Effort to Immortalize Asli Songs

By Yusnor Ef
Translated by Ariffin Abdullah

Malay Asli songs have beautiful lyrics that are carefully arranged in terms of its syllables. Usually, the lyrics of Asli songs consist of 4 lines of pantun or quatrains. its opening lines talks about love, fate and the likes.

For example, the song of the great composer from Johor, Pak Lomak, tells about Kuala Deli of Peninsular Malaysia's west coast. Besides its scenic beauty, the song also tell about one's pining.


Kuala Deli sayang...
Kuala Deli airnya biru
Tempatlah mandi sayang...
Tempatlah mandi si anak dara
Sedang sekampung hatiku rindu... Kualalah Deli
Inikan pula... hai jauh di mata
Kuala Deli sayang
Kuala Deli airnya tenang...
Nyiur melambai sayang
Nyiur melambai ditiup angin
Tempat jatuh lagiku kenang... Kualalah Deli
Inikan pula tempat bermain
Kuala Deli, my love
Kuala Deli, its waters are blue
A place to swim, my love
A place to swim, for young maidens
I miss you even when we are near, Kuala Deli
Let alone when we are apart
Kuala Deli, my love
Kuala Deli, its waters are serene
Coconut trees waving, my love
Coconut trees waving, blown by the winds
I will always remember the place where I fall, Kuala Deli
Let alone my playgrounds

As in the characters of the Malays in the olden days, their language is graceful to convey their messages. If we study the pantuns or stories that were told in old pantuns, it display the demureness and grace of the Malays. The Malays did not make demands, but with courtesy and grace. Asli songs reflected the demureness of Malays.

However, do not assume the melancholic melodies do not have strength. With a powerful and graceful delivery, Asli songs reflected the dynamics of Asian culture.

There has been no factual research on the origins of Asli songs. Perhaps it started in Bintan based on stories that its queen is competent in composing songs.

Musical Instrumentation

Up until now, Asli musical instruments usually comprised of the gendang, accordion, violin, bass guitar and rebana and played by 6 to 8 musicians.

But as one of the uniqueness of Malay culture, its music is able to be modernised.

Today, Asli music can be arranged up to symphonic orchestra level. Its melancholic effect are more profound when played by a string section comprising several violins such as those performed by Tan Sri S M Salim with his song Makan Sireh in two genres, Asli and Ghazal, performed by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.


Every society has its own music and legacy. The true selves of the Malays lies in its Asli songs. However, the younger generations and the electronic media lacks the support to uphold this ideals.

I wish to recommend the following :

  • A special program of 15 to 30 minutes of Malay traditional songs including Asli songs on local radio and television.
  • A national-level traditional song competition, conventions or discussions to promote traditional Malay music groups.
  • Compulsory requirement for Malay organisations to include traditional performances in their activities.
  • Private Malay firms, corporations and entrepreneurs to support traditional Malay arts & crafts, including traditional music. They can support performances or sponsors of cultural events.
It is hoped that Taman Warisan Melayu (Malay Heritage Foundation) and Majlis Pusat (Central Council) can work together to achieve this vision to uphold Malay arts & crafts, including its music. Without the effort of relevant parties, the Malay culture will be forgotten.

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For unabridged version in Malay, click here