External Influences in Malay Music

By Kamali Hudi
Berita Harian
Translation by Ariffin Abdullah

What is the difference between Malay music and other musical genres? Obviously there must be some essence of 'Malayness' in Malay music. When external elements were added to Malay music, it was assimilated into the Malay music culture. This includes Arabic influences such as zapin and ghazal from Persia all the way to dangdut.

Malay music will always be subjected to external influences, especially in recent times, which tend to incline towards Western pop music. In the 70s, efforts to commercialize malay music has prompted wholesale copying of western songs. The entire song was taken, with only its lyrics changed. This practice gave birth to a new genre termed as 'copyrighted music'.

This trend was prevalent when recording companies from the West such as EMI wants to produce the latest Malay music for the local market with the quickest route. Only after getting flak from critics and the public did these record labels discontinue the practice. Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) was the most vocal critic to the extent of issuing warnings to boycott songs from this genre.

Usually, the songs were based on the most popular in the West at any given time. Herein lies the dilemma faced by local composers such as Kassim Masdor. "Recording companies are only interested in what the public want to hear. We have to abide by instructions from above in order to gain wider publicity... To fulfill these two important requirements, we have to put effort to produce the latest songs locally, and proceed to produce several, at that time, which resembles Western songs such as Aku Bintangmu and Sedih Sekelip Mata sung by Sanisah Huri, to shift public focus to locally-produced works."

The prevalence of this genre was also factored by the influx of imports from neighbouring countries. These imports were embraced by youth of that era. In percentage terms, it is estimated that copyrighted music comprises half by Western pop music, 30 percent Hisdustan and the rest were Japanese and Arabic. Songs such as Honey, Honey, When Will I See You Again, Muhammad Ali and Mr Postman were among the most popular Western music of that era. Japanese tunes such as Sukiyaki was also hugely popular. Silky voice Singer J Mizan has recorded several Japanese copyrighted tunes such as Hari Ini Dan Semalam with Yusnor Ef. Hindi music usually comes from popular film soundtracks such as Chalte-Chalte, with its lyrics changed to Kasih Kasih and performed by Sanisah Huri.

This development has definitely eroded Malay music culture to the point that it evolved into a conflict. However, as in the 70s, this problem still exists today. The recording companies' overwhelming motive for profit-making is a major factor that make copyrighted music popular. There were efforts to include popular Western songs for local artists, but it was not very popular. Besides that, several local artists were given the opportunity to produce albums which include a mix of local and Western songs. Among them includes Anita Sarawak and Sharifah Aini. Hindi tunes were recorded by Hussin Marican and dangdut queen Zaleha Hamid. The copyright genre also has its ups and downs. Restrictions by broadcasters has stunted its growth. Only after sales dipped did these recording companies changed tack and switch to standard Malay genres. Today, western styles such as rhythm & blues, jazz, rap, soul, reggae and the likes are popular.

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For unabridged version in Malay, click here