Everyday Social Cohesion of Malaysian Popular Music in the 1970s and 1980s


This presentation envisions a conceptual fusion of interculturalism and cultural intimacy to analyze a history of Malaysian popular music as an expression of everyday social cohesion experienced among the nation-state’s ethnically diverse population.

It draws on instances of cross-cultural intimacy found in the production, performance and studio recordings of Malaysian artists and bands with attention to Streetlights, Carefree and Alleycats.

Streetlights have been referred to as a ‘Punjabi rock’ band that have released hit songs in Malay. Carefree was a multi-ethnic group specializing in disco and funk popular in the Kuala Lumpur club scene. The Alleycats are a group of non-Malaysian musicians who have appealed to a large Malaysian (sian) audience.

The cases presented here reveal how Malaysian popular music, particularly from the maturing stage of the nation in the 1970s and 1980s, provided an important means of cross-cultural cohesion among its citizens who intersect with diverse ethnicities, religions and social classes.

The article analyzes aspects of music production (style, genre, aesthetics) and musical-textual content (lyrics) of studio recordings as well as related performance contexts (live performances and concerts).

The intercultural and affective dynamics of these artists and groups highlights how Malaysian popular music offers intimate and creative expressions that enable processes of social cohesion experienced on a daily basis.


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Dr. Adil Johan is a researcher at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, National University of Malaysia (UKM). Her research analyzes aspects of popular music in mass media that intersect with issues of interculturalism, cosmopolitanism, intimacy, affect and gender, focusing on the Malay world and Southeast Asia. East. He has written a book on independence-era Malay film music (NUS Press, 2018) and is co-editor of the volume Made in Nusantara: Studies in popular music (Routledge, 2021). He plays and records as a saxophonist for Azmyl Yunor Orkes Padu and Nadir

Speaker: Dr Nur Dayana Binti Mohamed Ariffin, Senior Lecturer, Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya

Moderator: Daryl Goh is a journalist, DJ and music enthusiast with over 25 years of experience extensively covering Malaysian music, arts and culture.

Organized by Pusat Sejarah Rakyat

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