Penang Story Lecture: Recollections and Insights into the History of Penang Music

Penang Story Lecture on 9 May 2015

DATE : 9TH May 2015
Venue: Areca Books, Ground Floor., the Star Pitt St. 15 Lebuh Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town,
Penang.

The Multifaceted Maestro
RECOLLECTING A LEGENDARY JOURNEY THAT SPANNED WAR, INDEPENDENCE AND BECOMING ‘ MALAYSIA’S GRAND OLD MAN OF BROADCASTING’
Tan Sri Ahmad Merican was the man of the moment and his insight, our priceless history lesson! This Penang born musician, composer, programmer, broadcaster and media strategist has seen and done it all, paving the way for many aspiring talents around the country. His priceless contributions were chronicled and presented as a part of the series of events accompanying the launch of the book “Just for the Love of it: Penang’s Popular Music of the 1930’s ─1960’s” to celebrate Penang’s wonderfully rich musical heritage.
The evening began with warm welcoming words from Khoo Salma, the President of Penang Heritage Trust and the MC of the night James Lochhead co-author of the book. The moderator of the event was none other than Paul Augustin, founder and festival director of the Penang Island Jazz Festival as well as co-author of Just for The Love of It. When speaking of the ninety one year old living legend, Paul said the Tan Sri who prefers to be called Pak Mat was hard to keep up with.
As Pak Mat reminisced about old Penang and its beautiful charms, his eyes shone with love for his hometown. He said during the Japanese Occupation he and his friends were not allowed to air English songs and resorted to translating them to Malay to broadcast them, which they got away with. Pak Mat being one of the first two radio broadcasters to be sent overseas to study broadcasting, was quick to emphasize how music is universal. He further added that the British as well as the Japanese and Germans he had worked with in the Postal Department were always kind to him while he continued to revamp the Penang Radio Station.
When asked about his move to collaborate with the then “rival” band Joe Rozells and Hawaiian Palm Beach Boys, Pak Mat was quoted as saying “to progress one cannot confine themselves to what one knows, you can only improve if you start collaborating with others”.
On a very personal note, Pak Mat narrated his ghostly encounters while cycling home from gigs with his band mates and the beautiful story of how he married his wife, who has since passed on, leaving him in his words “six wonderful children and twelve gorgeous grandchildren”.
Always one to encourage young talent, he was disappointed that the current radio stations were not airing as much local music as it did before. Pak Mat stated that “one of his biggest satisfactions in life was being able to initiate Malaysia’s own orchestra”.
As he narrated his experience studying in the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, the impression he made on them was evident as it led to him being the first Malaysian to produce a jazz concert of Malayan songs at the John Hancock Hall in Boston. His impact was further solidified when in 1963 he was asked to compose an album called ‘Music of Malaysia in Modern Mode’, in Holland using only Dutch musicians, which is still sold till date.

Towards the end of the almost poetic night, Pak Mat was asked about the difference between the current local music scene in Penang and how it was in his heyday, he was quick to say it was a bigger deal back then and people came from all over, booking hotels in advance, compared to its current standing. He further complimented the local jazz musicians and urged there to be more concerts to showcase their talent, even suggesting Esplanade and Gurney Drive as venues.

As the night concluded, young or old, everyone in attendance was left mesmerized by this humble man’s extraordinary journey.
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