PETALING JAYA, Sept 11 ― Ever wanted to read great Malaysian classics but can never find the time?
You might want to check out Nusantara Audiobooks, the country’s first audiobook platform that is making “listening” to Malaysian authors cool again.
Established in 2016, the platform currently has dozens of audiobooks including history, literature, biography and philosophy for busy readers who can’t pick up a physical book.
But perhaps most impressive is the platform’s collection of significant but rare history texts such as Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) by Tun Sri Lanang and Hikayat Hang Tuah that provides listeners a glimpse into Malaysian life in the 15th and 16th century.
For those who prefer more contemporary reading materials, the works of national laureates Shahnon Ahmad and A. Samad Said, and biographies by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali and the late historian Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim might tickle your fancy.
#ceritaseminit Emeritus Prof. Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Khoo Kay Kim is formative figure in the field of Malaysian history. He was among those instrumental in the formulation of the Rukun Negara following the aftermath of the 1969 race riots, in his illustrious career in public life.
There’s also the entire Sang Kancil collection in both English and Malay, the endearing folk tale series about a wise mousedeer that former public school attendees would recall.
The platform is an initiative by the Selangor State Government and the Selangor Public Library with the aim of making important works accessible to the public as well as to foster knowledge consumption through audiobooks.
The digital space for books is also intended to preserve classical books.
“One of the motivations for the state library is to make sure they are preserved in audio format since the copies are rather hard to find,” Nusantara Audiobooks programme coordinator Fikri Fisal told Malay Mail.
“It’s a good way to encourage the younger generation to read these books if they’re in digital format.”
It’s certainly true for the 28-year-old who loves Hikayat Abdullah, the autobiography of Munshi Abdullah, also known as the father of modern Malay literature that was first published in 1849.
In the book, the writer talks about how he witnessed A’Famosa being blown up by the British leaving only the fort’s small gate.
“The language, being written in the late 19th century, is still within grasp and it provides a visualisation of places we know of like Melaka,” said Fikri.
The academic researcher by day said the audiobook site came into existence after he and four friends found out that the Selangor State Library was looking into audiobooks and they were able to lend their expertise.
The team also includes chief technology officer Ariff Azraai, Ady Faizal who oversees creative decisions and Airil Razali who manages their finances.
The first book was recorded in mid-2017 as part of the pilot project that saw 16 books recorded, a figure that has now grown to 70 books which include foreign authors.
It’s also worth mentioning that most of Nusantara Audiobooks’ titles are narrated by recognisable names in the entertainment scene such as Datuk M. Nasir (Sejarah Melayu), Adibah Noor (No Harvest But a Thorn), Wan Hanafi Su, Lisa Surihani (My Name is Hasmah), Tony Eusoff (A Doctor in the House) as well as television and radio personalities such as Tengku Elida Bustaman (Salina), Kudsia Kahar and the late Datuk Mahadzir Lokman.
Some classical titles proved to be a hit on the platform when they are voiced by a famous personality, said Fikri.
“So, when you have certain voices that people like, that also contributes to the book’s popularity,” he said.
He added that audiobooks from the Young Adult section have been the most popular due to the younger generation’s familiarity with digital consumption.
The recording process begins with acquiring the rights for the books which Fikri said can be tricky because a lot of publishers are new to audiobooks and aren’t keen on the format.
The team then decides on the creative direction, narrator choice and studio selection.
The late historian Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, who narrated his autobiography I, KKK, is the only voice talent who recorded a book in his home due to his age.
Depending on the length of the book, it generally takes a month to complete the recording process.
Nusantara Audiobooks has plans to translate Malay-language books into English to widen the audience range for non-Malay speaking audiences who want to access classical Malay literature.
The platform currently has Shahnon Ahmad’s Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan translated by Malaysian author Adibah Amin and read by Adibah Noor.
No Harvest But A Thorn narrated by yours truly, @adibah_noor! "No Harvest but a Thorn" is the story of man’s eternal fight for survival against the impersonal forces of nature. In a desperately unequal battle for a meagre subsistence Lahuma’s only assets are a piece of land, his four limbs, a wife and seven children, all girls. The struggle is unending, the rewards skimpy. Faith in God is his only source of strength and solace. And he knows only that he must teach the next generation how to continue the fight. http://ow.ly/M3i230nMmOC
“We are slowly attempting to make translated versions available because not all books in our system are in Malay, some are in English and some in Indonesian,” he said.
Nusantara Audiobooks hopes to acquire the rights for all classical works not just by Malaysian authors but British colonial authors such as Anthony Burgess’ Malayan Trilogy.
“Our hope is for all or most of the classical works to be converted into audio format,” he said.
They would also like to include other audio products such as podcasts and poetry as well as audio theatre which promises a fun listening experience that features sound effects and multiple actors.
But for now, awareness remains a major hurdle as Fikri’s team often gets asked ‘What are audiobooks?’.
“There’s the perception that audiobooks are for people who are lazy to read but it’s not true.
“Audiobooks can contribute to your life as an alternative for when you’re driving, on the LRT or jogging.
“It’s not meant to replace books, that’s what people have to understand,” Fikri said.
Visit nusantaraudiobooks.com for more details.