Songs by P. Ramlee, Noh Salleh, Yuna and more Malaysian artists transcribed into sheet music in new Real Book

You can now learn to play songs by the likes of Sudirman and Sekumpulan Orang Gila

Songs by P. Ramlee, Sudirman, Noh Salleh and more Malaysian artists have been transcribed into sheet music in the newly released Malaysian Real Book.

A project by the Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival Committee, this Real Book – a term for a compilation of lead sheets for jazz standards – compiles lead sheets of a total of 240 songs by Malaysian artists, complete with melody, chords and notations for musicians to read and play.

Headed by Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival founder and renowned jazz pianist Michael Veerapen, the Malaysian Real Book contains a selection of songs that range from iconic works by the legendary P.Ramlee and Sudirman to more contemporary artists like Yuna, Dasha Logan, Seven Collar T-Shirt and Hujan frontman Noh Salleh. There is even a healthy representation of metal songs by bands Sekumpulan Orang Gila, Cromok and others.

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“Our objective was to transcribe songs that in 50 to a hundred years will have some value in Malaysian culture”, said selection committee member Rizal Ezuan Zulkifly Tony at a press conference earlier this month. “We had a thorough checking to see whether these songs will have an impact on the future.”

To that end, the 240 songs chosen encompass pre-Merdeka works, dondang sayang, pop yeh yeh, rock kapak, and folk tunes alongside music by leading artists in the local music scene today. Featured in the Real Book are Manbai’s iconic anthem ‘Kau Ilhamku’, Bihzhu’s blues masterpiece ‘Tainted Temples’, the P. Ramlee classic ‘Tunggu Sekejap’, Search’s eternal crowd favourite ‘Isabella’, the Kenyah community’s traditional folk song ‘Liling’, the children’s folk tune ‘Geylang Si Paku Geylang’ and many more.

Despite the genre diversity of the Malaysian Real Book, rap and hip-hop songs are absent as “playability was a factor”, said Rizual Ezuan.

Seven Collar T-Shirt guitarist Muhammad Abdullah, better known as Ham, told NME the band were “very proud” to have their alt-rock single ‘Fragile’ chosen for the Real Book. “We feel this is a great start to document local music. Historically, we also consider this a reward, being recognised by the industry for our efforts back in 2009 with ‘The Great Battle’.”

The book was compiled over a one-and-a-half-year period. The Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival Committee originally looked at songs that were popular on Spotify, Veerapen told NME, before deciding that simply transcribing popular songs “wouldn’t be an accurate snapshot of Malaysian music”.

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The committee then decided to sort songs according to weighted categories like East Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian music, and by genres like metal, indie, R&B, jazz, and traditional folk songs.

While putting together the Real Book, the committee had to untangle several copyright issues, negotiating behind the scenes with 12 to 15 different publishers to ensure royalties were paid out accordingly. Due to spotty bookkeeping practices for several of the classic tunes selected for the book, some publishers even disputed the rights to some songs, leading the committee to resolve various counterclaims (at the press conference, members of the committee declined to name specific songs and publishers).

However, the publishers eventually agreed to be paid the same amount per song transcribed, thanks in part to veteran event manager and Malaysian music advocate Jennifer Thompson, who brought the parties with conflicting claims to the table so negotiations could be completed.

“There has never been an agreement like this in terms of royalties,” claimed Malaysian Real Book editor Dr. Adil Johan.“This book is unique. All publishers have given their permission to release the rights for the publication of this book.”

The Malaysian Real Book is currently available for purchase at MYR150 as a limited edition physical book (not including the MYR10 delivery fee) and at MYR100 for a read-only soft copy, with all proceeds going to the Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival organisation. Individual lead sheets are not available for purchase at present, though the committee plans to sell individual lead sheets eventually.

The committee intends to make the Malaysian Real Book available to higher education institutions as a reference for contemporary music and jazz, and will consider a second edition of the Real Book depending on the reception of the first.

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