Penangite who made sweet music in Sabah
Published on: Monday, December 26, 2022
By: Ellis Idris, FMT
PETALING JAYA: There are few who would give up more than half of their salary to start a new life more than 1,000 miles away, but Peter Pragas did, and many in Sabah’s music industry are better off because of his decision.
In 1957, Pragas was earning a decent income as a music director at Filem Negara when he decided to join Radio Sabah, which later became Radio Televisyen Malaysia Sabah.
At his new job, the Penangite earned only 22% of what he was getting paid in Kuala Lumpur.
But money was not his motivation.
“He had come to Sabah for a holiday and instantly fell in love with the native music,” pianist Joanna Funk, a friend of Pragas, told FMT.
According to Funk, Pragas found native music to be “beautiful but quite limited in range”.
Inspired by the native music, Pragas, a pianist, went on to work in public service for 24 years, contributing to Sabah’s music scene.
He created the state’s first radio band called the Sabah Serenaders, started talent competitions, composed music including Kanou Sumazau (Let’s Dance), and even taught the police band.
Pragas also got musicians to play Western instruments alongside local musicians playing traditional instruments like the bungkau, suling, and sompoton, and at times getting into the mix with his piano.
In 1979, he produced “Land Below the Wind”, his first instrumental album, and in 1999, the state named him “Father of Sabah Modern Music”.
Funk said from the first time she met him, it was clear that Pragas was “motivated by something far greater than money”.
“He was enthusiastic about local music and musicians,” she said.
Pragas died on June 30, 2014, at the age of 87. But nearly a decade on, his contributions to Sabah’s music industry have not been forgotten.
Retired RTM Sabah music director Ronald James said he was “blown away” by Pragas’ skills as a pianist.
“He was a music icon and a wonderful boss, but more than that, he was also a friend. He was always willing to listen and help,” he told FMT.
He said Pragas’ generosity in sharing his musical knowledge left a lasting impression on him.
“Mention his name to any musician in Sabah today, young or old, and I am sure they will know of him,” he added.
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