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Malaysia 101: Beautiful Malaysian Songs & Talented Artists Part 2

P. Ramlee Malay Malaysia Malaysian Singer Artist Actor 1960s

If there is one multi-talented Malaysian artist who embraced the spirit of Bangsa Malaysia, it is Tan Sri P. Ramlee. His extensive contributions to the arts included over 60 films and nearly 250 songs, which resonated with the spirit of Bangsa Malaysia, a concept that embodies the unity of the nation’s diverse cultures. Image source: Slides Share

Read Part 1 here

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“Bunyi Gitar” is a classic Malay song that resonates with the rich cultural tapestry of Malaysia. Sung by the legendary P. Ramlee, it was featured in the film “3 Abdul” from 1964, which is a comedy directed by P. Ramlee himself. The song captures the essence of the era with its melodious tune and has remained a beloved piece, evoking nostalgia and admiration for P. Ramlee’s multifaceted talent in music and filmmaking.

Beloved P. Ramlee

P. Ramlee, born Teuku Zakaria bin Teuku Nyak Puteh on March 22, 1929, in Penang, Malaya, is a celebrated figure in the annals of Malay entertainment history. His multifaceted talent as an actor, filmmaker, musician, and composer left an indelible mark on the Malaysian industry.

Ramlee’s early life was characterized by a blend of cultural influences, with his father hailing from Aceh, Indonesia, and his mother from Penang, Malaysia. His education spanned from the Sekolah Melayu Kampung Jawa to the prestigious Penang Free School, where his creative inclinations began to surface.

Ramlee’s career took off in Singapore with Malay Film Productions, where he showcased his acting prowess in the late 1940s. The 1950s saw him at the pinnacle of his career, directing and starring in films that became cultural touchstones within the Malay-speaking world.

Notable works include the ‘Bujang Lapok’ series, ‘Antara Dua Darjat’, and ‘Hang Tuah’, which are still cherished to this day. His move to Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s to work for Merdeka Film Productions marked a period of decline, as his work received less acclaim from contemporary audiences in Malaysia.

Despite the challenges, P. Ramlee’s musical genius shone through, composing nearly 250 songs, including the timeless ‘Getaran Jiwa’. His contributions to film were equally prolific, with involvement in over 60 films throughout his career. His legacy extends beyond his artistic output; he is remembered as a symbol of the golden era of Malay cinema and music.

His death on May 29, 1973, was a significant loss to the cultural fabric of the region, but his influence persists. Posthumously, he has been honored with awards, and various institutions and landmarks have been named after him, ensuring that his legacy continues to inspire new generations.

Malaysian Male Singers

Malaysia has also produced many talented male singers who have significantly impacted the music industry. 

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“Mentera Semerah Padi” is a significant song in the Malaysian music scene, released as a single by the renowned artist M. Nasir in November 1993 for his fourth studio album, “Canggung Mendonan”. The song, composed by M. Nasir and with lyrics by Nurbisa, is known for its traditional ballad rhythm and has a duration of 4 minutes and 43 seconds. It holds a special place in the hearts of many for its deep cultural and nationalistic themes, reflecting the pride and identity of the Malay heritage.

M. Nasir

Dato’ Mohamad Nasir bin Mohamed, known as M. Nasir, was born on July 4, 1957, in Bukit Panjang, Singapore is a distinguished figure in the Malaysian music industry, revered as a Sifu for his multifaceted contributions as a poet, singer-songwriter, composer, producer, actor, and film director. 

M. Nasir’s artistic journey began in earnest when he was invited to write song lyrics for the band Alleycats in 1978. This opportunity led to the formation of the folk-rock act Kembara in 1981, which enjoyed significant commercial success and became a cornerstone of his musical legacy.

M. Nasir’s solo career flourished with the release of albums such as ‘S.O.L.O’ and ‘Saudagar Mimpi’, which were well-received and solidified his status as a leading artist in the region. His music, characterized by a blend of Nusantara R&B and traditional Malaysian pop, resonates with themes of cultural identity and personal introspection, earning him critical acclaim and a loyal fanbase.

In addition to compositions for himself, M.Nasir has also composed award-winning songs for others namely Alleycats, Wings, Search, Rahim Maarof, and more. For Alleycats, he is known for composing hits like “Hingga Akhir Nanti,” “Andai Aku Pergi Dulu,” and “Sekuntum Mawar Merah Sebuah Puisi.” Wings fans will recognize his work in the powerful ballads “Sejati” and “Intan Ku Kesepian,” as well as the thought-provoking “Hikayat Penuh Ranjau” and “Hutan Simpan.” Search’s sonic landscape was also shaped by his songwriting with tracks such as “Isabella,” a song that remains a staple in the rock scene. 

Beyond music, M. Nasir’s talents extend to painting, having graduated with a diploma in Western painting from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. As an actor, he has graced the screen in films like ‘Puteri Gunung Ledang’, showcasing his versatility and depth as a performer. 

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“Istana Menanti” is a poignant song by Rahim Maarof, a renowned Malaysian rock singer. The song was released as part of the album “Generasi” in 1998 and later included in the compilation “Memori Hit” in 2008. Rahim Maarof’s emotive vocals, combined with the evocative composition by Dato’ M. Nasir, have made “Istana Menanti” a memorable track in the Malaysian music scene.

Rahim Maarof

Rahim Maarof, born Abdul Rahim bin Maarof on September 24, 1955, in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaysia, is a distinguished figure in the Malaysian music scene. His early life in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, was marked by a deep passion for music, which led him to form his first band after school and later join other musical groups.

Maarof’s career took off in the early 1980s with a string of hit songs that dominated the Malaysian music industry, earning him the title ‘The Godfather of Rock’. His involvement in the underground music scene of the 70s paved the way for his mainstream success, particularly with the band Whitesteel, which he formed in 1985.

The band’s participation in the Battle of the Bands and the explosive success of the song “Cinta Kristal” from the album “Kristal” in 1988 marked the peak of his popularity. Among his most celebrated tracks are “Usang,” “Cinta,” and “Lizawati,” each song resonating with deep emotional lyrics and his signature vocal style.

Maarof’s influence extends beyond the music; he has also made his mark as an actor and producer. His career spans over four decades, during which he has worked with renowned artists like M. Nasir and has been associated with major record labels such as Life Records, BMG, and EMI Music Publishing Malaysia. His discography includes solo studio albums, group studio albums, compilations, and reissued albums, showcasing his versatility as an artist.

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The song “Milik Siapakah Gadis Ini” is a notable work by the late Dato’ Sudirman Haji Arshad, a celebrated Malaysian artist. Written by S. Amin Shahab and composed by M. Nasir, this song was released in 1986 as part of the album ‘Kul it!’. It is known for its musical documentary that showcases the scenic beauty of the Bali islands and has been performed live by Sudirman in various concerts, including the special RTM show ‘Istimewa Bersama Sudirman’ in 1987.


Dato’ Sudirman Arshad, known as Sudirman, was a Malaysian cultural icon whose talents spanned across singing, songwriting, and entertainment. Born on May 25, 1954, in Temerloh, Pahang, Sudirman was the youngest of seven siblings in a family where his mother was a pioneering state assemblywoman and his father managed a local bus company.

His passion for singing and entertainment was evident from a young age, leading him to entertain family and neighbors with his performances. Despite being offered a scholarship to study medicine, Sudirman chose to pursue law at the University of Malaya, reflecting his multifaceted interests.

His rise to fame began after winning the Bintang RTM singing competition in 1976, marking the start of a celebrated career that would see him become a beloved figure in Malaysia and beyond. Sudirman’s achievements are numerous, including his historic win as “Asia’s No. 1 Performer” at the Asian Popular Music Awards held at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1989, a testament to his international appeal and talent. His music, characterized by its Malaysian identity, resonated with audiences, earning him the title of the “People’s Singer.”

His ability to connect with the masses was unparalleled, as evidenced by the record-breaking 100,000-strong crowd that attended his open-air concert on Chow Kit Road in 1986. Sudirman, known as the ‘Singing Lawyer’, was a celebrated Malaysian artist whose music still resonates with many. Among his most beloved songs are “Balik Kampung”, a festive tune that captures the joy of returning home, and “Salam Terakhir”, a poignant ballad that tugs at the heartstrings. His song “Merisik Khabar” remains a classic, showcasing his unique vocal talent and emotional depth. 

Sudirman’s untimely death on February 22, 1992, was a profound loss to the nation. However, his influence endures through his music and the memories he left behind. Today, Sudirman’s contributions to the arts and his vibrant spirit are remembered fondly, and he continues to live on in the hearts of many.

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The song “Hijau,” performed by Zainal Abidin, is a significant piece in the Malaysian music industry, released as part of his self-titled solo album in 1991. It marked a departure from the prevalent rock music of the time, introducing a world music sound that incorporated tribal beats, traditional instruments, and the Kelantanese dialect. The song’s environmental message and unique sound made it stand out, reflecting Zainal’s desire to create a Malaysian album that transcended racial barriers and promoted awareness about nature and environmental issues.

Zainal Abidin

Zainal Abidin, a prominent figure in the Malaysian music scene, has left an indelible mark with his contributions to the arts. Born on November 4, 1959, in Johor Baru, his journey was one of resilience and determination.

Despite facing early hardships, including being given away at three days old due to his parents’ poverty and enduring subsequent abuse after the death of his grandparents, Zainal’s passion for music was a constant beacon. His musical inclinations were inherited from his grandparents, who were deeply rooted in traditional music genres like keronchong and ghazal.

Zainal’s career took off as the lead singer of the band Headwind before he embarked on a successful solo journey. His groundbreaking single ‘Hijau’ from his self-titled album became a national sensation, transcending cultural barriers and earning a place as an unofficial anthem of Malaysia. The song’s message of environmental consciousness and unity resonated deeply with the Malaysian public, showcasing Zainal’s ability to blend social messages with compelling music.

His achievements are numerous, including a memorable performance at the World Expo in Osaka, Japan, in 1970, and winning the 1st Prize in the Merdeka Independence Art. Zainal’s influence extended beyond music; he was also known for his positive outlook on life and his ability to inspire others through his artistry.

To be continued in Part 3

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