Sehati Sejiwa: Alex Ungku speaks about the Malaysian music scene

Alex Ungku is a singer songwriter from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He’s been playing music for awhile but only started releasing original music within the last 3 years. He identifies himself as a versatile RnB artist, drawing inspiration from modern greats such as Frank Ocean, James Blake and Miguel.

We sat with Alex and spoke to him about how the current music landscape is and how he sees it growing in the near future. 

What’s it like being a musician in Malaysia? Do you do it full time? Do you intend to? 

Alex: I think being an INDEPENDENT musician in Malaysia has its challenges and rewards. I have always been doing it part-time purely due to financial reasons. In an ideal scenario, it's something that I would love to do full-time with the right resources available. The challenge of being independent is striking the right balance between your professional career and passion. People don't realize that it's not necessarily a cheap passion to release music but we all do it for the love of the craft. And it's worth it when you see/hear people resonate and relate to your work, which is a special thing as it's an intimate thing sharing a part of your life through a song with strangers.

What are the challenges that you have faced trying to transition to a full time musician? What is stopping you?

Alex: The challenge is distribution, exposure, local support and most significantly is the financial cost of putting out projects. Sometimes it can be daunting when you spend months on a song and it ends up not really flying locally. There is still a stigma where Malaysians generally don't think their local talents are able to produce international quality music. But I think this is slowly changing, driven by the younger demographic who seem to have a refreshing appetite to support their homegrown talents. 

Ultimately what is stopping me is the idea of being a musician as a financially sustainable career option. But when you're passionate about something, there is always enough time to do it.

In your opinion why do you think Malaysians feel that Malaysian musicians aren’t able to produce music that is of international quality? And how do we change that?

Alex: This is a tricky question. In my opinion it's due to conditioning, and it starts from basic channels such as radio. Unless you are a mainstream artist, its tough to get your work to be played consistently at local airplays. I'm glad that this is slowly changing with Hitz recently announcing their change in strategy to focus on local talent. If we keep focussing airplay to international artists, how are Malaysians expected to know their local talent?

As for the artist, the only thing we can do is to consistently put out quality music. There are soo many talented artists in the industry today. This is the golden generation of bedroom producers/songwriters as almost all the resources required are easily accessible nowadays. The gap between local and international music is closer than most people think.

If we wanted to support a Malaysian musician but we don't know the best way to do so, what would you advise us to do?

Alex: For me personally, due to my interest in the local scene, I subscribe to local editorial Spotify playlist such as Made In Malaysia, Chill Lah and New Music Friday Malaysia. I suggest you start there to get a flavor of the current scene!

What are your hopes for the Malaysian music scene? How can fans help in building a more sustainable scene for growth?

Alex: I think the scene is growing in the right direction. The best indicator of this is the amount of young talents now being given the spotlight that they rightfully deserve. Social media also allows that personal interaction with fans that was not available as recent as a few years ago. The fans or local consumers can help by putting their TRUST in us. They need to give local music a shot, free of any preconceptions/prejudice. Support their craft by sharing it with their friends/family. Little gestures like that can snowball into something significant

What should we be expecting you to release and where do we follow you?

Alex: I'll be releasing my next single really soon, tentatively in early October. It's something that's very different from my previous releases so I'm excited to share a different side of my music. All my social media handles are @alexungku. Most importantly you can find my music on Spotify under ALEX UNGKU. Watch this space!

Sehati Sejiwa is our way of celebrating this great nation we call home by highlighting the amazing people that make up the country. From musicians to clothing brands, we will be speaking to them about how Malaysians should come together and keep supporting other Malaysians. Now go out and make a difference!

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