Cinta Buatan Malaysia, Langit Dan Bumi & Mentari Merah Di Ufuk Timur Revisited
Originally published in the pages of The Malay Mail in a three-parter: March 30, 2005; April 6, 2005; and April 13, 2005
SEARCH CINTA BUATAN MALAYSIA (Polygram/Universal Music)
JUST 30 seconds into ‘Isi dan Kulit’, the first song on Search’s debut album `Cinta Buatan Malaysia‘ released in 1985, it’s hard for one not to be reminded of the old days.
The days when the Malaysian music was dominated by pop, disco leftovers, the short-lived pop yeh yeh revival and most importantly, when rock music was almost non-existent.
Not that we didn’t have good rock bands before the album. We did. There were Burnmarks, D`Febians, Lefthanded, Diamond Head (who then changed its name to Ekamatra) and Rainbow (later to be known as Gersang) to name a few, but none of these bands had what it really took to lead Malaysian rock to the next level. None, except for Search.
Having the reputation as the hottest unsigned band at that time – thanks to their exceptional stage performance and musical capabilities, the band was offered a record deal by Polygram Music in 1984.
The person instrumental in getting them the deal was composer M. Nasir who was practically blown away by the band’s performances.
Impressed, the ever fickle M. Nasir shamelessly blurted out the legendary line, “When I stepped into the club I can see stars in the making.”
He wasn’t quite right though, as the band not only achieved stardom but went on to become almost an institution.
It could have been the other way round if M. Nasir had not convinced Polygram Records then not to get the band to record a pop album along the same vein as the label’s most successful band then, Alleycats.
Given the nod to proceed with a rock album, the band and M. Nasir then packed their bags and headed down to Lion Studios in Singapore to work on the historic album – the first rock album to be released by a Malaysian rockband.
Assisted by engineer, John Hubbard, the band spent the next couple of weeks in the studio, writing songs, recording and shaping up the sound that would later be identified as the Search sound. It was not an easy process though.
“It was rather difficult. The process of changing my singing lingo from English to Malay took sometime for me to adapt. But we were determined to come out with the best and we really worked hard for it,” vocalist Amy told me during our chat last year.
Musically, Cinta Buatan Malaysia was unlike anything that was produced by any Malaysian artiste before.
Man Kidal’s guitar works and Amy’s high-pitched vocals, complemented by hard yet uplifting rock music, made just about anyone tap their feet and bang their heads. Search seemed to have released the perfect album at the perfect time.
With lyrics that go Si pemuzik jalanan/ dengan seribu impian/ berpandukan naluri/ sehangat mentari walau dunia/ gelap gelita, Balada Pemuzik Jalanan was like an inspirational saying to all the mat rock out there to defy the odds and believe in their dreams. Also creeping its way into the heart of rockers from all walks of life were songs like Isi dan Kulit, Cinta Buatan Malaysia, Cinta Sepi and Kejora.
Despite going down extremely well in the grassroots level, the critics somehow had a different view of the album. Cinta Buatan Malaysia was slammed. Some even went to the extent of saying that Amy’s voice spoilt the album. Still, it didn’t stop the album from selling more than 40,000 copies, a feat that would later open many eyes to the commercial potential of Malaysian-made rock.
SEARCH LANGIT DAN BUMI (Polygram/Universal Music)
OKAY, ‘Cinta Buatan Malaysia’ was a shot in the arm that the Malaysian ‘mat rock’ badly needed then – the first rock album by a local act.
After it was released, the r ock scene developed rapidly. More bands started to come out and were offered recording deals. Not just that, Search also, in a way, popularised the Glam look – the sprayed hairs, eyeliners and all those flashy, sometimes gawdy suits and make-ups.
Any band, given such achievement, would be more than happy to sit down and bask in their own glory of moving the whole rock industry along.
And having paved such a road, any other band would be more than happy to play safe and repeat the same suc cessful formula in their second album.
But Search was not any other band.
“What we were doing was then the trend of the world, we just helped to bring it here. We just wanted to move along. We wanted to be on par with them,” Amy humbly said.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect much from our first album. It was only to introduce the band. I wanted Cinta Buatan Malaysia to set a platform for us. Only when a platform is ready can one take the next step. We didn’t want the first album to be really huge and then nothing happens next. We believe in taking one step at one.” Amy said one of the reasons the band progressed rapidly after Cinta Buatan Malaysia was they spent most of their time working together. “That’s how we used to work in the early days. We spent time in the studio, rehearsed, wrote songs with M. Nasir and worked on everything together. As a band, each of us knew what kind of sound we wanted. So when we went into the studio every thing was ready to create a Search sound,” Amy said. Apart from knowing what they wanted, the other factor that helped shape Langit dan Bumi and the band’s future sound was guitarist Hillary Ang. The band’s original guitarist, who was not around during the recording of Cinta Buatan Malaysia, was back in the fold. That was a huge bonus to the band.
“Hillary was different. Whatever song he plays, he’ll only play the first few original bars. The rest, will be played in his own flavours. He knows how to fill up all empty spaces in a song,” Amy said.
Determined and focused, the band, together with engineer Johnny Herbert, Tien and producer M. Nasir, headed down to Lion Studio in Singapore to work on the follow-up to Cinta Buatan Malaysia. When Langit dan Bumi was finally released in 1986, it was unlike anything anyone expected.
From the first 36 seconds into the first song, Musnah – creepy footstep sounds, screams of a person that sounded like he’s about to be killed followed by Hillary and Din’s dual guitar intro – Langit dan Bumi was nothing but jaw-dropping for an average Malaysian back then.
If songs on Cinta Buatan Malaysia like Balada Pemuzik Jalanan, Cinta Buatan Malaysia and Isi dan Kulit were rocking, songs like Langit dan Bumi, Musnah and
Pasti were, er, f**king rocking. Really. Langit dan Bumi also saw Amy truly silencing his detractors with his delivery be it on the slower songs like Kau Pergi, Rozana and Bisa or the hard rocking ones like Musnah and Langit dan Bumi. Hillary’s guitar wizardry was also eminent here. He hardly let the songs go dry and he exceptionally utilised all the available space in all the songs with either his guitar solos or riffs. Not that Langit dan Bumi was flawless – songs like Mencari Sebuah Nama and Pada Satu Kedudukan are certainly not the band’s best work and songs like the anti-corruption-themed Tumbuk Rusuk sounded a bit out of place – but the other seven songs were powerful enough to make up for the misses.
Detractors may dismiss the band’s success simply because they were the only one around, but if you listen to tha album again today, you’d agree that Search’s success was no fluke. Until today, we have yet to hear any rock bands come out with anything as infectious and engaging as Kau Pergi or as hard rocking as Langit dan Bumi.
SEARCH MENTARI MERAH DIUFUK TIMUR (Polygram/Universal Music)
LANGIT dan Bumi’, the second album by Search, had a tremendous impact on the local rock scene. Bands like D’Febians (the winner of Juara rock competition 1983), Burnmarks (the winner of Juara rock competition 1984) and May by then had their big break when they were featured in the Juara-Juara Rock compilation in 1987.
A year before, one of the prime movers of the local rock scene, Ali Bakar, had come out with the legendary Battle of the Bands compilation.
Those featured SYJ, Ella and the Boys and Bloodshed, who went on to become very successful rock entities.
The compilation also featured Lefthanded, who by then had released two successful albums Keadilan (1985) and Seruan (1986) and were also considered pioneers in the rock scene. Despite the sudden influx of these rock bands, the music remained undiluted. Each band had its own distinctive sound.
“The mentality among bands back then was different. Everyone was competing with each other. The artiste and repertoire (A&R) personnel in the industry played an important role then in guiding and ensuring that these bands survive. Take the Battle of the Bands compilation as an example. It was their initiative that got these bands the opportunity to be heard. From there, only the best would move on and come out with full albums,” Amy pointed out.
Search was already establishing itself as the leader of the pack. The song Rozana from Langit dan Bumi became an anthem and played a pivotal role role in Nasir Jani’s musical feature, Rozana Cinta 1987.
Search members didn’t act in the movie though (members of Lefthanded had a minor role instead), but they gave their fans a taste of what was to come in their upcoming third album in the song Gadis Ku, that was featured.
The song blended the best of Search’s hard rock. Its soulful strains made it one hell of a listen – why don’t people write anything like it anymore?
Amy’s affectionate lines such as – Tak peduli kata orang terhadap dirinya/ aku tahu dia gadisku/ Tak peduli nista yang terlempar padaku/ dia tahu dia gadisku – perfectly describe how it is like when a girl falls for a Mat Rock – no bull, just you, me and full on passion.
The song also, in a way, sent a message that if fans had thought Langit dan Bumi was Search at its best, they were dead wrong. As we mentioned earlier, Search was an evolving unit. If Langit dan Bumi nailed its direction, Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur showed Search at its best in that direction.
Not just that, the recording process of Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur also saw Search at the most productive period of its career. “While we were working on Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, we recorded a lot of songs. A few, like Kepala Angin, Setelah Hujan and Di Pintu Sepi, somehow didn’t make it to the album,” Amy recalled.
Amy said these songs and a few more they recorded in Indonesia the next year were supposed to be featured on its next album with Polygram.
However, before this fourth album was released, the band parted ways with the latter. Di Pintu Sepi and Berpaling, when eventually released, had to be pulled off the market by court order.
Back to Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, out of the dozens of songs that were recorded, only 10 made it into the final tracklisting.
The album started off with Pelesit Kota, a crunchy, hard rock ditty that served as a reminder to fans that though their slower tracks like Rozana and Kau Pergi were chart-toppers, Search was still a hard rocking band.
Less than five seconds after Pelesit Kota, listeners would be pleasantly led by the sound effects of the next track into the best rock ballad in the history of Malaysian rock `n’ roll, Fantasia Bulan Madu.
Stripped to its barest, Fantasia Bulan Madu was solely driven by Hillary’s acoustic plucks, Nasir’s thumping bass lines, minimal keyboards in the background and one of Amy’s most engaging vocal performances. The song would later become one of the band’s trademark anthems.
It also further nailed the fact that Search was the best rock band around then and definitely in a league of its own.
For the third time, the band proved its detractors and fans wrong. They might feel that Cinta Buatan Malaysia and Langit dan Bumi were the band’s best but for a band who believed that they were meant to make timeless music, the best is always yet to come.
“We want to stay relevant. Whenever we meet our fans new or old, we’ll always try to find where we fit into their lives,” Amy said. Listening to Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, you could tell that Search explored new possibilities with their music by toying around with a lot of chord progressions and tempo changes and these were most evident in songs like Gelora Cinta Ku, Pembakar Perasaan, Serigala Segalanya and Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur.
Speaking about Mentari Merah Diufuk Timur, one can’t ignore the song Mat Rock. Word by word, Amy cried out to be accepted by Mat Rocks across the board – Janganlah tuduh melulu/ Aku bukanlah kacang hantu/ kalau nak gelar/ gelarlah aku Mat Rock.
Not just that, he also threw in words about the struggle to keep on rocking regardless of what the obstacles are – Orang kata kita tak betul/ kerana cinta pada rock `n’ roll/ tapi aku tak peduli/ aku akan rock sampai tua.
Have you ever wondered about the origin of the phrase `Rock will never die?’ or rock sampai tua? Now you know.