Echoes From The Past

PARDON the harsh metaphor, but holding a copy of Yusnor Ef‘s Aku Dia Dan Lagu: Lagu-Lagu Nostalgia Lirik Yusnor Ef (ADDL) boxset is like giving the finger to those who do not appreciate and respect Malaysian music.

I am one of many music lovers who’ve frequently suggested the release of boxset anthologies charting our country’s popular music since independence. But the idea is invariably shot down by critics who claim that such products would not be commercially viable.

And that is why holding a copy of ADLL feels so good, because it proves that if your heart is in something, nothing is impossible.

Which isn’t to say that the critics are wrong on that particular score. The 128-song, five-disc set, that comes together with a 140-page booklet that includes lyrics and stories behind each song, won’t exactly be flying off the shelves. But apart from this writer, there are perhaps hundreds or maybe thousands who would love to get their hands on it.

Why? Well, first of all, we are talking about our musical culture and heritage. Throughout the years, we’ve heard important figures in our governing institutions campaigning for and stressing the importance of preserving our cultural heritage. Unfortunately, what often gets left out in their campaigns is the idea that our heritage includes popular culture and popular music. And as a consequence of that and other factors, Malaysian popular music
has always been seen as a passing fad, purely entertainment that’s here today and gone tomorrow. A commodity and not an asset.

As far as I’m aware, there is no serious effort to properly document, preserve and archive the ongoing output of Malaysia’s popular music industry. Apart from RTM’s Rakam Khanah library, we have no other archive for Malaysian popular music.

Sure – we heard about the proposal to establish a Malaysian Music Museum, but that announcement was made two years ago and nothing has been heard about it since.

And as for record labels – I’d wager that if someone were to call them up with a request for a copy of Ben Nathan‘s Stanza Sepi Sekeping Hati, they’d go: “Ben who?”

But you can’t blame them for their ignorance, because, these days, a job at a record label entails dealing with numbers and the bottom line, and has very little to do with having a ear for music.

Anyway, because of the lack of musical appreciation among both the public and figures in the local industry, much of our heritage has disappeared along with the times.

To put it simply and bluntly, we have no recorded history when it comes to Malaysian popular music. And this, in my humble opinion, is possibly the reason for all the problems plaguing Malaysian music.

And here’s an example of the problem – the still-thriving pirated music industry, which still attracts much of the public due to lower prices. But the mindset that allows one to settle for something cheap stems from a lack of true appreciation of music. If the public would regard music as art, or even part of history – which, in fact, it is – then they’d be less reluctant to part with their money for it. And speaking of history, how could there be a musical future if there’s no history?

That is where `commercially non-viable’ releases like ADDL come in.

Malaysian music needs its history to be documented and to be accessible. I don’t think it’s too much to ask the people and organisations in power to put aside their ringgit and sen concerns, and give back to the people – people who have allowed them to put food on their tables throughout the years.

Enough of my rambling – let’s shift the focus to what really matters here – ADDL.

What we have here is a collection of selected songs and lyrics written by Yusnor throughout his 39-year career, right from the first lyrics he ever wrote, for the song Kasih Sepanjang Masa, right to his latest creation. And with 128 songs featured, choosing highlights is a bit difficult.

There’s Gelisah (written by Kassim Masdor and sung by Datuk Ahmad Jais, and another version by Sanisah Huri); Aidilfitri (written by the late Zubir Said and sung by Sanisah Huri); Gugurnya Sebutir Bintang (written and sung by the late Datuk Ahmad Daud as a tribute to the late Tan Sri P Ramlee a day after his passing); Zunika (written by Kassim Masdor and sung by A Romzi); Lanang Tunang Tak Jadi (written by Kassim Masdor and sung by the late Tan Sri P Ramlee), among many, many others.

As for my personal favourites, I’ll point to Posnita (by Rahimah Rahim, a reinterpretation of The Beatles’ Mr Postman); Kisah Badigol Sood (by A Ramlie); Si Bujang Tua (by Ahmad Daud); and Penyamun Tarbus (by M Ismail). The songs have more or less a satirical tone, but one with plenty of heavy punches.

Musically, the bulk of the songs capture the sound of Malaysian music in `60s (minus the `pop yeh yeh’), 70s (minus the funk/disco) and the 80s (minus the rock).

Melody-wise, the collection is as Malaysian as it can get, with the arrangement particularly fluid and continuous.

Delivery-wise, since the songs are rendered by names that are already legendary, what else could be said? Suffice to say, if the songs don’t move you, then you may not have a soul.

The other thing that makes this collection essential is the booklet that comes with it. There’s a short but information-packed biography on Yusnor; a section that highlights four of the most influential songwriters in the history of Malaysian popular music – the late Tan Sri P Ramlee, the late Zubir Said, Yusof B, and Kassim Masdor; rare pictures of Yusnor and the people he’s worked with; and my personal favourite, the story behind the songs that are featured here. Brilliant.

After all is said and done though, it has to be repeated that ADDL is not commercially viable. But that is something that can and should be overlooked, when one takes into consideration the pleasure derived from it by history junkies like me, not to mention those who treasure Malaysian popular music.

* originally published in The Weekend Mail, March 8, 2008