Everyday social cohesion of Malaysian popular music in the 1970s and 80s


This presentation considers a conceptual merging of inter-culturalism and cultural intimacy to analyse a history of Malaysian popular music as an expression of the everyday experienced social cohesion amid the nation-state’s ethnically diverse population.

It draws on cases of intercultural intimacy found in the production, performance and studio recordings of Malaysian artistes and groups with attention paid to the Streetlights, Carefree, and the Alleycats.

Streetlights were branded as a ‘Punjabi rock’ group that released hit songs in Malay. Carefree was a multi-ethnic group that specialised in disco and funk popular in Kuala Lumpur’s club scene. The Alleycats are a group of non-Malay musicians that appealed to a wide Malay(sian) audience.

The cases presented here uncover how Malaysian popular music, specifically from the stage of maturing nationhood during the 1970s and 80s, provides an important means of intercultural cohesion among its citizens who intersect various ethnicities, religions and social classes.

The article analyses aspects of musical production (style, genre, aesthetics) and musical-textual content (lyrics) from studio recordings as well as related contexts of performance (live shows and concerts).

The intercultural and affective dynamics of these artists and groups highlight how Malaysian popular music offers intimate, creative expressions that enable processes of everyday experienced social cohesion.


Dr Adil Johan is a research fellow from the Institute for Ethnic Studies, the National University of Malaysia (UKM). His research analyses aspects of popular music in the mass media that intersect with issues of inter-culturalism, cosmopolitanism, intimacy, affect and gender, focussing on the Malay world and Southeast Asia. He has written a book on independence-era Malay film music (NUS Press, 2018) and is co-editor for the volume, Made in Nusantara: Studies in popular music (Routledge, 2021). He performs and records as a saxophonist for Azmyl Yunor Orkes Padu and Nadir

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Discussant: Dr Nur Dayana Binti Mohamed Ariffin, senior lecturer, Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya

Moderator: Daryl Goh is a journalist, deejay and music enthusiast with more than 25 years of experience extensively covering Malaysian music, arts, and culture

Organised by Pusat Sejarah Rakyat

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