Ilham Pujangga

crankylogoFor a long time now we seem to have been barraged by one thing or another. Whether it be wars, or disasters, or politics, or ‘religionism’, or racism, or road rage, or even someone saying something stupid… I don’t know, the list never seems to end.

Turns out I had some time on my hands so I really wanted to do something that would take my mind off the silliness and focus on something more positive for a change. A soul-cleansing, if you will!

Farid Ali aka 'Mr Gambus'

‘Ilham Pujangga’ is a Malay classic that has touched me from the day I first heard it. I think it was about 20 years ago… funny how I cannot recall when or where it happened. However I do remember watching the late ‘Mr. Gambus’ Farid Ali (pic,left) performing this song, alone with his guitar. I remember standing still at the back of the hall, mesmerized by his singing, but more so by the strength of the lyrics and melody that seemed to speak directly to my soul. It spoke of peace, harmony, self-restraint and everything else we need to live on this planet we call home. From that moment on, I vowed to produce that song someday.

That ‘vow’ has stayed on the back-burner for 20-odd years!

Not any more though! With the unceasing bad news not showing any signs of slowing down, I figured ‘Ilham’ was the perfect antidote for depressing times. This notion seemed to be confirmed when just as I was going to start on this pet project, a close friend remarked, “people don’t produce good songs like ‘Heal The World’ anymore”. Sadly she’s right!

I just hope that this song and the accompanying video will remind us of the wealth we possess in our diversity. Ismail Haron (the original artise & songwriter) got it right when he said this:

Kasih sesama manusia
Seperti anda sayangkan diri anda
Pandang yang satu kepada yang ramai sayang
Pandang yang ramai kepada yang satu

(It roughly translates to “love your neighbor as yourself” & “putting the needs of others before our own”.)

One last thing! Watching the video made me realize that sports, music & hobbies were certainly the denominator of multi-racial friendships. So if you’re one of those who find you don’t have too many friends of other races, you know what to do. Play a game, join a band or go fishing!!

Till then, let keep UNITY real!



Improvisation Class FAQ!!

crankylogoHello again everybody!

Received quite a few enquiries about the improvisation class so here’s a typical list of FAQs to help you all understand what this is all about.


Is this a group course?


What’s the structure of each lesson?

Every lesson will be divided into one half of ‘theory’ where we study different aspects of chords, and scales. These are prerequisites for improvisation since 80% of the time, improvisation is based on chords. The format for this section is almost small classroom-like.

The other half is when we play as an ensemble (band). Using what we learnt in the first part of the class, we will all take turns to improvise and in the process ‘learn from each other’ picking up the good and bad characteristics of improvisation.

Who would benefit from this?

  • People who can only play chords
  • Classically trained musicians who want to get to the ‘dark side’ :-)
  • Church musicians who want to improve
  • Those who want to start improvising
  • Music teachers who want to gain some extra knowledge

I’m play drums/percussion. Would I be able to learn anything from this?

Yes! Chords/scales theory is just one part of improvisation. The different aspects like solo building, form, time, motifs, color, comping, accompanying etc will be addressed during the ensemble part of this class. Come & find out.

Unfortunately we can only accommodate ONE DRUMMER (and ONE BASSIST) so sign up quick!

Is performing experience crucial?

Not really.

What is the playing/singing proficiency level needed?

As you can see, one has to be somewhat proficient on their instrument but it does cater to beginners too. A better player will of course improvise better, but we all have to start somewhere, don’t we?

Can one come for only one or two lessons?

No. It has been designed to last for six weeks, covering a different subject matter each week. That’s why we’re charging for the whole course and not ‘per lesson’.

What if I can’t make every class?

You’d be strongly advised to catch up on the theory and homework. We will provide you with the materials that you missed but you’d be missing the ‘practical’ ensemble section which a crucial part of the week’s development.

What? There’s homework?

Yes. And assignments too. :-)

Will I be able to improvise after this course?

Yes. Certainly better then you can now!

Is the class time fixed?

Time still not fixed in stone. We want to try to get the group together and see what’s best for everybody.

Go through the poster below and if you have more questions, do write in to: or

Keeping the MUSIC REAL!

ChordScaleImprov Poster

Improvisation with Chord Scales?

crankylogoWhen I was just starting my professional career I found myself in a band with Lewis Pragasam, Jose Thomas, Mike Veerapen & David Yee… all certified legends of Malaysian music. As I recall, we were rehearsing for a show with the late Sudirman Hj. Arshad at the time.

One day, mid-rehearsal, they broke into a ‘jam’ just grooving on a couple of chords and took turns soloing and improvising. I just sat there full of awe, and when it came to my turn, I just tried to muster some notes together trying not to sound too awful. Truth is I was totally out of my depth although I was already playing professionally and working with quite a few ‘big name’ artistes at the time.

Jose Thomas
Jose Thomas

After that harrowing experience, I remember feeling how lost I was at that time. I could play relatively well, but I could not improvise much. I had been trained as a classical pianist and had developed a very decent pop playing style but I just felt I needed to learn the art of improvisation. Those four musicians mentioned above certainly knew how to, and if I wanted to better myself I had to start learning.

I then tried emersing myself listening to all the jazz piano greats but found them all too daunting and far too advanced for me to learn much.

Now it wasn’t until I finally got to Berklee College of Music a few years later when I was introduced to the concept of chord scales and the relationship it had with chords and improvisation. It was as though a bridge had opened up and finally I was on my way to the ‘other’ side where jazz people lived! Jokes aside, I knew THIS was the missing link to my music knowledge.

When I look back now I realize much of my playing has stemmed from the enlarged vocabulary that chord scales convey. Akin to studying English Literature as apposed to merely studying Basic English. (or English as a Foreign Language!)

confused31So I spent a large chunk of whatever free time last year developing this course titled Chord Scale Improvisation. Putting together all the bits and pieces I learnt the ‘hard way’ in Berklee into a more concise ‘easy to understand’ method so that all the ‘guesswork’ can be taken out of the equation. Many would have never heard of chord scales before, but believe me, it’s one of those things that you’d always wished you had learnt earlier.

So, why do an improvisation course? Cos from what I’ve seen, it’s needed. Also, so that many more can play better. If all you play is the melody and chords, maybe this is for you. If you’re a musician serving in your church, maybe this is for you. If you’re a professional musician faking what you know (I won’t tell on you la!), maybe this is for you. If you’re a classical musician looking to get into improvisation, this is definitely for you. I guarantee that.

If for no other reason, do it just to KEEP THE MUSIC REAL!

ChordScaleImprov Poster

Taste v Quality

crankylogoOne man’s meat is another man’s poison. That iconic phrase reflects how different all our tastes can be. Variety is the spice of life after all. That’s all good until we confuse our taste with our perception of quality. Our likes/dislikes should never be mistaken for how good/bad the product actually is, especially in music.

Let me give you an example. I am not the biggest fan of Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion. I certainly don’t have them on my iPod. However I will be the first to put my hand up and say these are two of the best voices that we have had the privilege to have in our music world. I’m more a Whitney Houston/Kelly Clarkson/Pink fan but that only reflects my tastes, not how good/bad the other two are.

Pink performs at Circus Krone in Munich So what’s the problem you ask?

Recently, remarks like “He’s not popular” and “She can’t sell” have surfaced more times than I can imagine. People get dismissive of good music when it’s not their taste. Worse still is when these people are the ‘tastemakers’ of the nation. I refer to radio dee-jays, entertainment ‘reporters’ and many more in the mainstream media. So what you get now is very ‘one-dimensional’ music that is mostly trendy but little else. Malaysian teenagers and radio listeners hardly have a choice because all the decisions have already been made for them. Worse still when a lot of these ‘tastemakers’ themselves aren’t all that schooled on what’s quality and what’s crap!

Maybe that’s why You Tube, Spotify etc have such a good following. But how about the music fans in the rural areas? Are they ‘condemned’ to the fare that is selectively being dished out by the powers that be?

Our Indonesian friends have it a lot better. During one of my trips there a few years ago I heard this interesting radio program while riding in a taxicab. This was a half hour ‘jazz’ program highlighting different jazz icons; basically a biography of their personal and music lives interspersed with the music they created. The one I heard focused on Bud Powell (classic jazz, pianist) and Lee Ritenour (modern jazz, guitarist). When asked, my cab driver replied that this program had been going on for some time already and had a rather decent following. Needless to say, I was impressed! Firstly, that the radio station had the guts to include this kind of show in their programming. Secondly, I was also amazed that the show had a good following!

No wonder our Indonesian counterparts are a lot more musically exposed to music than we will ever be. And they have wonderful jazz festivals like Java Jazz and Jak Jazz! Really, are the Indonesians wired with a different DNA that allows them to appreciate something other than mainstream music?

What we need is our media to lead the way. C’mon, be brave and have slots that play Queen and Led Zep, Charlie Parker and Renee Olstead. What we need are entertainment reporters to know more than Jamal Abdillah and Search.

That there is another icon called Ella, you know?

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald

Her name is Ella Fitzgerald.

Then maybe our next generation will clamor for something more than American pop, K-pop and ‘rock leleh’. Nothing wrong with that per se, but we need to recognize there’s a lot more good music out there. Our tastes need to be exposed to quality music once in a while.

Then maybe, we can truly keep the music REAL!

Goodbye, 2013!

crankylogoI don’t often look back at the year that was. Maybe, as a sign of old age, I ended up doing exactly that… possibly because I was looking to find some positive, ‘silver linings’ despite the heavy clouds that seem to hover around us last year.

Surprisingly I did find some moments that I will cherish & remember in the coming years. Here they are!

Most memorable show

We went up to Penang Trinity church during Hari Raya holidays to perform and share some of our “HeART of Hymns” album repertoire. Our hosts were truly outstanding. Thanks again Daniel Khoo & team. The singers & musicians were in top form and the people we met there were so appreciative. I also lost count of how many times we had Nasi Kandar that trip. To top it all, my family stayed back for a couple of days and enjoyed a great beach-side holiday at an amazing hotel.

BabyfaceMost memorable person I met

My long-time music idol, Babyface! Surprisingly the man was so humble and down to earth. No airs at all. Then again, all the best ones are like that, aren’t they? That’s how they get to the top. They possess loads of talent without the accompanying ‘hot air’.

Most ‘soul-enriching’ moment

Piano & MePlaying the 9-foot Yamaha grand piano, all alone with hardly anyone around… in the Dewan Filharmonic Petronas. That happened when I went there a day earlier just to check the setup. Ended up enjoying that piano all by myself.

Best buy of the year

After all these years, I finally found headphones I really like. Not one, but TWO! First I got myself the AKG Quincy Jones model, an amazing open-back pair that’s great for use in the studio. Later in the year I got myself a pair of Shure in-ears… not too expensive, but I’ve been using them for almost everything. Live show, iPod music, editing… everything. Funny thing is, I tried a bunch of more expensive in-ears and hated most of them. I got cheap ears I guess!

HolidayTrip of a lifetime

25 years ago my wife bought an insurance endowment policy and said that when it matures, we would go for a holiday in Europe. 25 years on, all the policy got us was our plane tickets! Talk about inflation!! Nevertheless, we experienced a trip of a lifetime, seeing some Boys in Brusselsspectacular views that will certainly be etched in my memory forever.

Fulfilling Project

Towards the end of the year we were approached to produce very special album for a very old friend. I’ve known Salamiah Hassan from the day I first stepped into a music studio.  In fact, the first full album I was involved in was hers. At the time of writing, we have just completed a truly magical album of classic P.Ramlee songs for Salamiah. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a big P Ramlee fan too. So put the two elements of Salamiah & P Ramlee music together and VIOLA! Well, don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself when it comes out January 8th!

So after all these, 2013 doesn’t seem too bad anymore. Yet a life in the music industry can be rather uncertain at best. All we can do, really, is do our best and put our best foot forward… and put our faith in God.

2014, here I come!

As always folks… Keep the Music REAL!


Now I Know Better

crankylogoWhen I was in primary school, I was taught this:

“Shop A sells this blue shirt for RM10. Shop B sells another blue shirt for RM50. Buy from Shop A!”

Now I know better.

sony-walkmanWhen I was in secondary school: The Sony Walkman cost RM200+, and a generic portable cassette player cost less than RM100.

Now I know better.

When I was choosing which college to go to: Local music teachers/institutions were the affordable option. Berklee College of Music cost a bomb!

Now I know better.

When my older son was looking for football training to go to: There was a RM30 a month option, and a RM250 per month option.

Now I know better.

I love driving now. And I can appreciate why a luxury car cost more than a Proton.

Now I know better.

So how come people still wonder why some musicians cost more than others? How come the people who can afford the Porsche Cayenne can’t recognize this simple thing when it comes to music and art?

common-senseDon’t the same rules apply?

Of course everybody has budgets to adhere to, and you buy only what you can afford. But the bottom line is, most of the time, you often get what you pay for.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we Keep The Music REAL!

Time Flies!

crankylogoHow time flies.

What a shock I got when I saw that my last post was in July. JULAAAIIII! That’s just crazy.

Probably cos we’ve been spending time building our Facebook page, but that’s no excuse. Will certainly try to be more proactive on both fronts from now on. If you’re wondering what you’ve missed, head on to our Facebook page and check us out… lots of beautiful pictures from the last 2 months.

Looking ahead, Cranky Music have got some juicy projects going on from now till the end of the year, so do keep checking in with us to find out what’s going on.

Till then… Keep the music REAL!

One Busy Street: Now Available on iTunes &

We here at Cranky Music are happy to announce that another one of our releases, ONE BUSY STREET is now available on CD Baby, iTunes and even Amazon.


One Busy Street was Aubrey Suwito’s debut album which contains gems like Friday Fiddle, Malacca Sun & the infectious title track One Busy Street. You can here samples of the album here.

This was the screenshot of the proud moment when it appeared on CD Baby.