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It took independent musician Azmyl Yunor about 10 years to finish selling 1,000 copies of his album Warga which was first released in 2010.
“My 2010 album Warga was quite popular, people in the community liked the music but I think it only finished selling 1,000 copies last year.
“So that’s my window for selling albums, 10 years,” Azmyl said in a recent phone interview with Malaysiakini.
Not that it has stopped the 44-year-old who just released a music video for his latest single, Penghasut Blues, released amidst ongoing corruption court cases involving former national leaders, from his 2020 album John Bangi Blues.
Azmyl's persistence is just one example of how independent musicians in the country have to be tenacious in sticking to their creative goal of crafting original music despite the lack of a supportive ecosystem and wider audience market.
Another independent musician, Bihzhu, told Malaysiakini it was only late last year that some of the major English language radio stations started playing local English songs in their regular rotation.
“The ecosystem around independent music (in Malaysia) is not built to help us succeed. It’s not just music, it is also theatre and cinema and so on.
“Whenever we get a new minister, or there is a change of government, they do not look at art as an essential part of nation-building,” said the 37-year-old musician, who released her latest single Alive in January.Musician Azmyl Yunor held FB live concerts during the lockdown.
She cited the example of South Korea and how aggressively their government has promoted the arts of their country to the world which has been beneficial in other ways as the success of Korean pop music, soap operas and horror movies helped create a positive image of the country.
Describing it as a "chicken-and-egg" situation, Bihzhu said the lack of systemic support for local artistes was feeding the audience apathy towards local musicians and vice versa.
Azmyl, whose day job is a lecturer, added that "big tech" – referring to tech giants like Google and Facebook – and their algorithms also play a role in suppressing exposure of local independent artistes.
“Talent is not a problem in this country but the artistes need exposure.
“Capitalism has damaged the power of artistes. Artistes have been emasculated by this economic structure,” he said.
Malaysiakini journalist and musician Martin Vengadesan pointed out that the market for original local music, especially in English, was already very small even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When I first started as an entertainment journalist in the mid-1990s, BMG (recording company) alone used to have a stable of 100 artistes and local English music by OAG, Butterfingers, Too Phat, etc, used to sell good numbers, in the tens of thousands.