Tuesday, June 1, 2010


While browsing the internet I came across this interesting piece and with the permission of the author, I would like to share it with my former colleagues in RTM and those musical buffs of local music especially the era of “Pop Yeh Yeh”:

"Hello, nama saya Carl": help an American DJ come to Malaysia to research Pop Yeh Yeh!

Carl, a radio DJ based in Richmond, USA, intends to craft a compilation of Pop Yeh Yeh tracks. His Malaysian (and Singaporean) odyssey is designed to track down the artists and musicians who worked during the era -- to interview, interact with, and obtain permission from these oldies to use their music:

"In the new compilation, these songs will be digitally re-mastered from old 45 rpm records issued by now-defunct independent labels which have been personally collected and catalogued over the past 10 years. This compilation is to be released on the Sublime Frequencies record label."
"Personally collected and catalogued". We think that, beyond all the reasons why Carl's Malaysian Pop Yeh Yeh Research Trip is interesting, this thing is awesome because for an American DJ (so far removed from our context) to have a burning passion for "Bunyi Gitar" -- that's such an unlikely thing.
Why does he think Pop Yeh Yeh is worth it? "Though it currently lacks global accessibility, the magnetic & vibrant energy of this music guarantees its potential for wide popularity among 21st-century listeners."
While there have been a number of documentation projects into Malaysian culture circa P Ramlee et al, none (as far as we know) have yet to go in-depth into the musical aspect of those times. So this is supercool. (That a mat salleh beat us common Malaysians to it is a bit of a zinger, too.)

I am not a musical buff but this particular subject interests me very much. I felt it is up to individual interpretation of the era as some of the players are no longer around and most of those around could only remember their particular involvement. Of course we have various so called “Persatuan Artiste” (artiste associations) and “experts” and “exponents” many of whose leaders have been bestowed the Tan Sri and Dato. Unfortunately, I have not heard of any one of them going into research done at the scale DJ Carl Hamm is into. I stand corrected on this as my main source of news is the media which they make use to promote themselves to be in the limelight. Of course there is a lot of writing on P.Ramlee. Thanks to his prominent fans like Tan Sri Taib Mahmud of Sarawak and Tun Ahmad Sarji who wrote a book on him.

Singapore has been regarded as the birthplace of that genre of Malay music. Well that was in the 1960’s before it became a republic when its link with the then Malaya and later Malaysia was close. Johor being a neighbour had its fare share of contribution. When the separation of Singapore from Malaysia took place in 1965, Kuala Lumpur became the hub when most of the musical talents shifted to the federal capital. From the write up I came across, the rest of the country seem to be in the back water of Pop Yeh Yeh. This definitely needs correction as the influence of the genre was nationwide and the support for it came from throughout the country. Otherwise, the artistes and performers would not take the trouble to travel around for days on ends to meet the fans and their supporters and at the same time to supplement their livelihood.

As usual new thing became the target of objection of certain quarters emphasising social and religious “distractions”. Despite that the rage spread like wild fire. Even RTM were divided in that but it has to move on with time according to the need on the ground. The Malay Service of Radio Malaysia played a big role in moving that genre of music to the forefront. It was the only medium then that became the focal of entertainment. TV Malaysia was at its infancy, with broadcast limited to the evening hour. Its main task was to disseminate information and news in the interest of national unity. The entertainment fair was limited indeed.

I happen to join the Malay Service after the formation of Malaysia in 1963. By 1966 I was given the task of looking after the Northern Region encompassing the four states of Penang, Perak, Kedah and Perlis as its Malay Programme Organiser (MPO) based in Penang. That was the time when Pop Yeh Yeh came into the scene. The established recording company was still churning the then incumbent fare of Langgam, Masri and Asli using the “Pancaragam” (Orchestra) for accompaniment but the support was waning limited to the more matured. The youth was craving for the “new” music. Not many could make into the established recording company. So they went to make their own label or supported by the independent company.

There were a few “KUGIRAN” acronyms for “Kumpulan Gitar Rancak” (Upbeat Guitar Group) in the north. I have forgotten their names. In Perlis there was one good group by the name of “D’Sutra”, while in Penang there was the “Teruna Ria” led by Basir Ahmad who later became a staff of RTM in Penang. Their lead singer was L.Ramli and Suria Mohd Nor. In Perak the renowned late M.Shariff headed the group “Zurah”. Shariff hailed from Tapah, famous for his fender guitar display. Not to be left behind the Prison Department in Taiping have their own group “The Tornadoes” with the prolific Marzuki in the lead and Kamsiah Ali as the singer. They were restricted to Taiping area where the Prison used to have its headquarters.

Our normal programme carried the usual fare of the local pancaragam where we rounded up the best musical talent in various instruments to accompany some of the good singers in the North. At time we had the renowned jazz pianist and legendary national composer the late Jimmy Boyle and his trio to be on the air. Sometime we had Edwin Rajamoney and his “Hawaiian Rhythmn”.

Our main entertainment activity was centred on talent scouting in “Bintang Radio” where the support was tremendous. Jimmy Boyle was helpful and took serious interest in the search for talents. He would spend hours on end assisting us. The Northern Region did come out among the best in the country annually. We lost a good musical friend when he passed away suddenly in late 60s.

When the rage for the new sound was on the upbeat we decided to have a special weekly slot for it and the support was tremendous. We were never short of groups for the recordings.

Our well known versatile DJ then the late Ismail Long ran a weekly hit chart “Lagu-Lagu Popular Minggu Ini” (LPMI) which was really popular not only with the artiste and the recording companies but with the listeners. Charting the programme and the hits was a tedious process. Ismail has got to liaise with the stations in the country, at that time limited to Kuala Lumpur, Kota Bharu, Melaka, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, to tally the number of cards each song for the request programme in each station get. The one with the highest number of request cards would head the chart accordingly. The result could never be in doubt. It even tally with sales chart in the market.

When Pop Yeh Yeh came into the scene it shot into LPMI making that genre of music caught the imagination of listeners. The music was so popular TV Malaysia ran a contest appropriately titled “Juara Kugiran” that became the rage of time. Pop Yeh Yeh came to stay.

Hopefully DJ Carl will be successful in his endeavour to relive the memory and time of the music of that era.