Saturday, April 17

Songs and music at your fingertips


A screenshot shows an orchestra performing ‘Bekikis Bulu Betis’.

ALMOST everything is virtual these days! With a cellphone and a good Internet connection, one can travel far and wide in the world. One can participate in seminars and workshops held miles from home, without having to spend a lot of money on plane tickets and accommodation in an expensive hotel. Without visas, one can enter any country without going through the immigration checkpoints or undergoing tests for the coronavirus. And no quarantine in a hotel. You may be isolated from the rest of humanity like a hermit, but unlike a hermit you are allowed to communicate with the outside world if you know how to handle the situation with your cellphone. A smart phone, that one.

A concert for one

I’m quite sure there are people who still keep tapes and discs in which songs and music have been recorded. Buying discs was the craze in the 1950s and 1960s. I have a few of these which I cannot listen to anymore – I don’t have a gramophone. What good are they, now that I can listen to the songs from another player in my hand? Tell me what to do with them. Auction? Who would buy.

But, by whatever means, we can still hear the old songs! The most popular Malay songs of the 1950s and 1960s can be downloaded as if from the outer space. Who waits for the radio jockeys to play the songs, around midnight, when you can listen to them any time you like, anywhere you fancy? You are being entertained by good musicians who play for an exclusive audience of one: yourself.

This reminds me of my trip in March 1971 to Juarez, a northern Mexican city bordering the state of Texas, USA. A violinist, a guitarist, and a singer were serenading around my dining table in a restaurant. In my entire life, I had never been so well treated before. I began to think that I was such an important guest of the United States of America that the officials had arranged a concert especially for me! How mistaken I was. The same musicians did a similar routine for everybody else in that restaurant that evening, angling for tips. Apparently, every foreigner in that city was so well entertained with what the Mexicans do best: music.

That was live music, long ago. Today we’ve gone online. Two persons are all that is needed to start a concert: one punches the keyboard and the other does the singing. It is just as entertaining as a performance of a five-piece band in a hall. Click to another channel, and you will hear a father, daughter, and a son sing ‘Dingin’. Remember, the song was made popular by Hetty Koes Endang? I interviewed her while she was in Kuching two years ago; that was a treat!

One of my favourite numbers is ‘Engkau Pergi Tanpa Relaku’. Originally sung by Ahmad Jais, the song is so popular again that it is being sung on several different social media channels. Any half-baked singer who thinks that his voice sounds similar to that of Ahmad Jais’s will try out that song, with varying success. But the original singer never dies.

Another favourite of mine is P Ramlee’s ‘Jeritan Batinku’(Shout of My Heart). Oh, the sound of the saxophone! You hardly hear this kind of sound any more in modern pop songs. It brings a lot of happy memories to those musicians who love wind instruments. I am thinking of Radin, Obet, Lancelot Adam, Stephen Adam, to name a few players of the sax; there are several more especially from the Sarawak Constabulary Band.

And then, not to be outdone, Andrewson Ngalai’s song ‘Bekikis Bulu Betis’ (giving up all property for love) has been performed by an orchestra, no less. Some West Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur call this ‘Lagu Sarawak’. And don’t forget our young sape/player singer Elena Murang. Both talented Sarawakians have put their state on the music map of the world. Of the duo, we Sarawakians are proud indeed.


There are a number of Lagu Sarawak which should be aired. While we encourage the young people to write modern songs and music and give them space and time to popularise their works, I hope the various TV stations and channels will also feature songs of the 1950s and 1960s; there are so many of them. One such hit then was ‘Bujang Malaya’ (Hero of Malaya – referring to Iban Trackers). It was composed by Brangka Bayang and sung by Pauline Linang. Another popular song of the time was ‘Samaia Balang’ (Broken Promise) composed by Sumping Bayang/Joshua Swayne.

Before all these songs (old or contemporary) are aired by the social media channels, I hope that the question of copyright will be settled first of all. Give our musicians what they deserve – a fair royalty!

At the time of writing I am listening to the song ‘Jangan Ditanya Kemana Aku Pergi’ (Ask Not Where I am Going). This is the best alternative means of enjoying songs and music during this lockdown. Until the coronavirus is totally wiped out – that’s when we can go to concerts or musical recitals or even night clubs again.

And then we’ll sing – all together now! – ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’.

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