Music Matters

11 July 2016

Paul Augustin is a festival director, music historian, author and soon to be founder of a music museum and performance space in Penang. Find out more about the consummate music lover.

There is no time to rest for Paul Augustin, despite residing in the laidback and relaxing island of Penang. Already well into his 50s, Paul keeps himself busy for the year, getting ready for the 13th instalment (or as he puts it, the 12th plus one year) of the Penang International Jazz Festival (PIJF) in December 2016, as well as the upcoming Penang House of Music, soon to open its doors to the public in August or September.

Last year, he even found the time to launch Just For the Love of It: Penang’s Popular Music, 1930s-1960s, with co-auther James Lochhead, which he spent about six years prior gathering materials for.

An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, as the old saying goes, and Paul has managed to keep the devil at bay by taking up the responsibility to not only document and celebrate the history of the local music scene, but also to reclaim and educate the younger generations on the foundation that today’s music scene was built upon.

“We were putting together a competition for the young ones, with Jimmy Boyle as the model template, during PIJF a few years back,” Paul replies, when asked about the motivation to start writing Just For the Love of It. “It was then that the sad realisation that none of them knew about him [Jimmy Boyle] struck me.”

Now, for those who still don’t know who Jimmy Boyle was, he was a renowned jazz composer and musician back in the ‘40s till the ‘60s, most famous for his composition of Putra Putri, which was on an incessant loop on RTM during Malaysia’s Independence Day in 1957.

It was also his compositions that blared through the speakers in Stadium Negara, (the composition for national anthem Negaraku was still incomplete at the time), as the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time on 31 August.

Not only that, Boyle’s works were also known internationally by jazz musicians like tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Jack “Big T” Teagarden, the Father of Jazz Trombone. Boyle’s compositions were also beamed worldwide, thanks to the BBC and Voice of America.

“If the younger generations today don’t know about Jimmy Boyle,” Paul says, “I doubt they’d even know the likes of James Rozells (of The Rozells), Datuk Ahmad Daud, or the international pianist David Ng, who, as I found out while researching for the book, was the pianist for one of the many West End plays by the great Laurence Olivier in the mid-50s!”

After the release of Just For the Love of It back in April 2015, Paul’s work was not even close to completion. Much more still had to be done to educate and inform the younger generations before the hands of time wiped clean the slates of Malaysia’s proud musical history. Even the book, brimming with compiled information on Penang’s music scene of yore, could very much end up being tucked away on an obscure bookshelf in some university, gathering dust and never seeing the light of day again. Not to mention, whatever was featured in the book is only the tip of the iceberg; about 30 to 40% of what they had gathered during intense research around the world.

“Despite the ample materials we managed to bring to light, a lot more were already lost in the fire by the time we started our research,” Paul mentions. “Not only do we want these information to be more accessible to the public, we’d also like to give them a proper home, because if we don’t do it now, even more of our history will be lost as time passes.”

The Penang House of Music will feature a black box (a performance space), a permanent exhibition and a resource centre. Located in KOMTAR, it aims to provide for the past, present and future, to celebrate and acknowledge the wonderful and strong musical heritage contributed to not only Penang’s but Malaysia’s past, to inform and garner appreciation with the archival platform for the present, and to inspire future generations through collaborative programs and activities with schools and their research departments.

“Every person we spoke to while compiling materials for the book … they had smiles on their faces, and their eyes lit up as they recalled the music scene from back then,” Paul says. “It was an outlet, it was a form of entertainment, and it was never about the money; hence, the title of the book.”

“So, it was unfortunate that the music scene in Penang died off in the late ‘80s. Places to perform music became fewer and fewer, and with that, went the local influences,” he adds with a sigh.

“When the younger generations came up, they got their influences mainly from listening to the radio and watching television programs that originated from international soil. I suppose, that contributed to their lack of knowledge on the local music scene. Even if a handful of them did hear about the abovementioned musicians, the young ones didn’t think too much of them despite what they have achieved.”

Paul hopes that the Penang House of Music will serve as more than just the usual hit-and-run tourist spot, not only for the foreigners, but for the locals as well.

“The nerve centre of Malaysian music,” describes Paul about his upcoming venture.

What with the many programs soon to be lined up within the venue’s facilities, music fans of any age can look forward to an all-round experience when visiting: a chance to relive the vibrant days for the old, and for the young, a chance to learn (and in the greater scheme of things, to be inspired by our own local heroes) and possibly, to create music of their own that the rest of the world once recognised in Jimmy Boyle’s Putra Putri. Truly Malaysian music.


By Celeste Goh

Photos by Hizwan Hamid

This article is related to CULTURE OFF THE BEAT

off the beat

Art Bars

FRI, 31 AUG 2018

From geometric patterns to elaborate curlicues and floral motifs, here’s a look at the vintage household grilles of Malaysia. ...

off the beat

Malaysian Film Industry

THU, 30 AUG 2018

How do Malaysia’s film studios make the difficult decisions that lead to a successful project? The movie industry is often ...

off the beat

Unseen Tours Kuala Lumpur

TUE, 28 AUG 2018

An initiative to train homeless people as tour guides is helping to put lives back on the map. Josh, as he prefers simply to be kn...