The Malay Music Culture and Its Evolution

By Munif A Bahasuan
This article has been written for the Malay Asli Singing Competition cum Seminar in Singapore from the 26th to the 27th July 2003
Article reprinted for Dendang Temasek CD album by Perkamus in 2005

Chapter 1

Foreign Influence on Malay Music

To debate or discuss meticulously on the genesis of any form of music, can be a very tedious task, even if it is feasible. Let us note that almost every form of music in this world is created by and with influence form other forms of music. In my opinion, we should welcome with open mind, the reality, that Malay music that we all love so much, has in part of many angles been molded from an assortment of influence from India, Arab and Western musical cultures.

The pattern of Malay music share uncanny similarities to Indian and Arab music, and this is evident from the melodies that are structurally MELISMATIC (a form of singing melody that is enriched with "GRENEK") and do not adhere to the Harmony of Chords.

To discuss a form of music, we should view it from many different standpoints, such as:

  • The Melody
  • The Beat
  • The Lyrics (Poems, normal lyrics etc.)

Indian Music

The Melody

MELISMATIC music is filled with a style; an arduous bendy form of melodious singing (CENGKOK), that is distinctly Indian colored. The themes of the melodies stick to scales and distinctive musical notes that are commonly referred to as RAGA. the RAGA is based upon three specific tones guidelines, also called the Key-Tone that is played similarly.

There are actually still many other forms of RAGA, but this distinct form of RAGA is usually picked and used as the base for many forms of music, and is widely and most often used as the rudimental concept, for the progression of Melody.

The Beat

Indian music is very diverse in its beat's department with the common tempo of:

  • 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 5/4, 6/8, 7/8

A form of percussion drum called TABLA is the basis that holds the tempo, and simultaneously acts as the Bass, if there is no String Bass (Called the Contra Bass).

The Lyrics (Poems, or normal lyrics)

General Themes:
  • Romance
  • Religion
  • Comedy
  • Advice
  • Critique, and many others

Arab Music

The Melody

MELISMATIC music is filled with a style; an arduous bendy form of melodious singing (CENGKOK). The theme of the melodies frequently adheres to a scales of distinct notes, often termed as MAQAM or NAGHAM. A basic Key-Tone that is termed JAWAB (that follows the tune of a song with a bass note), forms the basis of MAQAM. The Arabic music of MAQAM/NAGHAM offers diversity. In fact, there are MAQAM that uses the Quartertone, apart from the Halftone.

Every form has its own identity, for example:

  • NAGHAM HIJAZ
  • NAGGHAM AJAM
  • NAGHAM SIKA
  • NAGHAM NAHAWAND
  • NAGHAM RAST
  • NAHAM NAKREES,And many others

The Beat

Arabian music is very diverse in its beat's department with the common tempo of:

  • 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 5/4, 6/8, 7/8

The beat of Arabian music is often called IYQA'. Their forms are:

  • ZAFIN
  • TAQTUQAH
  • MALFUF
  • SHARAH
  • DAHEFAH, and many others

The Lyrics (Poems, or normal lyrics)

The art of traditional poems (Syair) and music in Arabian songs and are generally separated. The musicians composes the song, while the lyricists are often literature experts or linguists that fabricate the lyrics.

The composition of an Arabian poem is divided into half, that is:

  • Normal and freeform poems (Syair)
  • Four lines poems called RUBAIYAT

The normal and freeform poems are not bounded in any way linguistically, whereas the RUBAIYAT is restricted to four lines. In general Arabic Syair or poem ends with the same last words. In Indonesia, we say that it ends with the same "RIMA" (derived from the English words "Rhyme")

The themes of Arabic Syair or poems:

  • FIL MADEH - Praises
  • FIL GHAZL - Sentimental pleads
  • FIL MUNAJAT - Prayers and praises to the Almighty Allah
  • FIL RASAIL - Works of literature between one person to another
  • FIL HAMASAH - Patriotism and heroism, and many others

Western music also has Melody scales, amongst it:

  • PURE MINOR = AB C D E F GA
  • HARMONIC = ABC D E #F #G A
  • MELODIC= A B C D E F #G A

Western Music

Western music as we know is very advanced and is promoted structurally and systematically to the whole wide world.

The Melody

The melodies of western music often conform to the Harmony of Chord. In fact sometimes a note is beautified with a few chords. The forms and their pattern vary, and are ever changing and revolutionizing till today. For instance:

  • Classic
  • Jazz
  • Standard Songs
  • Pop Songs
  • Rock
  • Country
  • Latin, and many others

The Beat

The beat also varies:

  • 4/4, 2/4, 3/4, 5/4, 6/8
  • SWING
  • MARCH
  • WALTZ
  • TANGO
  • RUMBA
  • PASODOBLE
  • SAMBA, and many others

Chapter 2

Malay Musical

If we study the three forms of music Indian, Arabian and Western, we can construe that there is most definitely an influence that affects Malay music. Especially since the influx of Islam into the Malay peninsular, that circuitously brought about the Arab culture as well as most evident in the stylistic reading of the Holy Quran. And further to that, the highly popular western music, the Harmony of Chord and the MELISMATIC form derived from Indian music also discursively influenced Malay music.

The Evolution of Malay music, from my opinion, is as follows:

In Medan's Deli

The mini ensemble of Malay music is often dubbed The Malay Ronggeng. Its most basic forms of musical instruments are:

  • ACCORDION
  • VIOLA
  • GENDANG (Traditional hand held drum)

The Melody

The MELISMATIC with its GRENEK, which is distinctly Malay, also uses the rudimental Scale-Melody that is termed HAWA,which obliquely is also its basic beat.

The influence of Islam is massive towards the advent and formation of Malay music. The stylistic Quranic reading way that consists of the HAWA-HWAW (MAQAM), is very solidly instilled into the decorations of Malay music.

However, at last, the Malay music has developed its own chic, so original, forming a certain new unique GRENEK that can proudly be said as the Malay GRENEK. From this, usually, Malay songs consist of 16 bars with a basic 4 bars for every paragraph of Malay traditional poems (Pantun) which are also the lyrics.

The Beat

Generally, there are four basic beats:

  • SENANDUNG 4/4
    Slow and melancholic
  • MA'INANG 4/4
    The same with a typical Arabian beat
  • LAGU DUA THE JOGET 4/4
    Sharah
  • PATAM PATAM 2/4
    Fast tempo allergo, often used to accompany Pencak Silat (Malay Traditional Martial Arts)

The beat of the Senandung is often continued with the Joget of the same beat.

The Lyrics (Poems, or normal lyrics)

In general,a song that consist of poetic lyrics of lines of four, is simmilar to the RUBAIYAT, or sometimes called the GURINDAM. Normally the first two lines of the four are called the SAMPIRAN (the hint) whereas the latter two are called the ISI (the content). Sometimes, there are more than one singer involved singing a song, and they will par (by means of debating poems) spontaneously.

The themes:

  • MADAH (inspired words of wisdom)
  • ASMARA (Love)
  • PETUAH (Advice)
  • KELAKAR (Comedy)
  • SINDIRAN (Means of sarcasm)

The Year

1954 saw the advent of many wonderful and incredible musicians, somposers and activists that led the revolutionary formation of Malay music, amongst them:

  • AHMAD JAFAR
  • LILI SUHAIRI - She composed "Selayang Pandang"
  • USMAN - He composed "Dodoi Si Dodoi"
  • MAX SAPALUTE - He led the Studio Medan Ensemble
  • SULTAN SERDANG TENGKU LUKMAN SINAR - A pioneer leader in the formation of Malay music
  • SULTAN LANGKAT - He formed a famous ensemble that was led by DARUS, a famous leading man in the field of Malay music
  • ANDJANG NURDIN - A formidable Violaist foro many fine Malay songs
  • TENGKU DHANA - He composed "Di Suatu Masa" (Ibarat Air Di Daun Keladi)
  • NURAIN - A revered Malay singer

In Jakarta

The pull factor of Malay music is so huge that it can usually be said that Malay music can touch the hearts of anyone hearing it. It evolves and really becomes, and so popular throughouts the lands of Indonesia, above all in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.

The initiation of Malay music in Jakarta, has given rise to many, almost infinite numbers of orchestras and music ensembles. With constant new creations, the various music ensembles have fore fronted themselves with many new stylistic and fresh paradigms, all totally diferent with one another. For instance, there was the HARMONIUM music ensemble and also the SAMRAH music ensemble.

1940-1945

A singer named S.M.ALAIDRUS led the HARMONIUM ensemble, wiht notable musical intruments like the GAMBUS (Lute), VIOLA, HARMONIUM, GENDANG (Traiditional hand held drum) and many others.

1946-1950

The SAMRAH music ensemble was formed, and led by singer and composer HUSEIN BAWAFI (of BUNGA SEROJA and KHAYAL PENYAIR fame). They too, used the same instuments like the HARMONIUM ensemble.

Chapter 3

The Evolution of Malay Musical

1951-1956

This phase could be considered as the stage of evolution for the world of Malay music in Jakarta, with its assortment of song patterns and in general they were 32 bars, simultaneously almost similar to the STANDARD-SONGS, from the Western music world.

During the same time the musical instruments also started changing:

  • ACCORDION
  • STRINGS
  • PIANO
  • BRASS
  • GUITAR
  • STRING-BASS
  • GENDANG
  • TAMBOURINE
  • MARACAS

Circa 1954-1955, the Malay music scene in Indonesia started to bend towards the Malay music of Malaya. This is due to the fact that many Malaya films started to circulate in Indonesia, amongst them influx of many wonderful compositions of the late P.Ramlee (eg. AZIZAH, ENGKAU LAKSANA BULAN and many others). Apart from that, there were also other singers from Malay alike S.M.Salim, R.Azmi (of NONA SINGAPURA fame) and also HALIM YATIM. The song "CENDERAWASIH", was very popular at that time and was often performed by many Malay music ensembles. Examples of other songs with poems:

IKAN DI LAUT ASAM DI DARAT
DALAM PERIUK dAPAT BERTEMU

About the same time, came the formation of an ensemble that delicately called itself "THE MODERN MALAY MUSIC ENSEMBLE OF SINAR MEDAN". This music group was led by the late UMAR FAUZI ASERAN, with an array of wonderful singers:

  • The late CIK EMMA GANGGA
  • HASNAH TAHIR
  • HARIS - He composed "KUDAKU LARI"
  • The late A.RAHMAN
  • The late RUSMINI
  • MUNIF
  • M.ZAIN

During that period a venerated and legendary singer cum composer, the late S.EFFENDI, started his career with a very unique and distinctive style of singing (Singing the Opera style but with tenor vocals). He made his debut with the song entitled "BAHTERA LAJU" (Quick Ship).

1952-1957

THE MODERN MALAY MUSIC ENSEMBLE OF KENANGA, led by HUSEIN ADIT, a singer cum composer, with a wide array of fine singers like:

  • The late NUR SEHA
  • The late M.SYAUGI
  • JUHANA SATTAR
  • ASIFAHA.S.
  • UNARSIH

1957

THE CHANDRA-LELA MALAY MUSIC ENSEMBLE, led by HUSEIN BAWAFI,also a singer cum composer, accompanied many singers on the Indonesian Republic Radio (PRI). The singers were:

  • The late ROSMALIA
  • The late KHOLILI
  • The late M.MASHABI
  • LUTFI

Among the 200 popular songs by HUSEIN BAWAFI are SEROJA, BUNGA HATI, KHAYAL PENYAIR, RAHASIA HATI and BUDI.

THE MALAY MUSIC ENSEMBLE OF BUKIT SIGUNTANG, led by the late A.KHALIK, a singer cum composer, often accompanied singers on the PRI. The singers were:

  • HASANAH TAHAR
  • NURAINI
  • NENENG YATIMAH
  • The late SUHAIMI - He composed "DUNIA"

Known songs by A.KHALIK are:

  • HALIMUN MALAM
  • HARUM BAUNYA SI BUNGA TANJUNG
  • MAKSUD HATI MEMELUK GUNUNG

1958

THE IRAMA AGUNG MALAY MUSIC ENSEMBLE, led by the late S.EFFENDI (SAID EFFENDI AL-RASYID), a singer cum composer, accompanied singers like:

  • The late MISS RUBIAH
  • ZAKARIA - He composed "PENJUAL ROTI"
  • AWLADI - He composed "TANJUNG CINA"

Chapter 4

The Transitional Period To Dangdut

The influence of Indian and Hindustani films that were overloaded with songs, inadvertently 'collided' seriously with Malay music.

1960

THE MALAY MUSIC ENSEMBLE OF KENALA RIA, led by the late ADI KARSO and MUNIF (both were singers cum composers) for the first time accompanied singers like:

The late M.MASHABI, the composer for songs like:

  • RATAPAN ANAK TIRI
  • UNTUK BUNGAMU
  • MENGHARAP
  • PANTUN NASEHAT
  • RENUNGKANLAH

Most of the songs that were composed by the late M.MASHABI, the lyrics were written by HUSEIN BAWAFI and also ALI ARATAS, ELLYAS KHADAM.

The composer for songs like:

  • BONEKA DARI INDIA (with IIN SUMANTI)
  • TERMENUNG
  • KAU PERGI TANPA PESAN (a.k.a ADUH-ADUH)
  • JUHANA SATTAR
  • LUTFI
  • ADI KARSO (He composed "PAPAYA CHA-CHA")

MUNIF - The composer for songs like:

  • BUNGA NIRWANA
  • BEBAN ASMARA

It can be surmised that during that period, the color of Malay music was adopting a more DANGDUT approach, it was by and large a transitional period.

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