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The Malayan Songbook: A Revival of Pre-Independence Music of Malaya

Malaysian Composer Ganesh Bala Revives Malaya’s Golden Age, Releases ‘The Malayan Songbook’.

Ganesh Bala release The Malayan Songbook. Music Press Asia

[L-R: Ganesh Bala, Ushera Yusof]

P.Ramlee, Ahmad Jaafar’s Music Scores are now available on The Malayan Songbook.

After five painstaking years of research, audio restoration, music transcription and arrangement, The Malayan Songbook’s very first volume (out of five) is finally out of the press.

Revisiting the golden age of pre-independence Malayan music, the collection of music scores are the result of passion by Malaysian composer, music producer and pianist – Ganesh Bala.

The book is a collection of twenty-one contemporary Malay music scores by composers such as Tan Sri P. Ramlee, Ahmad Jaafar, Ahmad Wan Yet, and Yusof B. Essays and biographies about the people behind the tunes offer a glance into an era when Malayan folk tunes were at its height.

I hope the book encapsulates the essence of well-loved, pre-Merdeka Malayan songs that can be enjoyed and shared with all through many generations to come,” Ganesh Bala said.

Bala grew up watching P.Ramlee serenading in classic Malay films such as Annakku Sazali, Bujang Lapok and Penarek Becha. These black and white films had made such a lasting impression that transcribing its scores is just one reason to keep its culture and history alive.

I love rearranging songs. But Malayan tunes are unique — as it’s a fusion of Latin rhythms, jazz harmonies, Malay or Asli melodies performed with an array of western and traditional instruments,” Bala added.

In transcribing the scores, Ganesh researched the culture, history and entertainment scene of the then Malaya, and using the latest recording software, restored the audio, some of which were missing parts and notes, or were of very poor audio quality.

In a more recent interview with BFM radio, Bala explained: “This is a very special project for me because as a Malaysian, I’m proud to have put this together so that the next generation can have access to these songs and biographies…we’ve given them a new life and now they’ll be here forever.”

Ouch-Music-Academy-launches-The-Malayan-Songbook.-Music-Press-Asia

At the launch, Ganesh Bala himself led the band with his piano and accompanied by songstress Ushera. And presented a selection of rich Malay melodies intertwining Latin rhythms and jazz harmonies.

Published by OUCH Music Academy, the project was supported during the Covid-19 season by Creative Industry Recovery Grant under Literature & Publishing, a PENJANA initiative managed by Malaysia’s MyCreative Ventures.

The event was launched on March 3 at the Vida Bukit Ceylon, Kuala Lumpur, by Y.A.M Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz, a leading patron of music and arts in Malaysia, and an accomplished pianist himself. In the foreword, he quoted: “With this songbook, Ganesh Bala has provided a powerful contribution towards this endeavor of music and the arts which will be multiplied many times over as musicians perform these classic tunes”.

The Malayan Songbook will be available in selected bookstores including Kinokuniya, Borders, MPH & Times Bookstore beginning of April.

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