In Malaysia, as you might have guessed, there are three main types of traditional music (plus a few other influences): Malay music, Chinese music, and Indian music.
Malay music is teeming with theatrical and dance music. Many of their songs are tied to religious purposes, ceremonies for royalty, story telling, and martial arts. Although there are a variety of instruments such as the seruling (type of flute), the rebab (type of stringed instrument), the serunai (like a double-reed oboe), Malay music is very much based on percussion instruments. And like neighboring Indonesia, the gong also plays an important part of Malay music as well.
Percussion ensembles are common. There’s a type of ensemble called kertok that is made of a group of xylophones playing fast rhythmic music. The government has actually promoted this type of music as a national style of music.
Chinese music has certainly has made its way into Malaysian music. Chinese orchestras and Chinese melodies infiltrate their music, and these orchestras regularly perform Malaysian folk songs.
Indian music has also made its impact on Malaysian music; it’s mostly tied in with religious music. In comparison to Chinese music, Indian music has not changed as much in Malaysia – it remains closer to its original forms. Punjabi music like the bhangra and the instrument called the dhol has been incorporated into Malay music.
Many times, the arts of dance and drama are so intertwined in Malaysia. One of these dance-drama forms is called mak yong. Silat is a type of music that is tied in with martial arts. Immigrants from Java who moved to Malaysia introduced a dance style called Kuda Kupang; this dance style is centered around the dancers pretending they’re sitting on fake horses and telling stories from the Islamic wars. However, there are a number of other dances spread across the country with a various influences and origins.
I came across several bands and singers in my search. There were far more listed than what was available on Spotify. The problem with some of the listings were that some of the people had their names written in Chinese characters, so it was harder for me to figure out who was who. The first person I listened to was Fish Leong. She was definitely pop but would incorporate periods of acoustic piano and/or guitar. It was pretty catchy. Eric Moo is another pop artist known for his ballads. He’s also an award-winning singer-songwriter and producer. Penny Tai also falls into this category. I was actually impressed she used quite a bit of style variety in her songs.
As far as Indian-inspired pop music goes, there is basically one group that dominates this category. Goldkartz merges bhangra with dance music and hip-hop music. I think it’s super catchy.
Malay pop music was influenced by a myriad of musical styles. Western and European rock were among the early influences along with other Asian styles. Siti Nurhaliza has a fairly typical pop sound and is pretty famous in this area.
Hip-hop certainly has its presence. Kru has a rock hip-hop sound. They’re probably the most famous hip-hop group coming out of Malaysia.
Love Me Butch is a metal band and actually kind of reminds me of Alesana or Anti-flag at times. (And they sing in English!) Iklim definitely has a 1980s metal sound to them and almost reminds me of a cross between Yngwie Malmsteen and Megadeth. Estranged is another metal band out of Malaysia. I thought they were pretty good. And they sung in English.
Bunkface has more of an alternative rock sound. Meet Uncle Hussain is another alternative rock band, although there are a couple of songs that make me think they borrowed some elements of the 1970s rock bands.
Up next: the food