MARCH 10 — The future of Malay pop may depend on collaborations with our brethren across the Causeway. Or with our female talents.
Just listen to Aisyah Aziz’s latest single Bila Entah, which combines her distinctive vocal tone with the production of dynamic duo Hael Husaini and Ezra Kong, evoking the haunting mood of the pair’s previous award-winning single Jampi.
The single combines Aisyah’s slightly jazzy delivery and old-timey instrumentation that evokes the golden age of P. Ramlee and Saloma, but subverts it with a modern drum track and buzzing bass.
Better yet, watch the stunning video, which is a delight of vivid colours directed by visual talent Nadirah Zakariya and produced by Junad M. Nor, both of the quirky Studio Canpakes.
But the genius of the song may lie in its lyrics, that is more poetic than the usual pop songs on the radio these days.
I was specifically fascinated by the scheme used in lines such as “Rumput tawan pa — di — tahun bila bulan apa” where the last syllable of the first line coincides with the first syllable of the next, much like the Japanese word game shiritori.
Meanwhile, its chorus goes: “Entah bertemu ‘tah tidak/Makin hiba hati yang terdesak/Entah bertemu ‘tah tidak/Ngapa bila ku mahu kau elak” -- (As per the “official” translation: Uncertain if we will meet/Heavy is the desperate heart/... /But why is it when I yearn, you shun me).
Which I think is an exciting exploration of longing and yearning from a female perspective, and more specifically desire for physical touch, or even lust — a rare view when a Malay woman is traditionally expected to keep her physical and sexual desires suppressed.
This audacity and boldness in seduction is reflected in the high fashion worn by Aisyah, indubitably sultry — but there is no question that she is in full control of herself, and her choices.
An interesting and unmissable further analysis of the lyrics can be found in the video’s YouTube comment by one Rahim Ab. Rahman, who pointing at the metaphors such as “Rumah laksamana pasang dian tiga” (At the admiral’s home, three candles were lit), surmised that the song may be about a woman who shares her love, either with another wife, or as a mistress.
Another notable cross-Causeway collaboration is that between Elizabeth Tan and hip-hop producer Alif, whose hands are all over mainstream urban hits these days.
Tan had previously dabbled in all sorts of pop facets, and her last collaboration with Hael and Kong, Police Entry, failed to hit the musical mark despite elevating her image with the Malay fans.
In Tan’s latest single Semua Sudah, she also takes a leading role in her relationship — demanding to know the future direction of the relationship, continuing this prevalent theme of empowerment and taking charge of one’s life.
When it comes to mainstream Malay pop in the last few years, the more vibrant talents have come from the male side.
Besides the more indie-inflected acts such as Lunadira, NJWA and Bil Musa, many female soloists are trying (but failing miserably) to mundanely “be the next Siti Nordiana influenced by the 90s music of Ziana Zain”, to quote local music blog Muzikkita’s Hafizan Mohd.
But that does not mean that female-fronted music is not at its zenith — you just have to look a little bit outside of the music charts, and not that far away.
Take feisty Zamaera, who just recently launched her EP, Z, that will be available end of this month. Calling to mind Lauryn Hill, Zamaera is as equally potent belting R&B tunes as she is spitting sharp rhymes.
“Rap came from the US, and they talk about money and cars and girls, and while much may be exaggerated, it’s part of the environment. We should be able to take that into our own culture, tell our stories, and say this is my own environment,” she told Malay Mail in an interview recently.
Her most recent single Truth is an example of this, as she reflects on her faith and place in life: “People serve a purpose and that is no coincidence/But diligence can be confused with belligerence/Does He listen to my prayers cos I sinned again.”
There is also rapper Sophia Liana from girl band De’Fam, who impressed viewers so much with her charismatic appearance in an episode of Joe Flizzow’s rap showcase 16 Baris.
With lines such as “Tak payah kancheong, bukan nak berlakon sopan santun/Masyallah, masyallah, harga jam harta karun” one can only hope she gets a bigger breakthrough soon.
However, empowerment also comes in many forms. Take the interesting phenomenon of tudung-clad girls who are increasingly unabashed and unapologetic of their music and lyrical content, as if possessed by the spirit of the subversive songwriter Takahara Suiko of The Venopian Solitude and Viona.
There is the all-harmonising acapella/choir/collective Bahiyya Haneesa, or the duo Hani and Zue that is testing an edgier and darker sound, to Sarah Suhairi’s bubblegum pop whose latest single Nyawa & Raga comes with a rap section and Middle Eastern-vibe breakdown reminiscent of K-pop band Blackpink’s DDU-DU DDU-DU.
International Women’s Day may be over, and our courageous sisters would have shaken the town with the Women’s March yesterday, but there is still time to do “Balance for Better”, as this year’s theme goes.
Fire up your Spotify and YouTube, and give the brilliant ladies above a listen.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.