring and talented writers who want to write books like Ann Rice or Noam Chomsky but we lack writers who would want to write big time music chronicles like Lester Bangs, Jim DeRogatis, Greil Marcus, Jon Savage, Richie Unterberger, Jeff Chang and Barney Hoskyns.These are music journalists/critics who have chosen the difficult path to write about music, a subject that requires consistency, patience and passion.
What is there to write about Malaysian music? How about a book on the heydays of Malaysian rock during the `80s or Nga Lompak A Go Go: The Unknown Legends of Malaysian Rock `n’ Roll? That should be a good start
HAVE you ever walked into a bookstore to find an encyclopedia of Malaysian music? Or have you ever tried to find a decent section on Malaysian music in music stores?
Don’t crack your head because the answer is, you can’t find one!
In this country, music is almost never taken seriously. More attention is paid to the juicy tidbits regarding the mischief artistes get up to, and how much money they make.
In general, music is seen as only for entertainment purposes or even worse, as a mindless way to waste time and money.
Don’t believe it?
Just ask any of your friends who claim to be music enthusiasts, questions like who was the first Malaysian recording artiste and what’s the title of his or her album?
If they have the right answer, please ask them to drop me an e-mail.
Sadly, no one seems to have documented and preserved the factual evidence of the origins of popular music in this country. A part of our national heritage may have been lost forever.
Well, maybe except for Andy Warhoofd, the mastermind behind Steam Kodok: 26 A-Go-Go Ultra-rarities from the ’60s Singapore and South East Asia Underground compilation.
Released in late 2003, the compilation features songs by groups like Mike Ibrahim and the Nite Walkers, Kassim Slamat and the Swallows, Rosnah and the Siglap Five, Naomi and the Boys, the Quests and a lot more artistes that not many of us have ever heard of.
The best part about the compilation is that it was not a Malaysian effort, but by Grey Past Records, a small independent label in Holland!
Oh, to set the record straight, Andy Warhoofd is not Malaysian. He’s Dutch and has never been to this part of the world. (by the way, for those who don’t know, Singapore was still part of Malaysia until 1965).
Now how does it feel to have a foreigner come out with a Malaysian compilation? And who the hell is this Andy Warhoofd guy?
Outside his close-knit circle, not much is known about Warhoofd. When contacted via e-mail, his answers were elaborated via his close acquaintance, MJ Coumans.
According to Coumans, Warhoofd’s fascination for these forgotten music legends started 10 years ago thanks to his curiosity about the disappearance of Dutch rock `n roll music in 1968.
For the last 10 years, he has been collecting obscure Dutch garage beat and psychedelic music and along the way, he released a string of compilations like the Biet Het series, Jeugdzonden (Youth Sins) – (a compilation of early releases of now big Dutch stars) and Waterpipes and
Dykes (a compilation of Dutch psychedelic unknown legends).
Warhoofd also wrote a lot of liner notes for US-only releases of Dutch ’60s music. In the ’90s, Warhoofd also worked as a producer in Holland. His resume includes albums for bands like the Krontjong Devils, De Stipjes, the Apemen, the Firebirds and more.
However, Warhoofd preferred to keep a very low profile and has always shied away from interviews.
When asked what led Warhoofd into the unknown world of Southeast Asian ’60s pop music, Coumans wrote: “While collecting the lost Dutch rock ‘n roll music, Warhoofd got irritated by the stupidity of all these old and forgotten Dutch rockers who for some reason were so overwhelmed by the Anglo American cultural supremacy that they forgot their own powers in
their roots and their own original quality.
“That’s the same reason why 99 per cent of all mankind believe that all the good music of the last three decades was made in the UK and the US. For most, a classic hit becomes a classic hit because you’ve heard it over and over again a zillion times. All the superb stuff from all over the
world will never reach that level no matter how much quality it has.
“That’s why generally, not much is known about the Asian scene, the East European scene, the Greek scene, the Spanish scene and the South American scene. Only those who are into obscure stuff would know about it. So something had to be done about it.”
And he did it well too. Listening to songs like Ikan Todak by Les Kafilas, Bad Loser by Naomi and the Boys, Chock Chock Kundong by Mike Ibrahim and the Nite Walkers and Bunga Beracun by the Swallows, one would definitely say this: Wow! I never knew that Malaysian artistes were that good at that time.
Of course they were, not just then but even today. The only thing that prevented us from discovering all these gems is because most of the time it would be overshadowed by below par cash cow-type materials and lack of appreciation and open ears.
People generally smirk at the quality of Malaysian music. To a certain extent, they don’t even care about it.
For instance, when checking with representatives from Malaysia’s governing music body like Recording Industry Association of Malaysia (RIM) and Akademi on whether if there is an archive that preserves recorded music in this country, their answer was no.
Now, let’s try the recording labels.
In a recent visit to one of the recording companies, yours truly was shocked to find out that no one has the master tape for Zaiton Sameon’s debut album Menaruh Harapan!
Is Malaysian music regarded only as cash cows? Something to be erased or dubbed over when it’s no longer useful?
Just try contact any record label and ask them for a detailed biography and discography of let’s say Zainal Abidin or Sheila Majid or maybe OAG.
May Lady Luck be on your side.
One theory why music archives are non-existent is that it involves a lot of money! (Funny how there’s money to spend when it comes to other things like fighting piracy and stuff).
Warhoofd and Coumans said that most of the music featured on Steam Kodok are not being really appreciated and archived in the countries of its origin which they found really surprising. Embarrassing isn’t it?
More from the e-mail: `We hope with such compilations, the level of appreciation would increase. Bands featured on Steam Kodok were authentic cultural pioneers that battled the world.
“It must be taken into consideration that these bands made their music at the border of the Anglo American global cultural takeover and with remembrance of their own pure ethnic feel. They did put Asia on the rock ‘n roll map!
“Maybe not many people realise this but the Steam Kodok compilation surprised a lot of people in the field.”
Well, they might be surprised but we, on the other hand, should feel ashamed because the praise did not come from our own mouths and it took someone in a faraway land to put the compilation together.
* Universal Music Singapore recently released released a five-disc box set featuring 100 greatest Singapore hits from the 1960s [http://mocamborainbow.blogspot.com/2009/05/100-greatest-singapore-60s-definitive.html%5D I wonder bila la hero ngan heroin Malaysia nak dapat due respect camni…