Malay Music in Malaysia - a Brief Study of the Changes of the 20th Century

Topics: Musical instrument, Culture, Jazz Pages: 8 (2299 words) Published: October 27, 2012
Malay Music in Malaysia:
A Brief Study of the Changes in the 20th Century
Malays – Tradition, Conflict and Change

Done By:
Melanie Ng
Rachel Chew

Word Count: 2094 words

The 20th century saw Malaysia undergoing numerous political, social and economical changes, all of which were reflected in the cultural changes that also took place during this time. In particular, Malay music in Malaysia, due to a myriad of factors and influences, experienced significant transformation to become Malay music, as we know it today. As such, this paper seeks to explore the changes observed in Malay music in the context of Malaysia over the 20th century, and provide an analysis of the factors which have contributed to these changes. In our study of the subject, two broad questions provide the framework for research: what are the changes that have been observed; and what are the factors, both local and external, that have contributed to the changes?

Method of Gathering Information
Research was largely based on articles, journals and books that provided a description of the observed trends in Malay music, and the socio-political situation of the given context.

Description of Subject and Findings
Based on our research, several major changes were observed, namely the blending of cultures in Malay music, the Westernisation of traditional Malay music, and the emergence of modern Malay pop music. Upon analysis of our research findings, we observed one overarching general trend in the changes to Malay music in Malaysia, being the growth in diversity of Malay music. Diversity is observed in terms of variety of genre, the messages transmitted through the music and the instruments utilized in the production of the music.

Blending of Cultures Within Genres of Malay Music
It is apparent that present day forms of Malay music contain traces of elements belonging to other cultures and groups, a clear difference from the traditional Malay music of the past. This is a result of the infusion of a hybrid of foreign cultures into Malay music that has taken place in the late 20th century. Many local artistes have tried their hand at blending elements from different cultures, styles and genres of music to produce interesting and contemporary styles of music they can call their own. Some try to blend Eastern and Western music, like Zainal Abidin, M. Nasir and Sheqal, while others, like DJ Dave, Hail Amir and Uji Rashid create Hindustani-influenced music. Malaysian composer Valerie Ross, in particular, was able to integrate western and eastern musical elements into a blend that she named cross-cultural fusion. Such integration of cultures adds a new dimension, further increasing the variety of styles and genres of Malay music.

Westernisation of Malay Traditional Music
In the past, Malay traditional music centered around the gamelan (a stringed instrument from Indonesia), and other traditional instruments such as gongs, xylophones and cylindrical drums (known as Rebana Ubi, or giant drums). Gamelan music was, and still is a form of traditional music widely performed in Malaysia during ceremonies.

Traditional music is usually associated with traditional theatre forms such as Mak Yong, Wayang Kulit, and other entertainment activities. This type of music is performed mainly by percussion-dominated ensembles, which include combinations of four types of instruments, namely the aerophone (wind instruments), membranophone (drum-sounds produced by membrane-covered musical instruments), idiophone (percussion instruments of fixed immovable surface), and the chordophone (string instruments). Traditional music reached its peak during the 1410s to 1510s when it was a fundamental part of the entertainment of both court and folk life. Thereafter, the various royal courts in Malaysia retained their own dance and music troupes, while the common people, too, created their own forms of folk music.

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