Malaysian pop

Malaysian pop
Malaysian pop
Stylistic origins PopHip hopElectronicR&BRock
Cultural origins 1920s, Malaysia
Typical instruments VocalsKeyboardsPianoSamplerSequencerSynthesizerDrum padDrumsElectric bass • Occasional use of various other instruments
Mainstream popularity Mainstream in Malaysia
An illustration about M-pop

Malaysian pop (Malay: Pop Malaysia) or abbreviated as M-pop refers to popular music forms in Malaysia. The Malaysian pop is a musical genre consisting of pop, rock, hip hop, electronic, and R&B music.



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".

1960s: Pop Yeh-yeh

In the 1960s, western-influenced Yé-yé music came to the forefront. The localised name '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 Malaysia 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 Malaysian music industry.

1980s to 1990s

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. Although The Jayhawkers led by Joe Chelliah was the first wholly non-Malay pop band to record Malay pop songs as a pre-cursor, it was in the mid-1970's that later non-Malay artistes, bands and businessmen ventured into the Malay music industry. Bands like Alleycats, Discovery, Carefree and Cenderawasih took the lead to modernize Malaysian Pop music; solo singers like Sudirman Arshad, Sharifah Aini further push the music to its peak. Between 1979 to early 1980 - emergence of blues outfit/band called THE BLUES GANG in Malaysia specialising in blues and the emergence of a hard rock/heavy metal outfit/band called SWEET CHARITY from Singapore - these two groups changed the Malaysian music scene.

Before the mid 1980s 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 80s and early 90s, 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, a rap group 4U2C with 7 young boys was introduced by ZMAN Production and a producer Man Senoi & Mam Rap and they had made a big hit in the market and received few gold and platinum and also KRU, a vocal group composed of three brothers among others developed Malay rap and hip-hop.

Siti Nurhaliza also known as Malaysian pop princess

In 1996 a school girl by the name of Siti Nurhaliza from a rural town Kuala Lipis 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.

Islam-influenced pop

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.

The 2000s

By the late 1990s 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. Many of the Malaysians prefer illegal music copies than original music copies. The market further deteriorated with the arrival of hardware such as mp3 players and mobile phones with similar features.

Many factors has caused the Malaysian music industry declined:

  • Excessive piracy (piracy is not a new phenomenon in Malaysian music market, it has been a phenomenon since 1970s, with pirated vinyls and audio cassettes sell at the half of the price of the original product)
  • The revenue for Malaysian music industry decreased from over RM300 million in 1997 to only RM60 million in 2009
  • Many local record labels out of business
  • Illegal downloads
  • The price of original cassettes and CDs decreased
  • The number of local artists active in the music industry dropped from over 200 in 1997 to less than 100 in 2009
  • Local record labels has forced local artists to produce album themselves
  • Many local albums released after 2006 have less songs (mostly 5 - 9 songs)

As a result, Malaysia, along with its neighboring country, Singapore, is two of the countries in South East Asia where illegal music copies outsells legal music copies. Sales of domestic and international repertoire are in the same levels in both countries, comparing to other South East Asian nations.

The piracy of music CDs has caused all original albums sold in Malaysia, whether local or foreign to be attached with an original hologram sticker since 2000 before it can be sold. At the time of introduction, it only covers audio CDs, cassettes and music VCDs. In 2003, the sticker was updated with hologram feature and now also covers non-music video releases and video games. Also, in 2004, the certification levels were down from 15,000 copies and 25,000 copies to 10,000 copies and 20,000 copies for an album to be certified as Gold and Platinum, respectively.

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.

Akademi Fantasia
Malaysian Idol

During the early 2000s, 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.

From reality shows, stars such as Vincent Chong, Jaclyn Victor, Danell Lee Chee Hun and Mawi are able to sell larger numbers of CDs compared to other musicians.

See also

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