“They were making rebel music”: ‘Psyche Oh! A Go Go’ curators on Malaysian and Singaporean bands from the ’60s

The book-and-music compilation collection, which documents lost tunes from Malaysia and Singapore in the early ’60s and ’70s, is more than just a pet project for the writers – it’s in their lifeblood

KUALA LUMPUR: Naza Mohamad, a record store owner and musician, is slowly starting to see that the masses love the idea of someone documenting “untold stories” in the Malaysian music scene, especially those from its more obscure corners in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I never thought that putting out a book about ‘lost’ Malaysian music would attract so much attention from the younger generation, but I’m glad that people are starting to rediscover our pop music culture, which really hasn’t been documented properly,” said Naza at the launch of his book Psyche Oh! A Go Go at the Vans store in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

Recording the glory days: Adly (left) holding a copy of ‘Psyche Oh! A Go Go’ during the book launch at the Vans store in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, while Naza admires some vintage album covers of musicians and bands from the 1960s.
Psyche Oh A Go Go Malaysia Singapore pop music 60s 70s
‘Psyche Oh! A Go Go’, published by Sputnik Rekordz and Obscura Malaysia, is a book highlighting ‘lost’ Malaysian and Singaporean music from the 1960s and 70s. Photo: Cultkids

The book, co-authored with Naza’s writer friend Adly Syairi Ramly, offers an introductory guide to 100 lost recordings, mostly from the 1960s scene involving fringe Malaysian and Singaporean artistes.

The recordings were handpicked by Naza from his private collection of vintage vinyl.

The focus was on non-mainstream sounds that had been largely ignored or forgotten, he said.

“It’s timely that we are in the Merdeka and Malaysia Day season.

“This book will give you a fresh perspective on youth culture during that era.

“You’d be surprised at how advanced some of these unknown Malaysian acts were, tapping into psychedelic rock influences, trying out soul music and being more adventurous with the music they made,” said Naza.

The book journeys through “a young multiracial Malaysia waking up to the 1960s”, Naza noted, with entries from the soulful Helen Velu, the Strollers, Adnan Othman, Sarawak-based Rose Iwanaga & The Avengers, right down to mysterious acts such as Y. Hashim Dengan The Lost Dimensions, Rudyn Al-Haj, A. Zanne & The Fifty Fifty, as well as a look at the rugged side to the legendary Rocky Teoh.

“There is very little information about many of the artistes found in this book.

“That’s why we had to write it and to start this ‘jigsaw puzzle’ with these 100 bands in the book,” said Adly.

“With Psyche Oh! A Go Go, we hope to gather more leads about this ‘lost music generation’ which I feel will give us a better understanding of how exciting and progressive early Malaysian pop music was outside radio and mainstream circles,” he added.

Record store owner and musician Naza Mohamad (frontman of indie band The Times) knew he needed to self-publish a book about obscure Malaysian music from the 1960s and early 1970s in order to find out more about the many forgotten musicians and bands that he has been regularly discovering through the years.

The result is the Psyche Oh! A Go Gohardcover book, published by Sputnik Rekordz and Obscura Malaysia, which comes with a handpicked CD of 22 rare tracks. Names such Rudyn Al-Haj, A. Zanne & The Fifty Fifty, A. Halim & De’Fictions, Fatimah Ismail, Adnan Othman & The Wanderers, Helen Velu & The Kilats, A. Sukiyaki & The Swinging Surfaris, M. Said & Les Remaja and Rubiah Lubis are some highlights.

Naza (right) and Adly planned and researched the 'Psyche Oh! A Go Go' book late last year. The pandemic lockdown in Malaysia gave them enough downtime to complete it. Photo: Handout

The book itself offers a breezy music guide, journeying through a Bahasa Malaysia EP from Singapore’s The Quests, entries on the mysterious acts Y. Hashim Dengan The Lost Dimensions and Azizah Jais & The Rebels right to the edgy side of the legendary Rocky Teoh.

Naza (right) and Adly planned and researched the ‘Psyche Oh! A Go Go’ book late last year. The pandemic lockdown in Malaysia gave them enough downtime to complete it. Photo: Handout

“I have been actively collecting these rare Malaysian and Singaporean EPs and 7″ singles for some years now. It’s a growing archive of ‘unknown bands’ at home. The thing about this kind of collection is that you keep discovering music that has fallen through the cracks,” says Naza, who runs Sputnik Rekordz in Kuala Lumpur.

“It isn’t ‘wholesome’ pop yeh yeh to start with. So the music info is scarce. The sounds found on Psyche Oh! A Go Go are more raw, ‘out there’ and rebellious. But was this a nationwide movement? Or a bunch of isolated music groups from small towns in Malaysia recording music beyond mainstream pop? There isn’t much documentation to help you piece things together, especially since a lot of these acts were on small and independent labels,” he adds.

Naza wasn’t going to wait around for a research grant, or to start a crowdfunding page. Instead, he dug into his cupboard of vintage rock T-shirts and sold them off to fund this book about the “lost era” of Malaysian and Singaporean music.

The 'Psyche Oh! A Go Go' book, designed by Cultkids, tells the untold story of 'lost' Malaysian and Singaporean music.

“I strongly believe that more people need to know about these forgotten acts, which fell off the pop radar. But this isn’t a commercial thing nor is it a research-heavy project. It’s more of a ‘mixtape’ to start a conversation going about this untold story of local music,” says Naza.

The ‘Psyche Oh! A Go Go’ book, designed by Cultkids, tells the untold story of ‘lost’ Malaysian and Singaporean music.

Along with writer friend Adly Syairi Ramly, Naza shortlisted 100 EPs and 7″ singles from his personal collection, and discussed how he wanted to reintroduce them to the masses. The pandemic lockdown period also gave them enough downtime to fine tune the selections.

The Psyche Oh! A Go Go book, designed by Cultkids, offers a gateway into this rarely mentioned side of local music, which spanned early garage rock, funk soul, Nusantara grooves and mind-altering psychedelic music.

“This book needed to be written despite the fact that we had very little information here. It’s about music documentation in a loose sense. This exciting music in the book impacted the lives of a niche generation of fans, and if you look at the big picture, these groups were trailblazers that were ahead of their time,” says Adly.

“We hope people will come forward to help us get a broader understanding on why some of these groups have been largely lost in time… we had to start, and with the word out now, we can look forward to more leads and information shared about these unheralded musicians,” he adds.

THÉ STAR

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