P. Ramlee to Orang Ulu folk: 'The Malaysian Real Book' compiles music for the masses


'The Malaysian Real Book' music project, which overcame numerous pandemic disruptions, represents a community initiative to compile, document, transcribe and present an extensive repertoire of Malaysian jazz and popular music. Photo: Handout

The Malaysian Real Book project, which was launched recently as a physical book and digital release, showcases the diverse composers and pioneers in the early Malaysian music scene while also spotlighting new generation composers and songwriters.

This music book "database", which overcame numerous pandemic disruptions, represents a community initiative to compile, document, transcribe and present an extensive repertoire of Malaysian jazz and popular music. It offers an anthology of playable sheet music that will benefit music enthusiasts, students and professionals.

The Malaysian Real Book, researched and published by a committee from the Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival (MJPF), gathers 240 local songs, spanning pre-Merdeka works, jazz compositions, big band numbers, dondang sayang, pop yeh yeh, contemporary pop and rock, folk music, ethnic songs, Chinese pop music and more.

A songbook for Malaysians

“With the breakdown of the categories, the book represents the many facets of Malaysian music: popularity, cultural values, artistic values and heritage,” says composer/pianist Tay Cher Siang, one of MJPF’s co-founders.

The Malaysian Real Book includes a treasure trove of local music favourites such as Tan Sri P. Ramlee’s Jeritan Batinku, Alfonso Soliano's Cha Cha Gembira, Tan Sri Ahmad Merican's Tanah Pusaka, Sudirman's Tanggal 31 Ogos, Search's rock ballad classic Isabella, children's folk songs (Geylang Si Paku Geylang and Ikan Kekek), Yuna's Terukir Di Bintang and Sarawak's Kenyah community's traditional folk tune Liling, which gained nationwide prominence during the early days of the pandemic when sape player/singer Alena Murang featured it in a heartwarming Hari Gawai video in May 2020.

“A lot of thought has been put into the selections, and we consulted many parties in making the selection,” he adds.

The Malaysian Real Book, which also saw a concert series to coincide with its launch last weekend at KLPac, is a versatile and and valuable educational tool to benefit professional musicians and music enthusiasts. This archival work, spearheaded by composers/musicians, is a useful resource to help young Malaysians learn more about the nation's musical heritage.

Preserving musical culture

“Preservation of our musical culture is definitely one of the goals we hope to achieve with this book. We also hope that this is the beginning... with more future (archival) initiatives ahead.

"It's vital to start the process of introducing Malaysian music to Malaysian musicians and students, and the public via The Malaysian Real Book. That way, our music students can start playing Malaysian music, teachers can teach Malaysian music, arrangers can work on Malaysian music. Play the music, listen to the music, create new music on top of old music, that's the way forward,” says Tay, the band leader of the WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble.

The Malaysian Real Book, supported by MyCreative Ventures’ Creative Industries Recovery Grant, was a project that took nearly two years to complete.

The initial proposal was made in January 2020 and the project team, led by veteran pianist/composer Michael Veerapen (the founder of the Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival), worked through the pandemic to realise the project. The committee also raised funds for the book in November 2020 through an online streaming concert called the Malaysian Jazz Marathon.

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