Listen to a selection of tracks compiled by Chris Menist and DJ Maft Sai during a crate digging stint at a weekly Sunday fleamarket in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Menist writes in The Wire 361 Global Ear article on South East Asian pop: "The different musical genres across South East Asia don’t exist in isolation. They flow on a continuum absorbing influences, ideas, cultures and journeys on their drift eastwards towards the Pacific. Echoes can be found back across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, through Indian and Arab traders’ journeys to the East African coast, and also in the evolving musical styles across the Arab Peninsula. To pick up a record and play it will offer pointers to the various shards of musical DNA that have parked here over the centuries."
Nasyid Amir El Mizan
This is a great example of gambus, a music form strongly influenced by Arabic and Islamic culture, which you also find in Indonesia. Gambus actually refers to a local stringed instrument derived from the Yemeni qanbus lute, and it’s generally deemed that trade and seafaring spread Islam, coffee and other products and ideas from the Arab Peninsula to this part of South East Asia. Nowadays the oud is played instead of the little-used gambus, and is accompanied by violins and the accordion. It also bears a striking resemblance to taarab, the coastal music from Tanzania and Zanzibar.
H Nur Asiah Jamil
Another Arab inspired genre known as qasida that has its roots in centuries old poetic forms. Deep and spiritual, this is performed by an all female group, consisting of nothing but vocals and percussion.
Like all pop music, a lot of the Malaysian equivalent can be bit throw away, the ballads a tad too syrupy. This thoughtful piece, backed by the Cat Combo Muar, strikes the balance right for me, and wouldn’t sound out of place next to similar fare from Ethiopia.
H Nur Asiah Jamil
Another track by the vocalist, this time backed by the Al Barkah gambus "orkestra". What really draws me to this track is the cyclical bassline, and general trance like state the band and singer appear to move into over the course of the song. Mesmerising.
Mus Mulyadi is a popular vocalist throughout the region, and is associated with both the krontjong and melayu music styles. He’s recorded dozens of LPs. This is an example of melayu, an often plaintive but hugely popular local music hybrid, that contains elements of both Malaysian and Indonesian tropes, and in some instances can be heavily influenced by Indian music.
This track would be classed as a ghazal or gazal, another poetry form found throughout Asia, largely associated with expressing love and loss. The most famous exponents are in India and Pakistan, but it was popular in Malaysia also. Strings, accordion and percussion blend under the melancholy vocal, as Yusoh spins his tale. This track is actually the B side of a 45 by another popular gazal vocalist, Rosiah Chik.
Rumpun Puisirama Titra
I can’t tell you anything solid about this group except that they appear to be a local prog outfit, with the cover boasting badly drawn dragons and synthesizers! The star of the group is Zalikamari who plays a dizzying array of keyboards on the LP, including Fender Rhodes, Jupiter 4 and a Yamaha Electone.
Rofiqoh Dharto Wahab
More beautiful gambus, with a killer oud line to end our selection. The heartfelt vocal on this tune is particularly moving to my ears.