After video killed the radio star, conversational audio content made a stunning comeback in the form of podcasts. Southeast Asia’s growing community of podcasters highlights the medium’s versatility.
By Deric Ee
Amidst a sensory overload from lit-up screens offering near-infinite stimuli, consumers of the arts are seeking refuge in podcasts. Perhaps it’s the soothing nature of podcasts compared to other forms of audio such as music. It might also be the way the medium offers listeners an opportunity to learn and be entertained.
We put together six notable podcasts from Southeast Asia which deserve a spot in your library.
1. George Town Literary Festival (GTLF)
Penang’s biggest literary festival debuted a podcast in 2019 which features a prestigious line-up of authors and speakers from the global literary map. Like most festivals in the region, GTLF has had little to show after its physical event is done and dusted. But these podcasts made a splash after dozens of lectures and panel conversations from the festival began appearing on Spotify.
Almost every panel discussion at GTLF 2019 has been turned into podcasts on Spotify, made possible via a partnership with Nusantara Audiobooks.
Photo from GTLF.
The sheer star power of the festival participants commands your attention and respect. If you can forgive the technical issues which at times impair the listening experience, there’s plenty to gain from GTLF’s curated conversations which explore topics ranging from climate activism to Malay journalism.
Led by Kathy Rowland, the Singapore-based editor and researcher who founded Kakiseni in 2001, ArtsEquator is one of few critical voices addressing the region’s arts and culture scene. It launched a podcast series in 2016 which featured Rowland with co-host Matt Lyon chatting about arts events and news in the region with a focus on Singapore.
Arts Equator has in-depth performing arts coverage and access to prominent regional talents such as Joseph Gonzales.
Photo from Arts Equator.
Four years later, the series has built an impressive library of content on Southeast Asian arts. It’s a treasure trove of insight from Malaysia’s most prominent arts advocates, featuring the likes of local dance icon Joseph Gonzales, The Necessary Stage’s Alvin Tan, and British theatre critic Lyn Gardner. ArtsEquator’s podcasts also pay close attention to the region’s underrated theatre and performance art industry.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, ArtsEquator has added transcripts to each newly-released podcast — a sure perk for academics and researchers of the arts.
Arguably the most prominent and best-recognised entity on this list, Klang Valley radio station BFM has the largest array of local podcasts nationwide. Its library comprises over 51,000 recordings from various programmes touching upon all aspects of living in Malaysia. BFM’s programmes dedicated to arts and culture include book review segment By The Book and arts-focused conversation series Front Row.
BFM’s Front Row hosts interviews with local talents such as Anomalist Production’s Azmi Hud and Aishah Mohamad.
Photo from BFM.
By The Book hosts insightful discussions on worldwide literary releases including works of authors coming to Malaysia. But Front Row is particularly impressive, having amassed over 2,000 conversations with local artists and arts activists ranging from young creators to established names.
BFM’s coverage of Malaysia’s performing arts industry is comprehensive; everybody who’s anybody can be heard clearly in its pristine set of recordings. New podcasts are also added to its parent site daily.
4. The Citymaker by Think City
Think City’s online publication The Citymaker spans articles, video logs and podcasts, offering insights into placemaking, a discipline which combines various aspects of design and management of public spaces to create better environments for human living. It makes for some cutting-edge reading, elucidating concepts such as mall culture and the heritage economy.
Mahadivya Dance company performing during Think City’s Arts on the Move programme.
Photo from Think City.
At present, there are nearly 20 podcasts on creative cities, design, arts, and culture on The Citymaker. These recordings often tie into urban rejuvenation and cultural mapping efforts currently conducted by Think City in Kuala Lumpur, Johor, and Penang.
The publication recently launched Reflexive City, a new series of podcasts hosted by Matt Armitage and Maya Tan which explores how cities are shaped around the world, along the way highlighting initiatives making waves across the nation.
5. garis ma.ta (irama mu, kata mu)
This curious little podcast from Indonesian educator Enggar Relawati features regional poetry with ambient backing music, as well as select song uploads. It’s an invitation to slow down and contemplate life — a refreshing change from the knowledge-driven podcasts which let you kill multiple birds with your time. Her method works: today, garis ma.ta is one of 20 most listened-to podcasts on Spotify Malaysia.
Poetry and music podcast garis ma.ta is a creative outlet for Indonesian teacher Enggar Relawati.
Photo from Spotify Malaysia.
Enggar’s influences are diverse, taking inspiration from Indonesian popstars to Korean dramas. She is responsible for reading the poems on her channel, but she also creates some fascinating works using regional soundtracks. In one three-minute episode, she disconcerts audiences with a heartbreaking piece on love laid over the score of hit Korean TV series Hotel del Luna.
garis ma.ta is a searing example of the region’s DIY spirit and boundless creativity – a labour of love from an English teacher in Jawa Tengah.
6. Take a Bao
Can the appeal and character of a good meal be conveyed without visuals? Gourmand podcast Take a Bao, launched during the COVID-19 lockdown, certainly proves so. Podcast episodes feature personalities from the F&B industry reviewing how cultures and communities across Asia shape the continent’s food. In just eight episodes, Take A Bao has covered delicacies and trends including kuih, salted egg, and Dalgona coffee.
Take A Bao’s memorable premiere, for instance, featured nuggets of wisdom on the durian. Did you know why the Musang King variant of durian has eclipsed the D24 in popularity? Or how a Chinese trade agreement changed the game for local food manufacturers?
Series creator, Malaysian-born Loh Yi Jun also runs Jun & Tonic, a food blog with recipes of original creations and traditional delicacies.
Cover photo shows Kam Raslan, Amir Muhammad and Heidi Shamsuddin record an upcoming podcast with Nusantara Audiobooks for GTLF 2020. Photo from Tintabudi Bookstore.
Deric Ee is a writer and producer with a background in arts advocacy, placemaking, and theatre production. He hopes to undertake more community-driven projects.