Monday, June 7, 2010


Joe Rozells & Edwin Rajamoney playing Hawaiian Music

Piano Maestro Tony Soliano

Jimmy Boyle (Top Left), Stanley D'Almeida  & Larry Rodriguez 

This little essay puts on record and pays tribute to some unsung Malaysian musicians whom I had watched, knew or remember. They performed with much passion and brought cheer into the lives of many. I have even performed with a couple of them. Yet we as a nation have forgotten these musical heroes of yesteryears. This is not the way of a civil society.

In the world of music making, universally speaking, there are many musicians who had left inedible marks in the history of music, especially in the West. There were other lesser compatriots who played music at the same time but did not shine or exhibit similar musical prowess. The second category mentioned were at best 2nd class musicians in their times. The Americans term such people as “also rans”. Such lesser musicians contributed very little yet managed to get accolades and raves from the ruling elites at the expense of the true music masters of their times. However many great musicians were posthumously remembered for their music. In Malaysia we have done the same for a few - Sudirman, Loga of Alleycats and of course the P. Ramlee.

Those of us who saw “Amadeus” the movie can understand this universal phenomenon. In the Amadeus movie the antagonistic and jealous adversary in sheep’s clothing of the young maestro Mozart was Antonio Salieri who managed to get many court positions and titles that were rightfully Mozart's through the "ampu bodek" technique. There are many such Salieris everywhere in the world and Malaysia is no exception in this matter both now and in the past where professional jealousy is equally rife in music as in all other high profiled occupations. When musicians congregate or meet there is much hugging and similar other body-language gestures and signs of brotherhood like we are “soul brothers” but this sort of fellowship can also be hypocrisy in its purest form.

Mozart died a pauper but his music and forward-looking musical styles were only recognized long after his death. In Malaysia our own example is Tan Sri P. Ramli and Saloma who suffered the same fate and were left quite penniless when they passed on. We are lucky though because their legacy lives on as both also acted in the films. In this way their greatness was recorded on vinyl records as well as on the silver screen and thereby remain a part of public viewing and listening till today as a heritage.

Mass communication like what we see today is but a current phenomenon especially in Malaysia. But even today our TV programs do not do justice to musicians of other types of musics - traditional, jazz, aboriginal and of course totally forgetting the Malaysian Indian and Chinese musicians. This was not so rife in the past. Instead today, the commercially driven media stick purely to the pop variety of musicians particularly singers and that that too only if they remain popular. For example, we do not hear much of Mawi these days. He was branded as a phenomenon not so long ago.

RTM for example could produce a musical program dedicated to educating Malaysians about our great Malaysians of the past. Its our history worth knowing apart from which Malay princ killed which ruler and in what year and for what reason. To add to this general public apathy, the utter lack of writings by our academics or historians of our great Malaysian musicians of times gone by and their contributions further add to this problem and general apathy. Can we blame our children if they do not know their history? They can forget the Pythagoras Theorem or Archimede's Principle or what is the capital of Argentina but can they forget who the first PM of Malaysia was? We must never forget our roots and our legacies.

Even the few avenues for the formal study of music in Malaysia are silent in this area preferring instead to study the works of the classical masters of Europe only. I say we should also concentrate in this area and our music academics in the universities should get their students to write researched essays on Malaysian musicians of the past....of all races and at the same time not get carried away or overdo P. Ramli or Sudirman only.

Many Malaysian greats, both living and dead, have been mostly forgotten let alone remembered for their contributions simply because we in Malaysia do not have an archiving mentality. Even the video recordings done by RTM in its early years are all gone in a fire at RTM, I was told. Sadly, there were also no back ups. That is why we do not see music programmes of the early 1960’s and 1970’s recorded by RTM. I myself was desperately trying to get the video of my performances at national band contests of 1969 (Muzik Muzik Muzik) and 1977 (Pertandingan Pancaragam) and much to my dismay got no where in even places like Filem Negara.

Perhaps there are only a very few audio-visual records or written scores or compositions from musicians of yesteryears especially if they were for governmental propaganda reasons at the National Archives for us to analyze and credit. There probably are also no visuals of and other popular musical programmes of the yesteryears like Serbanika, Anekarama and Dendang Rakyat. Is Arkib Negara working on this? Probably not.

There have been many other great Malaysian musicians after this initial Merdeka group listed above. Many are still with us and still very active but are sadly mostly unrecognized for their great talent in Malaysia but are receiving better recognition elsewhere such as in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and and even in Europe and USA. I list a few of them below.

Michael Veerapen – Jazz pianist – regionally acclaimed
Lewis Pragasam – Drums and percussions
Andy Peterson - Bassist
Josie Thomas - Guitarist
Paul Ponnudurai - Guitarist
Jenny Chin - Pianist
Mac Chew - Pianist
Aubrey Suwito - Pianist
Jerry Felix - Drummer

I must also mention here the growing practice of recognizing musicians and singers these days which has manifested itself in the form of awarding of datukships to mostly singers from the Malay pop music industry. I can live with this. No problem. But why mostly singers? Currently practicing and proven musicians and composers like Mac Chew, Aubrey Suwito, Michael Veerapen, Adnan Abu Hassan, Fauzi Marzuki etc. have not even been shortlisted for any such recognition. Loga of The Alleycats received his Datukship posthumously. I do not think that people have to die (pun intended) to get such datukships. Let's appreciate them while they are still alive.

In this matter I volunteer my opinion that almost all those I have listed in this essay have not got any official recognition simply perhaps because they were from the wrong race or gender. I hope that the authorities can see this sort of discrimination of Malaysian musicians and singers by race and gender. Lewis Pragasam for example has lectured in Yale and Harvard about Asian Rhythms, indeed a great feat and definitely deserves national recognition and awards. Let us not wait till our all our sifu musicians are dead and only then start raving and ranting about their music and abilities..