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Sounds of Yesteryear: An Audio Landscape of 1900s Southeast Asia

Brand new records are great, but it’s a real treat to discover old vinyl that take you right back to the 80s or even earlier.

If you’re looking for a feel of the past, look no further than the fascinating collection of 52 records preserved by the National Archives of Singapore: Sounds of Yesteryear.

It’s not common knowledge today but Singapore used to be a popular regional base for recording companies from the 1900s to the 1980s. Recording companies used Singapore as a base for their recording studios, and brought to our shores diverse groups of musicians, with varied styles, languages, and traditions. This gave Singaporeans a fascinating legacy to draw inspiration from. There’s early folk songs, orchestral pieces, Malay dramas, Chinese operas in different dialects, and other fascinating tracks.

Have a listen to our favourites from this quirky treasure trove:

Goreng Pisang by Miss Julia

Goreng Pisang is a popular Malay dessert consisting of deep-fried banana. It’s an irresistibly sweet treat and we’re not surprised that it inspired this charming, catchy record. The two songs on this record were performed by Miss Julia, a Malay Singaporean singer who was once known as the “Sophie Tucker of Malaya”.

On A Little Street In Singapore by Al Donahue and His Orchestra

How amusing is it to hear a singer who hopes to woo his lover to our sunny Singapore? A lovely listen that would be perfect in a period theatre or film show.

大家来杀鬼子兵 Da Jia Lai Sha Gui Zi Bing by 星洲合唱团 Xing Zhou He Chang Tuan

The energetic chorus in this record urges their fellow Chinese to take up arms against the enemy after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Interestingly, the record label has the title scratched out, which may have been to avoid trouble with the authorities. This record is now displayed in the Former Ford Factory.

Image credit: National Archives of Singapore

It’s still possible to find some of these old time tunes if you dig hard enough at an old record shop.