Kugiran Masdo on Turning the Beat Around

Reminiscing happy memories of days gone by with Kugiran Masdo’s eargasmic throwback tracks.
kugiran masdo interview

Everything old is new again—Kugiran Masdo is the living, breathing proof of it. Giving a new lease of life to the almost-forgotten 1960s pop yeh yeh music, a term extracted from a hook in The Beatles’ chart-topper “She Loves You”, the band has charmed audiences with their feel-good tunes that boast a clever mix of classic Malaysian rock ‘n’ roll sonic sensibilities, a sprinkle of surf, a dash of R&B, and a whole lot of nostalgia.

Adding to the allure is the group’s inimitable stage presence. Masdo, who is gearing up for their tenth anniversary next year, has finessed a singular visual language that has become an extension of their music. Those signature dark shades, moppish hairstyles, and matchy-matchy suits are catnips to the thrift-savvy generation. It’s an immediate identifier that has separated the band from the glut of alt-bands in the scene.

But do not mistake Masdo’s gumption for a gimmick. Their frontman, whose musical inclination has become the bedrock of the band’s identity, has a long history with the genre. “I grew up watching P. Ramlee’s movies and listening to old songs,” said Ali Sariah with a disarming smile. “I used to help my mom out at her warung and my brother would turn on the radio and pick a channel that played the classics,” he added.

Not one to call themselves a pop yeh yeh purist, Masdo chooses to build on the existing formula to reflect the changing times. “The mood of our music is Sixties but the coding is not. It sounds fresh because we use different chord progressions and synth sounds, among others,” said bassist Putu Ceri. This mash-up of the old and the new somewhat levels the playing field for Masdo to, for lack of better words, compete with their contemporaries.

kugiran masdo interview

Having said that, the band has built a rock-solid fan base. How else could an independent, niche musical group sell 10,000 physical copies of their debut album—Selamat Tinggal Pujaan? Not to mention their commendable online presence—Masdo was the most streamed Malaysian artiste on Spotify last year, putting an end to Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza’s three-year streak. It’s an achievement many could only dream of.

“That was insane. We never thought that was possible for us,” said Ali, still in disbelief, before sharing that the band used to be sceptical of streaming platforms. “We didn’t know how it worked, so we thought we’d be taken advantage of. We thought it’d be better for us to stick to the traditional media so that we would receive 100 per cent of the profit. There’s also a sense of pride to releasing a physical album,” he added.

The band, however, decided to give the digital platform a go for their sophomore album Jalan Abbey due to the overwhelming demand from their fans. “It opened a lot of doors for us, especially in terms of reach,” said Putu Ceri. He then shared one significant encounter that the band had. “We were performing in Japan and we weren’t sure if the crowd was there for us until one of them requested ‘Malam Pesta Rock N Roll’!” he recalled.

But that was only the beginning of the band’s illustrious career. Masdo continues to spread its wings, soaring to greater heights with every undertaking. At the time of the interview, Masdo was in the midst of preparing for their sold-out showcases in London and Manchester. They are also set to headline the much-anticipated concert alongside Singapore’s The Pinholes and Indonesia’s The Changcuters in Kuala Lumpur this May.

With all the successes the band has enjoyed thus far, one cannot help but wonder if they feel the pressure to keep the old new. What does the future look like for a band that sings the songs of the past? The irony is not lost on guitarist Asmawi. He understands that the band should not—nor do they want to—rest on the same formula. He even admitted that the members would sometimes argue to get something unique out of each performance.

“There’s always hunger to bring something different to the table. That’s the reason why we try to spice things up with our intro-outros, the costumes, and the choreography,” he said. Asmawi also disclosed that the trio is in truth made up of a team of 15. “We have our own sound engineer, visual coordinator, lighting designer, and so on. Every one of them plays a crucial part in easing that pressure,” he continued.


Just like Rome, Masdo was not built in a day. There was even a time when Ali was contemplating to quit music. After struggling to get his music career off the ground, the singer resigned himself to a nine-to-five job that would provide a steady stream of income. But, as luck would have it, he and Putu Ceri found each other in the same workplace. The latter, who was dealing with the same dilemma, saw an opportunity too precious to pass up on.

It took some convincing to get Ali on board but Putu Ceri’s knowledge of the music business, which he picked up from his industry peers, convinced him that they were on to something. So they adopted Ali’s previous band name, The Lipstick, and the search for other bandmates began. The band had a few changes in the line-up, which included Hujan’s Ambobzeela, before they hit the jackpot with Asmawi.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing but the band managed to maintain their momentum, enough for them to decide on their direction and ultimately rebrand as Kugiran Masdo, which originated from P. Ramlee’s character in the Do Re Mi movies. Their first original single, “Bunga”, was a breakout hit and marked the band’s official entry into the mainstream music scene. Fun fact: The song, which tells a story of an unrequited love, is a recounting of Ali’s personal experience.

“It’s about a girl that I had been talking to on social media for five years. She always refused to meet in person but we did see each other briefly on the night of my birthday,” said Ali. Needless to say, it didn’t work out between the two of them. Ali was ready to commit but she wasn’t. He even waited for her at the same spot on his next birthday but she never showed. “I was heartbroken. But we have made peace with each other since,” he added.

Masdo continues to churn out one certified banger after another. Dinda, Janji Manis, and Pujaanku are some of the fan favourites. The band’s blossoming popularity has also given them opportunities others could only wish for, including meeting their musical heroes. “One of our great privileges to date was sharing a stage with the legendary Datuk A. Rahman Hassan,” said Asmawi. “He told us to keep going, that ‘60s music would cease to exist if we don’t,” he recalled.

And the band intends to do just that. With a new album on the horizon and a concert tour happening in the fourth quarter, all through February next year, Masdo shows no sign of stopping. Those pulsating beats and dynamic bass lines, meshed with gritty guitar riffs and infectious melodies, will linger on—not only to reminisce the days of yore but to remind us of what could be, the endless possibilities music has to offer.

Photography: Edmund Lee
Creative Direction: Sarah Chong
Art Direction: Shane Rohaizad
Hair and Makeup: Eranthe Loo
Photography Assistant: Zane Chang
Location: Triptyk