Decline Of Malaysian Music | Pt 1

Aryana Sofea
March 3, 2020
5 minutes

History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. - R. G. Collingwood

Before we get to the issue of the decline of Malaysian Music, let’s take a deep dive into the history of this art form in Malaysia.

Basically, Music of Malaysia can be categorized into 4 styles - Classical, Acculturated, Popular, and Contemporary art music.  

The most famous genre is the Malaysian music scene is, of course, pop music.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of aristocrats popularized a type of Opera that was influenced by Indian Opera. Initiated by the rich Persians, it was called Wayang Pasir(Persia). Stories from diverse groups such as Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese, Indonesian and Malay were portrayed. Musicians were mostly local Malays, Filipinos and people from the Indian Origin.

Among the earliest Malay Pop songs is ‘Scarves Periok’ by Momo Latif that was recorded in 1930.

20 years later, P. Ramlee rose to fame with popular Malay slow ballads such as Azizah (1950s) and Getaran Jiwa (1960s). Additionally,  he’s written fun catchy tunes that are still sung till this generation such as Aci-Aci Buka Pintu (1960s).

The 1960s

Western music heavily influenced the music culture and this was mainly due to colonization by the British people since the 1800s. A lot of music and fashion from the Beatles and rock and roll British Bands influenced the music era of Pop yeh-yeh of the Malay music industry at that time. Pop yeh-yeh dominated from 1965 to 1971.

Fun fact: The term “Pop yeh-yeh” is inspired by a famous Beatles song called She Loves You as the lyrics go “She loves you, yeah-yeah-yeah”.

The first local pop yeh-yeh song was by M Osman (1964) called Suzanna. Most of the local pop bands tried to imitate The Beatles’ manner, performance and musical composition. These groups are usually called “Kumpulan Gitar rancak” (Fast paced-guitar group) or it’s abbreviation “kugiran” (band) and they’re made up of four members who sing and play musical instruments simultaneously.

Popular singers of the time: M. Osman, L.Ramli, (Top, from left),  

Azizah Binti Mohamad, Salim I (Bottom, from left).

Popular bands of the time: The Cliffters, The Hooks, (Top, from left),  

Les Kafilas, Impian Bateks (Bottom, from left).

The 1970s

In the ‘70s, a major influence on pop music was no longer the Beatles but something a lot more dramatic and from the same Asian continent - Hindustan.  

At the start of the ‘80s, the demand for local musicians was very high. This leads to bands and musicians whose playgrounds were pubs and bars to begin getting contracts with recording companies. This then opened the music industry doors to non-Malay people to dominate the pop scene. Bands like the Alley Cats and Discovery lead the modernization of pop music while solo singers like Sharifah Aini and Sudirman helped the industry to reach its peak.

Famous pop bands and singers: Alley Cats, Discovery (Top, from left),

Sharifah Aini, Sudirman (Bottom, from left).

The 1980s

By mid-1980s slow rock, heavy metal, hard rock and blues made their way into the Malaysian music scene. Legendary bands from the west such as Led Zeppelin, Scorpions and Def Leppard became the influence for most local rock bands.

Famous rock bands: Search (Top), Lefthanded (Bottom)

Photo via hmetro

The 1990s

The ‘90s was the start of the peak of Malaysian music - there were artists rising from various genres and they were all very well received by the public.

By the start of the ‘90s, R&B and Pop became the centre of attention for the youth in the city. These genres were very ‘cosmopolitan’ and aimed at professionals as well as the educated folks of the country. K.R.U, a vocal boy band made up of three siblings started Malay rap and hip-hop.

In the pop scene, emerged a Malaysian music household name, Siti Nurhaliza - a small-town girl with the most melodic voice who became extremely famous locally, and internationally (she even held a London Concert Tour in 2005). She doesn’t just stick to pop though, this prolific songstress does soft pop-rock, R&B, Dance-pop and even ‘Nasyid’ (Muslim-themed pop-music).

The rock music scene saw the rise of the many rock bands, and Wings managed to take the nation by storm following suit with their predecessor, rock legends Search. Their fame reached a neighbouring country, Indonesia and they’re considered classic rock gods, till now.

R&B boy bands also started placing hits in the Malaysian music charts with boy bands such as

Innuendo (Top) and Indigo (Bottom).  

This decade also saw the start of Islamic influence in the Malaysian music scene. Pop ‘nasyid’ music is Muslim-themed pop music that consisted of vocal groups, catchy elaborate piano accompaniment and was based on religion. This music was heartily welcomed by the strong religious community and people from rural areas.

Famous nasyid groups: Raihan, NowSeeHeart, (Top, from left),

Rabbani, Brothers (Bottom, from left).

The 2000s

In the early 2000s, with technology advancing at a fast pace and more Western content was made more available to the local scene, a new form of entertainment was released to the public - reality TV shows. Inspired by the American singing reality TV show, American Idol, Malaysians came up with their own version, Malaysian Idol and Akademi Fantasia. This enabled the restoration of the public’s interest in music entertainment. The public became more involved in choosing whomever they want to become the winner via SMS voting instead of letting recording companies have full control who came up the top.

Famous Reality Show stars: Mawi, Jaclyn Victor (Top, from left)

Vincent Chong, Suki Low (Bottom, from left).

The popularity of pop-rock bands in the 2000s also proved that Malaysian music was progressing. Unforgettable pop-rock bands with high-selling albums during this era include Spider, OAG (Old Automatic Garbage), (Top, from left) Def Gab C, and Pop-duo Ajai & Nurul (Bottom, from left).

Big baggy clothes and oozing with that ‘swaggity’ flavour,  R&B Boy Bands that were the hot topics of the decade included Ruffedge, Phyne Ballerz (Top, from right) and VE, a.k.a Voice of Euphonious (Bottom).


What is the current state of Music in Malaysia? Which genre is dominating? Are we still greatly influenced by overseas cultures or have we stuck to the Malaysian method of producing music?

Over the past decades, many other sorts of entertainments such as movies, DVDs, paid satellite television, radio programs as well as lifestyle changes have played a part at the public’s interest in local musicians. More western type entertainment is preferred especially by the urban folk in the cities. The local artists are also heavily influenced by Western Pop culture and this is reflected in their composing choices, music videos and even dressing up choices.

Take example,

Nabila Razali - Pematah Hati

The music video’s concept, the outfit choices and even the song beats mirror a groovy western ‘90s vibe with the main artist wearing thick outerwear that doesn’t really make sense in the hot Malaysian climate... 🔥 🌞

SonaOne - Firefly

SonaOne is one of Malaysia’s top rappers and his songs may have a distinctly western feel as in the MV at the top.

DEFAM - #Supergirls

We even have the sassy and beautiful girl group, DEFAM made up of a rapper and two vocalists. Their songs are a fusion of Western and Asian music - their lyrics are in Bahasa Malaysia and English backed by fast-paced beats.

Nevertheless, there are still pop artists that sit on the other end of the spectrum and although elements of Western culture still peep through a little, their music still has that dramatic Malaysian-origin vibe to it.  

Take example,

Shila Amzah - Tiada Dirimu

Elizabeth Tan ft. Faizal Tahir - Setia

Ernie Zakri - Ku Bersuara

Insomniacks - Pulang

Luqman Faiz - Kepuraanmu


The Hip-hop music scene is extremely celebrated in Malaysia with new hip-hop groups and solo rappers climbing their way up to the top. The OGs of the rap-game in Malaysia include Joe Flizzow, Altimet, Caprice and Aman RA.

Joe Flizzow, Altimet, SonaOne & Alif - Sang Saka Biru

K-Clique is the underdogs the Malaysian music scene has been waiting for and their hip-hop beats and Malay raps make K-Clique one of the top hip-hop bands in Malaysia currently as they follow suit on previous famous hip-hop bands like Sleeq. Their youtube videos have garnered millions of views and are enjoyed throughout the continent.

Sleeq - Tepi Sikit

K-Clique - Mimpi

Contrarily, there is a diverse range of Malaysia’s popular music that people are listening to and this shows that Malaysian consumers are indifferent to the current “popular” culture and still have their own preferences.


Lunadira - ur cute but boring

LUNADIRA is an ‘underground’ singer song-writer who is paving her way in the local scene and becoming a favourite amongst many Malaysians with her unique, whisper-singing voice and relatable lyrics.

niqie- gimam

Bringing ultimate indie vibes from a local’s point of view is so refreshing and this duo kills it in their tracks that have Boy Pablo vibes combined with Rich Brian vocals.

Kugiran Masdo - Bunga

This band brings a twist to classic Malay tunes and Bunga sounds like a fun groovy oldie song but you’ll be hooked the moment you hear the first note and will have this on replay!

On the other hand, we also have controversial artists like Namewee who never disappoints his fans with his ingenious lyrics and annoyingly catchy songs.

Namewee - Geebai People

Phew! Now that we’ve touched base on the history of Malaysian music, we’re ready to dive into the decline of Malaysian music. Read all about it in part 2 of the article that will be released later this week!