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From mat rock to dikir barat to hip hop

Here's what you need to know about the seven popular genres of music you'll encounter over at Pesta Raya in 2016.


Published: 16 Jun 2016

Time taken : <5mins

Your quick download of popular Malay music genres, from the 1960s to 2000s

What can you look forward to at Pesta Raya – Malay Festival of Arts in 2016? This year not only marks the return of music icons but also pays tribute to the different music movements that have rocked the Malay music scene over the decades. If you’re unfamiliar with Malay music, here’s what you need to know about the seven popular genres you will encounter over the four-day festival.

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Era: ’60s

What is it?: The music movement/phenomenon sometimes described as the Malay version of the jitterbug, pop yeh yeh sounds unmistakably Malay despite its obvious western influences—the distinctly “twangy” guitar sounds were borrowed from British pop and American surf rock. Songs were sung in the traditional asli (using pantun, or four-line poetic verses, as lyrics).

Artists to know: M Osman, Salim I , Maria Bachok, M Ishak, M Wari, Jeffrydin, A Ramlie

Fun fact: The term pop yeh yeh was coined by a Malaysian journalist, who took it from the popular Beatles hit, She Loves You (yeah yeah yeah).

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Era: ’70s. In the days of singing competitions such as Talentime, AduBakat and Bintang Radio

What is it?: The commercialisation of Malay songs at the peak of Singapore’s music recording industry. Following the meteoric success of Singapore’s Malay film industry, which sparked the Malay music scene, the demand for Malay cover versions of international pop songs was extremely high. Many artists released covers as a way to promote their own songs.

Artists to know: J Mizan, Rahimah Rahim, Sudirman Arshad (also known as Elvis Presley of Malaysia), Ismail Haron, Black Dog Bone (the only Singapore band known to have performed a sold-out show at Kuala Lumpur’s Stadium Negara in 1977)

Fun facts: Some of Sudirman’s and Black Dog Bone’s songs were written by S. Atan, who has written more than 1,000 popular songs in his four-decade long career! S. Atan also wrote songs for Siti Nurhaliza, Anita Sarawak, and many other artists across different genres.

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What is it?: The slew of Malay songs created for children in Singapore in the ’80s.

Songs to know: Sakit Gigi, Dua Angkasawan, and Lemon Tonik.

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Era: ’80s

What is it?: The heavy metal and rock explosion that swept across Singapore and Malaysia and birthed an entire subculture of young Malay men sporting frothy, voluminous manes, leather outfits and tight pants.

Artists to know:

Sweet Charity, Search, Wings, Kembara, Lefthanded, Lovehunters, Bumiputra Rockers, Rusty Blade.

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Era: ’90s

What is it?: A popular music format that was an amalgamation of western pop and traditional Malay music. The ’90s saw a demand for this form, owing to the popularity of Malaysian crooners such as Siti Nurhaliza.

Artists to know:

Siti Nurhaliza, Noraniza Idris, M Nasir.

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Era: ’90s. The first wave.

What is it?: The first wave of Malay hip hop and R&B that began in Malaysia and made its way to Singapore.

Artists to know:

KRU, Too Phat, Ning Baizura, Construction Sight

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Era: late ’90s

What is it?: An improvisational call-and-respond choral performance where the creative leader (tukang karut) tackles social and political issues with his chorus (awok-awok) of 10 or more members, who clap and perform rhythmic body movements. The leader also sings original or improvised pantun. In a competitive setting, the performances become a battle of wits between the leaders.

Artists to know: Dendang Mutiara, Andika Kencana

Fun facts: Dikir barat groups are traditionally performed by males, although in recent times, there has been a rise in the number of female performers. In a competition, teams are judged on the intricacy of language used, song lyrics, vocal quality, poetic quality, rhythm, creativity of the hand movements, costumes, showmanship, and overall presentation.

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Era: 2000s. The second wave.

What is it?: The second wave of Malay hip hop. The Malay music scene in Singapore in the 2000s saw a rise in the number of hip hop and rap artists and collectives, such as The.XS Collective.

Artists to know: The.XS Collective, Komrad, Altimet, SleeQ.

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Era: 2000s. The second wave; in the revival of televised singing competitions and the advent of YouTube.

What is it?: With the return of reality television singing competitions in the early 2000s and the emergence of YouTube sensations, the music scene saw the rise of singer-songwriters who used these platforms to gain exposure and promote their songs.

Artists to know: Sufi Rashid, Yuna, Taufik Batisah, Hady Mirza.

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