Our gallery shines a spotlight on the music of Penang’s communities, as well as the defining period from the 1940s to the 1960s:

Penang has often been called a melting pot, and the convergence of the many cultures that called Penang home (Malay,Chinese, Indian, Baba Nyonya, Eurasian, European, Persian, Armenian, just to name a few!) has given birth to one-of-a-kind interpretations of art forms and dances like the bangsawan, boria, ronggeng, puppet theatre, Chinese opera, Dondang Sayang and many others!

The 1940s and 1950s were hugely important in defining the nature of Penang’s music, and in this section of the exhibition, we chart the influence of the Japanese occupation and the return of the British forces. Music from the communities vied with the more popularWestern hits, particularly during the Malayan Emergency. Venues reflected this diversity as did the increasingly-popular radio, and this is when Penang musicians were seen to be at the forefront of musicianship in the country.

The 1960s was the era of electric guitar and kugiran bands playing Pop Yeh Yeh, with Talentimes and dance crazes dominating the scene. Film, radio, and the new television signaled the commercial popularity of pop music, and this exposure to Western pop culture saw its influences further seep into Penang’s local music, whose musicians continued their well-earned reputation for quality and started venturing further afield.