The Malays of Kelantan and Terengganu are culturally linked to peoples from the South China Sea area, and are quite different from the West Coast of Malaya. The martial art of silat which is originally from Indonesia is also popular in Malaysia, while essentially still important as a branch of the self defence form. Similar to tai chi, though of independent origin, it is a mix of martial arts, dance and music typically accompanied by gongs, drums and Indian oboes.
The natives of the Malay Peninsula played in small ensembles called kertok, which performed swift and rhythmic xylophone music. This may have led to the development of dikir barat. In recent years, the Malaysian government has promoted this Kelantanese music form as a national cultural icon.
Arabic-derived zapin music and dance is popular throughout Malaysia, and is usually accompanied by a gambus and some drums. Ghazals from Arabia are popular in the markets and malls of Kuala Lumpur and Johor, and stars like Kamariah Noor are very successful. In Malacca, ronggeng is the dominant form of folk music. It played with a violin, drums, button accordion and a gong instrument from Indonesia. Another style, Dondang Sayang is slow and intense; it mixes influences from China, India, Arabia, and Portugal with traditional elements.
The Hua Yue Tuan (華乐团), or "Modern Chinese Orchestra," is made up of a blend of western and traditional Chinese musical instruments. The music itself combines western polyphony with Chinese melodies and scales. Although the bulk of its repertoire consists of music imported from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, many local Chinese orchestras also regularly perform Malay folk tunes with various local composers making a definite effort to absorb elements of surrounding musical cultures, especially Malay, into their compositions. In Malaysia, Chinese orchestras exist nationwide in urban areas which have large concentrations of Chinese Malaysians. Sponsored largely by various Chinese organisations including schools and Buddhist societies, a typical orchestra consists of between 12 to 50 members.
The orchestra is usually made up of four sections:
Bowed string instruments, consisting of:
plucked strings comprising various sized lutes:
the wind section consisting of:
percussion section consisting of:
There is no lack of virtuoso performers in the Chinese classical tradition in Malaysia. Advanced training is however not presently available with most Malaysian virtuoso musicians obtaining their advanced training either in China or Singapore. Various professional and semi-professional Chinese orchestras are in existence. Malaysian western trained classical conductors are employed full time. Much of the music played is imported from China. There are however some accomplished Malaysian composers for this medium such as Saw Boon Kiat and Chew Hee Chiat.
Indian music is strongly associated with religious tradition and faith. As its origins in India, there are two systems of traditional or classical Indian music in Malaysia, viz. Carnatic Music and Hindustani Music. Since Tamils from South India are the predominant group among the Indian population in Malaysia, it is the South Indian carnatic music which predominates. Simply speaking, Hindustani classical music is more lyric-oriented, while Carnatic classical music emphasises musical structure.
Indian classical music as it is performed in Malaysia has remained true to its origin. There is practically no other cultural influence. Other than reflecting Indian life, the purpose of Indian classical music is to refine the soul.
The fundamental elements of carnatic music are raaga and taala. A raaga is a scale of notes, while the taala is the time-measure. A carnatic music concert usually starts with a composition with lyrical and passages in a particular raaga. This will be followed by a few major and subsequently some minor compositions.
In Malaysia, traditional or classical Indian music are studied and performed by Malaysians of Indian ethnic origin with material that still comes from India. Musical productions are mainly in the form of dance dramas incorporating instrumental ensemble, vocal music and dance. Musical instruments used in the performances are imported from India.
Over the years, Punjabi music have established itself in Malaysia. One example of famous Punjabi music is bhangra. Many Malaysian songs today has the Punjabi influence. For example, the sound of the dhol, an instrument used mainly by the Punjabis have been incorporated in many Malay, Chinese and Indian songs in Malaysia. The increase of interest in Punjabi music have lead to the birth of Malaysia's very first Urban Bhangra themed group, called Goldkartz.
The 21st Century has witnessed the rapid rise of a variety of new musical trends, imported from different shores and strongly influenced by an urban elite hip to jazz-fusion and fringe music (classical revivals, ethnic-flavored folk, trance, and so on). Students who studied in Europe and the Americas began returning with a staunch passion for more progressive musical modalities.
Ethnic music has also found a new and vigorous following, with world music festivals like the Rainforest World Music Festival, held annually since 1998 in a scenic open-air setting in Sarawak. The first Malaysian "ethnic fusion" group to play on this international platform was Akar Umbi - comprising Temuan ceremonial singer Minah Angong (1930–1999) and Rafique Rashid. Unfortunately, the charismatic Minah Angong (better known as Mak Minah) died just three weeks after winning over the hearts of a whole new audience at the RWMF 1999. This left Akar Umbi with only one posthumously released CD to its name ('Songs of the Dragon,' Magick River, 2002).
Private companies like Trident Entertainment have begun to invest in the production, distribution and promotion of the "ethnic fringe" in Malaysian music.
Petronas, the national petro-chemical corporation responsible for the construction of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas and statutory bodies like the Sarawak Tourism Board have contributed significantly to the development of a broader interest in jazz, classical and world music amongst the new generation of Malaysians. Private institutions like the Temple of Fine Arts have also produced a steady flow of students skilled in world music, primarily Hindustani & Carnatic musical traditions. The Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (Petronas Philhrmonic Hall), home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, has become a popular venue amongst the affluent new Malaysian middle class for acts encompassing jazz, classical, and world music concerts.
Malaysia has a handful of homegrown musicians who have achieved world class stature in jazz exposition e.g., keyboardists Michael Veerapan and David Gomes; freestyle bassist Zailan Razak; multi-instrumentalists and vocalists, The Solianos; and virtuoso drummer Lewis Pragasam. Mohar and Prabhu Ganesh, two flautists with ethnic leanings, are Malaysian musicians who have begun to make waves abroad. Many of these innovators are ex-alumni of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and the Juilliard School of Music in New York. The promise of even more exciting things to come can be seen in the emergence of youthful, ethnic-flavored percussion ensembles like the Aseana Percussion Unit (APU) and the Diplomats of Drum.
In the field of Malaysian contemporary music a number of composers have gained international recognition, for example award-winning composers Chong Kee Yong, Dr Tazul Izan Tajuddin, Yii Kah Hoe, Saidah Rastam, Adeline Wong and others, encompassing a diverse range of styles and aesthetics.
For example, at the cutting edge of the avant garde are Chong Kee Yong and Tazul Tajuddin. Yii Kah Hoe is slowly exploring a similar direction as a departure, or perhaps an enrichment, of his work with Chinese orchestral music, while pianist-composer Ng Chong Lim treads the ground between atonalism and aleatoric music based on the live interaction of more tonal fragments.
Pursuing a more accessible tonal language is the colourful and rhythmically vibrant music of Adeline Wong and Johan Othman, the latter combining a quasi minimalist approach with elements of Malaysian aesthetics tempered with jazzy undercurrents. Saidah Rastam experiments with jazz and atonalism in combination with ethnic Malaysian elements, and has even worked with reinventing Chinese Opera through atonal jazz. Ahmad Muriz Che Rose works with a more populist approach to Malay traditional instruments in a contemporary language through his work with the Petronas Performing Arts Group, Prabhu Ganesh fuses European Classical Music with undertones of North Indian Raagas, bringing back similar feelings explored by Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar in the early 90's through their venture Passages(BMG).
Since the turn of the new millennium Malaysian composers have begun to earn recognition and respect for their work, and increaded coverage and interest in the media has also helped to bring the efforts of serious composers to the foreground of musical activity in the country.
Malaysia's pop music scene developed from traditional asli (pure) music popularized in the 1920s and 1930s by Bangsawan troupes. These troupes are in fact a type of Malaysia opera influenced by Indian opera at first known as Wayang Pasir (Persia) which was started by rich Persians residing in India. They portrayed stories from diverse groups such as Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese, Indonesian and Malay. Music, dance, acting with costumes are used in performance depending on the stories told. The musicians were mostly local Malays, Filipinos and Guanis (descendants from Gua in India).
One of the earliest modern Malay pop songs was "Tudung Periok", sung by Momo Latif, who recorded it in 1930. In the 1950s, P.Ramlee became the most popular Malay singer and composer with a range of slow ballads such as "Azizah", "Dendang Perantau" and the evergreen "Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti".
In the 1960s, western-influenced Pop Yeh-yeh musicians came to the forefront. The Pop Yeh-yeh genre was popular in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei in the 1960s. Pop Yeh-yeh ruled the Malay music scene from 1965 to 1971. The music and fashion of The Beatles and other British rock and roll bands during the 1960s were a strong influence of the pop yeh-yeh bands and also generally influenced the Malay music industry of that period. In fact, the term "pop yeh-yeh" was taken from a line from the popular Beatles song, "She Loves You" ("she loves you, yeah-yeah-yeah".)This may not be a fact as the term "pop yeh yeh" was never used in the 1960s but much later when such music was revived in the 1980s by M. Shariff & The Zurah. It might be that music journalists of the 1980s coined the term.
The first local song in the Pop Yeh-yeh vein was a song called "Suzanna", sung by M Osman in 1964. During the height of the pop yeh-yeh craze, a lot of the bands that were formed tried their best to mimic The Beatles in their look, songwriting and performance style. But still the musical style was taken from The Shadows and The Ventures. Usually the bands (also referred to as "kumpulan gitar rancak" - "rhythmic guitar bands" – or its acronym "kugiran") consists of four members who sings on top of handling the basic four musical instruments (two electric guitars, electric bass and drums). Most of the bands were formed in Singapore but also in Malaysia. The southern state of Johore and Singapore were the hub of activity for these bands. Most of the recordings were done in Singapore such as at the old EMI Studio at MacDonald's House in Orchard Road and many small studios owned privately.
The word "Kugiran" was first aired on Radio Singapore in the weekly Top Chart "Lagu Pujaan Minggu Ini" programme on Radio Singapore and hosted by the 1st Malay DJ M.I.A. (Mohd Ismail Abdullah). It was understood the acronym "Ku-Gi-Ran" was the idea of a subtitling officer, Daud Abdul Rahman. It is also said that it was P. Ramli who coined the term to differentiate it from the combo styled Malay bands of earlier times. "Kugiran" comprises 5 piece band members and a vocalist, one lead-guitarist, one bassist, one rhythm-guitarist, one organist (keyboardist)and a drummer.
The formation and development of these kugiran's encouraged the establishment and existence of various recording companies in Singapore in the 1960s and a lot of these songs were recorded on vinyl and sold well commercially. Some of the singers who made their name during that period include M Osman, A Ramlie, Jeffrydin, Roziah Latiff & The Jayhawkers, Adnan Othman, Halim "Jandaku" Yatim, Afidah Es, J Kamisah, Siti Zaiton, J. Sham, A Rahman Onn, Hasnah Haron, J Kamisah, Fatimah M Amin, Asmah Atan, Orkid Abdullah, A. Remie, Zamzam, Salim I, Kassim Selamat, M Rahmat, A Karim Jais, M Ishak, Hussien Ismail, Jaafor O, A Halim, Azizah Mohamed, S Jibeng and L Ramlee. Other popular rock and pop bands of the period include The Rhythm Boys, The Siglap Five, The Hooks which featured A Romzi as their lead vocalist (they scored a hit with the song "Dendang Remaja"), Siglap Boys, Les Kafilas, Cliffters featuring Rikieno Bajuri, Impian Bateks featuring Rudyn Al-Haj with his popular number "Naik Kereta Ku" and a cappella like "Oh Posmen", "Gadis Sekolah" etc, The Swallows featuring "La Aube", "Angkut-angkut Bilis" etc whose vocalist was Kassim Selamat and the EP was featured in a radio station in Germany. There, "La Aube" was in the German pop chart. Almost all the above mentioned artistes were Singaporeans. The most popular ones from the Malaysian side of the divide must include L. Ramli, Roziah Latiff & The Jayhawkers, J.Sham,Orkes Nirvana, The Sangam Boys and Les Flingers. The music and lyrics were usually composed by the bands themselves. The band leaders were also the producers of the albums of the period.
The golden age of pop yeh-yeh started to dwindle in 1971. Since the fall of the popularity of pop yeh-yeh, the center of the Malay music industry shifted up north from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. A lot of composers, songwriters, lyricists, singers, and producers started to gain foothold not only in Kuala Lumpur but also in other cities including Johor Bahru and Ipoh to grab the opportunity of the emerging and rapidly changing Malay music industry.
Template:Unrefencedection DJ Dave, Hail Amir and Uji Rashid introduced Hindustani-influenced music in the 1970s. Between the late 1970s and mid 1980s, the market for local recordings and artiste was in big demand, bands and musicians performing in clubs and pubs were contracted to record. This was the time when non Malay artistes, bands and business man ventured into the Malay music industry. Bands like Alley Cats, Discovery, Carefree and Cenderawasih took the lead to modernize Malaysian Pop music; solo singers like Sudirman, Sharifah Aini further push the music to its peak.
Before the mid 1980’s another genre of music appeared. This time it was slow rock, heavy metal, hard rock and the blues. Popular bands from the west like Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Def Leppard were some of the major influences for these Malaysian bands. M. Nasir previously a Singaporean played a leading role in shaping rock music in Malaysia as a song writer and producer for a period of almost ten years. He produced local rock bands like Search and Wings and took them to their highest level of Malaysian rock music. Piracy in the form of duplicating cassettes and CDs became rampant and uncontrollable around this period as sales of these items soar which was supported by the country’s wave of economic success.
Between the mid 80’s and early 90’s, R&B and Pop music became the focus of the urban youngsters. This music was cosmopolitan and catered to a professional and educated crowd. In 1985 Sheila Majid a singer groomed by engineer /producer Roslan Aziz made a debut album called dimensi baru which was financed and produced by Roslan Aziz himself. With a lovely mellow voice together with a bunch of creative musicians like Mac Chew and Jenny Chin both influenced by R&B, fusion and jazz achieved their dreams and set a new direction for many Malaysian R&B artistes to come.This was evidently clear when her second album EMOSI was released in Indonesia and earned the BEST R&B ALBUM in the prestigious BASF awards in 1986.This historical release has changed the facet of the music industry. In the mid 1990s,the 1 rap group 4U2C with 7 young boys was introduced by Zman Production and a producer mansenoi & mam rap and they had made a big hit in the market and received few gold and platinum and KRU a vocal group composed of three brothers among others developed Malay rap and hip-hop.
In 1991, an environmental album recorded by Zainal Abidin, songs written by Mukhlis Nor and produced by Roslan Aziz was released. This was received very positively by the public and the international music scene especially in Asia. Around this time nasyid pop music which was a form of Islamic religious which utilized a vocal group and accompaniment of only percussions music entered the market. Developed by vocal groups like Raihan, Rabbani and Brothers, this music got a lot of support from the countryside and religious fans.
In 1996 a school girl by the name of Siti Nurhaliza from a rural town Termeloh in the state of Pahang released an album produced by a talented pop music producer named Adnan Abu Hassan. This album of Malay Pop genre was a huge success. She included different genres such as Malay pop, R&B and Malay Traditional music in her later albums with much success. This singer is now very popular in the country.
The first signs of a underground music scene, as in real bands and original recordings, in Malaysia actually started in the city of Kuala Lumpur in the mid-80s.
Musicians involved in the underground scene are usually guitar-driven bands with inclination towards rock music, although there are a number of acts with differing musical influences such as Folk, hip-hop, electronica and dance music. The current rise of singer-songwriters in the acoustic or folk vein in the underground scene. The first wave of singer-songwriters who have established and gained reputation in this genre include Meor Aziddin Yusof, Sherry and Kit Lee (now known as Antares). The new generation of singer-songwriters include Pete Teo, Azmyl Yunor and Shanon Shah.
They were those in the scene who practically refused to play the mainstream music industry game due to the lack of transparency and fair-play in the dealings of the music companies, including one-sided and exploitative recording deals which they see as grossly unfair.
The underground scene in Malaysia used to be a strong and unified community, especially from its birth in the mid-80s to the mid-90s. Bands or acts of different persuasions, such as punk, hardcore, Oi!/street punk, metal and ska usually performed together. The scene became less united by 1996 when most hardcore punk bands then started to apply a more staunch anti-corporate and DIY ideals into their activities.
It was also the days when fascist and right-wing elements started to rear its head via gangs of "chaos punk" and some skinhead bands. Metal bands had also removed itself from the usual multi-genre gig circuit, preferring to play only with other metal bands. Anti-corporate DIY punk bands, with anarchist ideals also started to be on their own, cutting off all ties to the others; building their own network and starting small distros and labels. On the other hand, bands who originally started in the underground scene such as Butterfingers and OAG began to work with major label-affliated record companies; which was seen by some as a betrayal of the DIY underground spirit.
This resulted in the break-up of the larger scene into smaller pockets which refused to acknowledge the other. The scene essentially split into two larger camps, on one hand the mainstream-friendly bands and the other, a deeper underground scene alienating themselves from the larger picture or any form of media exposure apart from their own fanzines.
Lately,major shows features bands from the mainstream hardcore scene with established bands (Cassandra, Love Me Butch) and also from the burgeoning folk singer-songwriter scene with established performers such as Azmyl Yunor.
The first punk rock scene in Malaysia started in Terengganu in 1978/1979. It started in the small town of Dungun by a group of friends influenced by British music magazines such as NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and Zig Zag, as well as their brothers and friends studying or living in the more modern West Coast cities who would pass them the magazines and music.
It was known as the Malaysian capital of punk rock throughout the late 1979 and the 1980s but there were no bands then as the punks were too poor to afford the equipment. The scene then was more a covergence of pioneering punk rockers trading pre-recorded music and fanzines acquired from pen-pals and friends from overseas while dabbling in home-made DIY punk fashion.
Most of the trading material came from friends studying overseas, friends living in the West Coast cities and also punk rockers from UK, Europe and US who sent tapes and magazines. Irregular trips were made to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (and Georgetown, but rarely as it was too far) to dub punk rock records at the music stores or buy pirated tapes.
Some fishing villages would have the most punks and thus became the center of activities. The main two villages were Kampung Mengabang Telipot (an hour north to the city) and Kampung Tanjung (right at the mouth of the city's river system). In Mengabang Telipot, there was a small punk community library with fanzines, magazines and music, which the kids would share. This library was actually a wooden cupboard situated at one of the punk rockers' houses, it was called as "logen".
The first Malaysian punk fanzine came out from this scene. It appeared in 1986 with the title of Huru Hara (meaning "chaos"); it was written in Terengganu slang by editor Mamat Hitam but never distributed on a large scale. The first fanzine to do that was Aedes, which lasted until 1996.
Bands like The Pilgrims, Carburetor Dung, The Bollocks, A.C.A.B and A.R.T were playing in the underground gig circuit 90's around Kuala Lumpur, sharing the same stage with other bands playing different genres. The Oi! scene was also popular with street punk music by bands like A.C.A.B, The Official & Roots N Boots, with the look of the mods and skinheads. Joe Kidd (Carburetor Dung), who was a journalist from Malaysia's The Sun newspaper, wrote his column called 'Blasting Concept' which reviewed most of the records and demo released by D.I.Y bands in the 90's. There was also reviews of concerts and shows all around Malaysia. Joe Kidd now owns a D.I.Y shop called 'The Ricecooker' which is located in the heart of the Malaysian underground scene, Central Market.
A new generation picked it up again in the late-90s with bands, DIY labels and intermittent gigs.
There are still a lot of active punk-influenced bands such as Dirty Divider and The Goodnight Goodies.
By the late 1990’s with the internet easily available, downloading was the easiest and cheapest way to obtain recordings through mp3 files. Hardware CDs were also available in shops, illegal CD stalls and night markets. Priced at a quarter (1/4) of the original product price, CDs from major distributors and recording companies were no competition for these pirates. The market further deteriorated with the arrival of hardware such as mp3 players and mobile phones with similar features.
The encouragement from the Malaysian government towards privatization of broadcasting stations received support from the public. An array of new radio and TV stations were built.
During the early 2000, introduction to a new form of entertainment called “Reality Shows” revived public interest in music entertainment. Shows such as Akademi Fantasia and Malaysian Idol allowed the public to choose their own stars by sending SMS through hand phones or computers at the convenience of the audiences. This excited the public because they were involved in the making of a celebrity and could choose who they wanted instead of having record companies create & distribute artistes.
Research implied that comparing from the past decades many other forms of entertainment such as DVDs, Cable TVs, increased radio programmes and change of life styles has affected the musical interest of the public towards local musicians. However, this is still not representative of the active live music circuit with performers who compose and perform their own materials. Increased commercialisation and product placements using musicians casts a giant shadow over the local independent music scene and gives a skewed perception of what the local music "industry" represents instead of the voice of local musicians who still actively perform at pubs, gig venues and cafes.
Indonesian music has always been welcomed by Malay music listeners until recently when some radio stations play more Indonesian songs than local songs. This phenomenon could be attributed to Malay music listeners being tired of local musicians refusing to create new sounds but instead keep recycling old sounds like 'Rock Kapak' and power-ballads that are deemed safe in terms of music industry strategy. An artist society, have made a decision to build a quote 90:10, that's mean 90% Malaysian Music & 10% for the outsiders music. This quote was failed, as lots of Indonesian music was aired by the mocal radio especially the private one. There have been mounting resistance to this invasion with many limitations in terms of airplay and show permits, but the lack of creativity by local musicians seems to make the invasion inevitable.