Malaysian Music

Music of Malaysia is the generic term for music that has been created in various genres in Malaysia. A great variety of genres in Malaysian music reflects the specific cultural groups within multiethnic Malaysian society: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Dayak, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau, Orang Asli, Melanau, Kristang and others.

In general, music of Malaysia may be categorised as classical, folk, syncretic (or acculturated music), popular and contemporary art music. Classical and folk music emerged during the pre-colonial period and exists in the form of vocal, dance and theatrical music such as Nobat, Mak Yong, Mak Inang, Dikir barat, Ulek mayang and Menora. The syncretic music developed during the post-Portuguese period (16th century) and contains elements from both local music and foreign elements of Arabian, Persian, Indian, Chinese and Western musical and theatrical sources. Among genres of this music are Zapin, Ghazal, Dondang Sayang, Mata-kantiga, Joget, Jikey, Boria and Bangsawan.[1]

Both Malaysian popular music and contemporary art music are essentially Western-based music combined with some local elements. In 1950s, the musician P. Ramlee helped in creating a Malaysian music that combined folks songs with Western dance rhythms and western Asian music. – Wikipedia

The Diverse History of Malaysian Bamboo Musical Instruments

While most people are familiar with Malaysia's rainforest, they don't know much about their musical history. Bamboo is abundant in Malaysia and it has been used to create a variety of musical instruments throughout its history. Because bamboo grows so quickly and easily, it was an ideal material for Malaysian culture to use when creating musical instruments. Furthermore, bamboo is versatile, allowing different types of instruments to be made by changing its size or shaping. Today there are several popular types of traditional Malaysian bamboo instruments being played regularly at festivals as well as cultural shows around Malaysia. In fact, bamboo music can be heard during celebrations like Thaipusam (also known as Pillaiyar festival), which is a Hindu festival that falls on the full moon in January or February every year.

Traditional Music of Malaysia


With fourteen kinds of drums, flutes, oboes, gongs, and trumpets, classical music of Malaysia music is loud, foot-tapping, and vibrant. Usually played with skits, dramas, royal events, festivals, and other ceremonies, Malay music tells a story of joy, life, and dynamic movement. The Gendang drum is the essential element here, followed by different types of flutes and stringed instruments. The Dikir Barat performances are a sight to behold – groups of singers and musicians compete in an electrifying performance, with a celebration in the air. Malay Ghazals (slow, lulling numbers) are prevalent in Kuala Lumpur, while other styles of folk music like Ronggeng and Dondang Sayang are favoured in Malacca.


There are two major Indian music styles prevalent in Malaysia – the south Indian Carnatic style and the north Indian Hindustani style. Carnatic music is popular throughout the country and is performed at temples, weddings, and religious festivals. Different Ragas (tunes) and Talas (beats) are used for different occasions, and often accompany Bharatanatyam performances. Punjabi Bhangra music is also a popular part of the music of Malaysia, here, especially during the festive and wedding seasons.


The Chinese orchestra in Malaysia, usually with 15-50 members, comprises of a particular string, wind, and percussion instruments that accompany Lion Dance performances. There are many sponsored orchestras and operas in Kuala Lumpur, produced by schools and Buddhist societies. Singers like Poon Sow Keng, Wong Shiau Chuen, Daniel Lee, Z Chen, and Lee Yee are famous.

Indigenous Tribal

The indigenous tribes, including the Dayaks, Semang, Senoi, Orang Melayu Asli, Kayan, and Kenyan, use a variety of flutes, harps, tubes, chordophones, xylophones, and violins in rituals, marriages, celebrations, and singing ceremonies. Songs about the harvest, war, shamanism, and other events are typical genres of the music in Malaysia. The dynamic vocal range is evident in the rich, diverse selection of songs and beats choices.

Western Classical

The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, the resident orchestra of the Petronas Philharmonic Hall, is the most popular western classical orchestra of the country. The versatile group also performs jazz, folk, and rock numbers. The group consists of over 20 members and is world-famous for their soulful renditions of timeless classics.

Contemporary music


Pop saw a resurgence after many artists combined traditional musical styles with western influences. The story of Malay pop starts with Persian merchants in India singing Malaysian songs, which were then brought to Malaysia in the early 1930s. The popularity of The Beatles in the 60s influenced the birth of the Pop Yeh-Yeh genre, a mix of British pop and Malay numbers. The early 2000s saw a new resurgence in pop, and today idols like Siti Nurhaliza are trending personalities of the music in Malaysia.

Metal & Rock

While metal-faced censorship in Malaysia in the latter half of the last century, rock ballads and blues are ever-growing; Indonesian influences are apparent in the work of artists like Awie, Kyoto Protocol, Paperplane Pursuit, SOAP, and Hujan. Alternative rock and experimental sounds have a greatly receptive audience here.


Jazz became famous in Malaysia after the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra started performing jazz numbers regularly. Today the jazz festivals see regular appearances by internationally acclaimed bands like WVC, pianists and even scat men.

Hip Hop

Hip hop is an up-and-coming genre in Malaysia, with groups like KRU, FlowFam XXII, SonaOne, Rogue Squadron, and Kartel being major crowd-pullers. Their mixtapes and ETs are popular among the young, hip crowd, and are club favourites. One can hope to catch regular performances at many clubs in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia presents an eclectic range of music to suit a variety of tastes. Check out the diverse Malaysian music and prepare for a breathtakingly refreshing musical experience in this truly Asian country!

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