Development of Malaysian Gospel Music -
A Model for the Third World
( Paper by Ng Wah Lok written for the 6th International Christian Creative Arts Conference 2006, July 10-16, Genting International Convention Centre, Malaysia)
By Ng Wah Lok
Overview of Malaysia
Malaysia is a cosmopolitan country with a population of 23.3 million in 2000. The Muslim Malays form the majority race at 65.1%. The Chinese population is some 26.0 % . Most of the Chinese are Buddhists or Taoists. The Indians which are primarily Hindus make up another 7.7 %. It is estimated that 9.1 % of the total Malaysian population or some 2.1 million are Christians1 . Most of these Christians are of Chinese or Indian origin.
Secular and Cultural Music in Malaysia
Every race and culture in Malaysia has its own unique music. In view that Malaysia is multi- racial, it is not surprising that Malaysia is very rich in cultural music. There are radio and TV channels dedicated to English, Malay, Chinese and Indian programs and music. So Malaysia is not short of any secular or cultural music for every major race. Minni Ang documents much of Malaysian Music in her book A comprehensive discussion on the different types of music found in the country2 .
Malaysian Gospel Music (1970 – 1999)
However, when it comes to Gospel Music, the situation is completely different. Malaysia is a Muslim country. Muslim religious programs are readily available on radio and TV. When it comes to Gospel Music, there are no Radio or TV stations that air plays Gospel Music in Malaysia. As such, Malaysians do not have a chance to listen to their own music on Radio even if they are recorded.
Most Malaysian churches worship with songs from Western Countries, primarily Australia , United States and United Kingdom. Western music is readily available at local shops. So by purchasing the CDs from shops, the songs are learnt and sung often in churches. If you visit any English speaking church in Malaysia, you will hear primarily Western songs being sung. It is a rare experience to hear a Malaysian song being sung in a Malaysian Church. In a Malaysian compilation of worship songs called Spectrum of Praise3 by Colin Kirton, only a few Malaysian songs were included in this song book of 833 songs.
From the seventies to nineties, very few recordings of Gospel music were done in Malaysia. Even if there were recordings, the circulation of the cassettes were very limited. They were usually of poor quality and low budget production. The local shops did not promote them as they found them to be of lower quality and Malaysians generally preferred Western artistes. Nevertheless, several artistes did find some audience, among them KB Chan, Geoffrey Woo and Joshua Race. Still the impact of these early albums was limited as circulation was small and no mass media promoted them.
Meanwhile during this era, several top Christian musicians emerged but they played mainly secular music among them, Jose Thomas, Lewis Pragasam, Michael Veerapan, Aubrey Suwito, Andy Peterson and David Gomes. These Christian artistes are well known names in Malaysia and are often featured in the mass media for secular music. So actually, there was no shortage of Christian talent during this era. Yet Gospel music was nowhere to be seen during this period.
The Progressive Years ( 2000 – 2006)
Perhaps year 2000 can be said to be a turning point for Malaysian Gospel Music. The quality of recordings began to improve as higher budgets became available. With the improved internet services and availability of broadband, many local artistes began using the internet to promote their music4 since a Christian radio station was not available. In year 2000, Christian Life Center released an album entitled Passion Cry. The church recorded their album in the United States and actively promoted their album through tours and seminars.
In year 2001, a significant event took place when Ng Wah Lok released his album Every Time I Pray. Facing difficulties in marketing and promoting his album, Wah Lok established a website www.tabernaclemusic.net5 primarily to promote his own albums. He later expanded this website to promote almost every Malaysian Gospel Album. This website eventually became a main focal point for Malaysian Gospel Music since it contains information of every album released. Malaysian Artistes are also featured. Wah Lok wrote articles like Recording and Marketing your album6 and Development of the Malaysian Gospel Music Industry7 to encourage local artistes to record albums. He also wrote and provided many free articles on worship and song writing; 20 check lists for Song-writers8 , 12 Practical Points for Song-writers9, Writing Lyrics10 , The Importance of the Worship Ministry11. To attract more visitors to his website, he gave free MP3 music to visitors. Within a few years, his website has attracted 200,000 visitors and registered 2 million hits. This website brought some excitement among the local artistes since it featured all of them.
Subsequently, many other independent artistes released their albums. Many of these albums are featured in the website www.tabernaclemusic.net5 . One songwriter Lucy Loo17 from Penang started a music movement called SAND which means Saved for A New Destiny. SAND released 2 albums entitled DREAMS and SOLD OUT and also her own songbooks. Other artistes like KB Chan18, Geoffrey Woo, Michelle Tan, Jonathan Tse, William Kok19, Joanne Ng, Lim Chee Peng, Clarine Chun, HT Long, Chen Sing, Diana Wee, 1 AM Revelation20, Edmund Smith21, Meechang, Brian Gan, Patrick Leong, Zoe, Juwita, Liang, Altered Frequency, Jordan Rivers, Mayya, Prody G, Impressions, Daniel Soo, Grace Lee, Minni Ang, Danny Cheh, Juliana Nicholas, Marshalls, Vincent Ramesh, Heartbeat, Snah & Suze, AYA, Praise City Together, New Life, Raj Kumar, Albert Isaac, Joanne Yeoh, Hoe Chai, Lourdes Dass, Brian Gan, Kelvin Lim etc also released albums.
In 2003, another milestone came when a Christian recording label Oops Asia12 was founded. This is the first Christian recording label in the country. Oops Asia signed up a band called Altered Frequency which released a hit album entitled Exalt. Altered Frequency became one of the rare Christian bands featured on local TV and radio. Oops Asia also released albums For Your Love and Unto You by Patrick Leong, Brand New World by Juwita and 8 Oz of Soul by Liang. Oops Asia budgeted almost RM 40,000 (USD 12,000) per album and hence the recording quality was good. Interestingly, Juwita’s album Brand New World won the Best Local English Album for AIM Award 2005 ( The Malaysian Music Industry Awards). This is the first time a Gospel album has won such an award.
Several Christian producers recorded important albums during this period. In particular, one of the top secular producers Aubrey Suwito22 produced the award winning album Brand New World for his sister Juwita. Nick Lee returned from the United States and brought along with him recording experience. He established his own recording studio Sonique and produced the hit album Exalt and 1AM Revelation. Timothy Lee23 set up his recording studio GSUS and produced Wah Lok’s albums Every Time I Pray and Shining Stars. James Yee from Chenaniah Studios produced several albums particularly for the Mandarin sector. Other producers included Steve Leong who produced the hit song Through the Rain and Daniel Foo.
Emerging strongly in the musical sector was The Canticle Singers24 led by HK Chong. The Canticle Singers produced very good musicals which were well-received by the public. Among the musicals were The Gift Goes On, The Season of Light, Did You hear the people sing, Make His praise glorious, The Rose of Sharon and Two from Galilee. These musicals were well covered by the mass media and played to quite a large audience.
In 2003, Amelia Tan founded Starmaker’s Enterprise13 with a vision to market local Gospel albums. Most of the independent producers do not have the expertise needed to market their albums. Starmaker’s provided a distribution network for lesser known artistes. This helped the local industry move further.
Malaysian Christian Songwriter’s Network ( MCSN)
In 2006, another major development took place when Esther Mui established her website www.m-csn.com 14 . MCSN which means Malaysian Christian Songwriter’s Network was formed to network all Malaysian Songwriters and provide resources and assistance for songwriters to record their albums. It also hosts an internet radio at Soundclick15 which air plays songs from their albums. This was a major breakthrough since Malaysia does not have a Christian radio station. With this development, Malaysian Gospel Songwriters can finally have a venue to air-play their music. This internet radio currently features 33 artistes and 178 songs. Already the website is gaining strength and the internet radio is making waves. A song by KB Chan entitled Daddy You’re my Hero went to number 1 in the pop charts at Soundclick16 out of 40,000 songs in the internet radio. This is a rare achievement for any Malaysian song.
The road ahead is still tough. The artistes and recording labels have invested a lot of finances into the music industry. The question will be whether the sales of the albums can sustain the production costs. If the sales can support the cost of production and generate some profits, then the industry will slowly gather pace. The artistes will emerge to release a second and third album.
The developments in Malaysian Gospel Music over the last 5 years have been encouraging. If things continue at this pace , we can see the industry grow and break through into the international music scene. Perhaps with the help of websites like www.tabernaclemusic.net and www.m-csn.com and the production of good quality albums, the industry can grow further. Against the odds of the lack of a Christian radio station, Gospel music in Malaysia can still flourish and be passed on to the rest of the world. Songwriters today can benefit from these new developments. Songwriters who grew up in the 70s – 90s never had such an opportunity
Copyright: 2006 , Ng Wah Lok
Notes and Bibliography
1. NECF Survey of Churches, Pastors and Christians, NECF Research Commission, 2001 ( NECF = National Evangelical Christian Fellowship).
2. Ang, Minni., Malaysian Music – A Comprehensive discussion on the different types of music found in the country, University Putra Malaysia, 1998
3. Spectrum of Praise compiled by Colin Kirton, 2001
4. Ng , Khai Lee , The Future of Malaysian Music , http://www.thecicak.com/?p=43
5. www.tabernaclemusic.net – Website founded by Ng Wah Lok in 1981 to promote Malaysian Gospel Music
6. Ng, Wah Lok , Recording and Marketing an album , 2002 – www.tabernaclemusic.net – Resources
7 Ng, Wah Lok , Development of the Malaysian Gospel Music Industry, 2004 , www.tabernaclemusic.net – Resources
8. Ng, Wah Lok , 20 Checklists for Songwriters , 2002 – www.tabernaclemusic.net – Resources
9. Ng, Wah Lok , 12 Practical Points for Songwriters , 2001 – www.tabernaclemusic.net – Resources
10. Ng, Wah Lok , Writing Lyrics , 2001 – www.tabernaclemusic.net – Resources
11. Ng, Wah Lok , The Importance of the Worship Ministry , 2001, www.tabernaclemusic.net – Resources
12. www.oops-asia.com - Website of Oops Asia, a Christian recording label founded in 2003
13. www.starmaker.com.my - Website of Starmaker’s founded in 2003 which distributes Malaysian Gospel Music
14. www.m-csn.com - Website of Malaysian Christian Songwriter’s Network founded by Esther Mui in 2006, which hosts a Malaysian Gospel Internet Radio Station
15. http://www.soundclick.com/stations/stations.cfm?id=325652 MCSN Internet Radio founded by Esther Mui
16. www.soundclick.com/kbchan - Internet Radio that Streams KB Chan’s songs
17. Loo, Lucy – Website www.masterpiecemusic.com.my
18. Chan , KB – Website www.kbchan.net
19. Kok, William – Website www.music-maker.biz.ly
20. 1 AM Revelation – Website www.1am.com.my
21. Edmund Smith – Website www.r-l-m.com
22. Suwito , Aubrey – Website www.aubreysuwito.tripod.com
23. Lee, Timothy – Website - www.gsus.biz
24. The Canticle Singers – Website www.thecanticlesingers.com
About the author Ng Wah Lok
Ng Wah Lok serves as a worship leader in Full Gospel Tabernacle since 1981. Over these years as worship leader, he has written more than 100 songs. His signature song Every Time I Pray is sung in many churches across Asia. In 2001 and 2002, he released 2 albums, Every Time I Pray and Shining Stars. He also composed and recorded 9 melodies for Barbara Tipper’s album Favored Chick which was released in Australia. One of his songs co-written with Barbara Tipper entitled Harvest of the Fields won the Australian Gospel Music Awards 2004 for the best Hymn. Wah Lok has also developed extensive teaching materials to train those in the worship ministry.
In 2001, he established a worship website www.tabernaclemusic.net seeking to promote local music and providing resources for those in the worship ministry. This website has attracted over 200,000 visitors and generated more than 2 million hits.
Graduating with a Masters Degree in Engineering from University Malaya in 1988 , Wah Lok worked as an engineer and subsequently became a Senior General Manager in the Soon Seng Group. In 1999, God called him to full-time service and he took up the position as Principal of Tung Ling Seminary. He also pastors one of Full Gospel Tabernacle branch churches located in Bandar Sri Damansara. Although keeping a heavy schedule, he still lectures extensively in the field of music and worship.
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