Syair Melayu

June 26, 2009

This is not the usual Wardah book review. In fact it is not even a book I am reviewing, but Art Fazil’s new album, Syair Melayu.

I first saw Art Fazil at the DBS Auditorium way back in the late 1980s. It was a simple gig: Ramli Sarip, some percussionists, a guy with an ocarina, and tenderfoot Art Fazil. I distinctly remember them playing the blues standard, ‘Sweet Home Chicago’. Of all the performers on stage, Art looked the least at ease with himself – perhaps because it was an improvisational encore ‘jam’.

Fast-forward twenty years to the present: Art releases his second album with Life Records. Art is now a mature musician, comfortable in his own skin, literally.

The album features 10 tracks of Malay folk songs that would be familiar to Malays and Peranakans who grew up in Singapore or Malaysia. Apart from the music, which is beautifully produced by the way, the album’s liner notes includes a short essay by Dr Hadijah Rahmat, Singapore’s expert on rural Malay social history. Lyrics (in Jawi!) and short synopses of the songs are also provided. Overall, this album is a real gem in a neat package.

Listening to the CD brought me back to the days of primary-school classroom singing, catching fish in Changi creek and experiencing the hubbub of Geylang Serai market. So much has changed, but thankfully, Art’s nuanced interpretation of these perennial Malay songs reminds us that culture is not something to be stashed in a time-capsule and banished to the past but is rather a living, timeless matrix of shared memories, joys and hopes.

Art’s collection brought a smile to my face and a lump in my throat. No wonder he was ill at ease singing about ‘sweet home’ Chicago. His heart was pining for Nusantara all along.

Track Listing
1. Kampong Pasir Berdengung
2. Bangau O Bangau
3. Air Pasang Pagi
4. Ikan Kekek
5. Lagu Tiga Kupang
6. Syair Hang Nadim
7. Nenek Si Bongkok Tiga
8. Geylang Si Paku Geylang
9. Lompat Si Katak Lompat
10. Injit-injit Semut
11. Rasa Sayang

(And yes, it is available at Wardah Books)

You might be interested in these:

  1. Story-and-Song Clip
  2. Story-and-Song with Art & Oni
  3. Wardah Best Reads of 2008


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