Saturday, July 17, 2010


Lewis Pragasam - Our Percussion Maestro

Universally speaking, there are many great musicians who had left indelible marks in their respective musical cultures and/or civilizations. They have not been suitably acknowledged due to many factors such as ethnicity or popularity amongst those who walk the corridors of power. Lesser musicians who played music at the same time who did not shine or exhibit similar musical prowess have often been celebrated at the expense of the true masters of their times. Such lesser musicians contributed very little but yet managed to get accolades and raves from the ruling elites This is also true in Malaysia.

The movie “Amadeus” shoes how Mozart died a pauper although his great and forward-looking music was raved about only long after his early death. In Malaysia our own example is Tan Sri P. Ramli and Saloma who suffered the same fate and were left quite penniless in their last days.
Local TV programs are too commercially motivated and resultantly do very little justice to non-pop music and the other fine arts too. In this scheme of things Malaysian Indian and Chinese musics too are ignored.

The TV stations could also produce programs dedicated to great Malaysian musicians of the past and giving them due recognition. It is also part of our history worth knowing. The lack of writings by our academics and historians of our past Malaysian musicians further add to this general apathy. Our children can forget about the Pythagoras Theorem or Archimedes’s Principle or what is the capital of Argentina but can they forget our own roots and musical legacies and heritage?

Many Malaysian greats, both living and dead, have been mostly forgotten let alone remembered for their music contributions simply because Malaysia does not seem to 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. That is why we do not get to see music programmes of the 1960’s and 1970’s recorded by RTM like how we get to watch old Malay movies repeatedly, thanks to Shaw Brothers and Cathay Keris Films.

Perhaps there exist very limited audio-visual records of past musicians for us to analyze or credit. If only the national archiving agency could formally document them. Our music academics in the universities can also get students to do research on Malaysian musicians of the past....of all races.

There were many early luminary musicians in Malaysia who should all be remembered by us. I call them the Merdeka musicians – Alfonso Soliano, Jimmy Boyle, Tony Fonseka, Tony Soliano, Joe Rozells, Stanley D’Almeida, Larry Roriguez, Victor Felix, Benedict Soosay and so on.

There have been many other great Malaysian musicians after the initial Merdeka group passed on. Many are still with us and still very active but remain, sadly, unrecognized locally for their awesome talent but are receiving better recognition elsewhere - in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and even in Europe and USA. I list a few of them below.
Michael Veerapen – Jazz pianist
Dennis Lee – Classical pianist
Lewis Pragasam – Drums and percussions
Josie Thomas - Guitarist
Paul Ponnudurai - GuitaristJenny Chin - Pianist
Mac Chew - Pianist
Aubrey Suwito - Pianist
Jerry Felix - Drummer
Alex Thomas - Pub Entertainer

Lewis Pragasam for example has lectured at Yale and Harvard on Asian rhythms, indeed a great feat. I am not sure whether any of the local universities has even invited him for motivational talks.

Both the Merdeka musicians and those listed above have not got any official recognition ……….yet. Let us not wait till our all our sifu musicians are dead and only then start raving and ranting about their music and abilities….as was the case with Mozart in the West and P. Ramlee in Malaysia. They need not die (pun intended) to be recognized.

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