(This is a rehash of an article I posted in 2007)
P. Ramlee was a great artiste of his time and worthy of a Malaysian Oscar but unfortunately we did not have any similar awards at that time i.e. between 1950's and the 1960's. The thinking then was that such things were exclusively reserved for Hollywood. However, I think we have come to a saturation point and enough tribute has been paid to him in the form of praises and talk on TV, Radio and press. The time has also come for us to stop singing more praises that come just short of deifying P. Ramlee. We have posthumously conferred a Tan Sri honorific title on him. It is sad to note that at the time of his untimely demise he was not popular and was sorely lacking in funds too.
The guitar powered rock bands of the time which he had named called kugiran which is short for kumpulan gitar rancak (hot guitar groups) were one main cause for his falling from grace at the charts.
In spite of the fact that music is an academic subject in at least seven universities in Malaysia for the past few years with some already having post graduate programs, the life and times or the works of P. Ramlee and other similar luminaries of the past has yet to be chronicled. Some material can be found on the net but it is the work of fans and fan clubs.The time has come for some serious writings by academics from the field of social sciences that can also fit the hall marks of scholarly research.
To my knowledge no one has bothered to analyze his music and trace its development and style from the 1950’s to the 1960’s. What was the medium of musical style that he used? Or was he just imitating the Latin based combos of the West of his time like Prez Pradao and Xavier Cugat by cleverly giving it a Malaysian twist. Many of his late 50’s and early 60’s songs and arrangements are clear indicators of aping the West, a practice that is still quite prevalent in Malay popular music today. How much of his music was original material in its melodic and harmonic schemes? Was he any different from the current generation of musicians and tune-writers? If so how? P. Ramlee was undeniably a very good tune writer of his time. The popularity of his songs to date is testimony of this. Did he also arrange all the music all by himself? His earlier works seem to indicate that they have been “treated” and arranged by musically literate night club musicians of the time – probably the Solianos type of Filipinos or the Goan musicians in Singapore. Is this true? There are people still alive today who can answer such questions.
Ramlee was a product of his times who outshone his many other contemporaries and luminaries in the Malay world of film production. His works are with us today just because of the existence of his Malay films – our thanks to the Shaw Brothers and Cathay Keris Production houses. Were there other equally great musicians in his time? Who were they? Was Kassim Masdor one of them? Why is he not as famous? Is it because he was not an actor? These and many questions need to be answered too as we keep showering more praises on P. Ramlee.
May His Soul Rest In Peace.