Tribute to music legend Paul Ponnudorai


Paul Ponnudorai was described by Time magazine as “quite possibly the greatest musical interpreter of our time”. Up there with the best of them, but barely recognised in his homeland.

He passed away last night at the age of 51 after an illness.

See Paul featured in Time magazine:

Comparisons could be made with José Feliciano, the Puerto Rican singer-guitarist who had 1960s hits with stylish remakes of songs like California Dreamin’ and Light My Fire. But Ponnudorai is better. His ability to dice songs up, look into their hearts and perceive the common veins connecting every genre has won the attention of top international players who go to Singapore on tour. Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans, drummer Billy Cobham, guitarist Tommy Emmanuel and vocalist Bobby McFerrin have all been in the audience. In 2002, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis showed up at a performance and was so taken by it, he grabbed his instrument and leapt onstage to play alongside a startled Ponnudorai, who did not recognize him. “He told me ‘Ever since I got off the plane I’ve been hearing about nothing but you,'” Ponnudorai recalls. The pair jammed together for the next two nights.

Paul burst onto the local music scene in the mid-1970s, announcing his arrival by winning the ‘Bakat TV’ talent competition as a solo guitarist.

The first time I heard his music was while in a car, listening to a cassette tape (remember those?!) album ‘Suara’ in support of the ISA detainees after Operation Lalang in 1987. The album, produced and arranged by Alan Pereira and Paul in 1988, was a haunting collection of heart-rending ballads to mark the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I remember thinking to myself, “That’s really quite a talented bunch of musicians.” Paul featured in two of the songs, ‘Dancing on the ceiling’ and ‘This world’, a Cecil Rajendra poem turned into song.

More than that, not many other artistes would have stuck their heads out in support of the ISA detainees at a time when most people were lying low during the darkest days of the Mahathir administration. But Paul (and his team) did, to their credit. So he too played his part in the ‘Abolish ISA’ struggle.

Tributes have been pouring in from the music fraternity.

Singing star Francissca Peter writes:

I was blessed to have sung (and) recorded with Paul and it is a nation’s loss. Sadly, Malaysia never appreciates real true hard-working talent and it is worse today … But he will be and (will) always remain one of if not probably … A UNIQUE, (the) greatest talent that this country has never appreciated. He did very well outside of his own country and it is sad this country is so shallow BUT He will not be forgotten to those who know how amazingly gifted he was. May you be an addition to sweet singing in heaven.

God keep you with him.

Malaysian keyboardist and arranger Aubrey Suwito tweeted: “RIP Paul Ponnudorai. You inspired me every time you played. I learnt so much about music from you.”

The loss was also felt across the causeway. Singapore jazz pianist and composer Jeremy Monteiro tweeted: “Sad day today in the Malaysia-Singapore scene with the passing of the great singer/guitarist Paul Ponnudorai. RIP my friend.”

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francissca peter

I was blessed to have sung recorded with Paul and it is a nations loss sadly malaysia never appreciates real true hard working talent and its worse today… But he will be and always remain one of if not probably the most A UNIQUE greatest talent that this country has never appreciated. He did very well outside of his own country and it is sad this country is so shallow BUT He will not be forgotten to those who know how amazingly gifted he was. May you be the an addition to sweet singing in heaven.

Ong Goo Kang

Francesca Peter should continue to release songs (apple iTunes?) as the local malay pop is on the decline with too many reality tv stars and jom heboh-style promotion.


I hope Francissca Peter is doing well, despite Zainal Abidin and Sheila Majid complaining that old-timers cannot cari makan because the malay audience would not pay for concert as they have been pampered with constant free concert in Jom Heboh.


Juara Lagu 1986:

Better than the current crops of malay songs.


Paul was an extraordinary guitarist unique with his kind of music that blends a remarkable tone and melody. Perhaps the greatest guitarist of all time in Malaysia. Paul too did jinggles on TV ad for ESSO Mobil playing the lead guitar. The Made In Malaysia band perhaps was the best line up musicians ever assemble. RIP Paul

jude charles michael

I met Paul some where in the 90’s when he was performing with Made in Malaysia, he is what u call GOD’S gift to the music world. We had some great times together. Last met up is 2010 christmas at Clifford’s place where caught up after such a long time.
Paul and I had thing between us, a very warm friendship always, no matter how long we have apart.
Paul, you are in a better place with the LORD.

mah kin fatt

paul was my classmate from cator avenue till form 2 in anderson school,we took the same mini van to school where he stayed in ipoh garden,often took his guitar to school.goodbye paul .rip.

Gopalan Achuthan Nair

Paul Ponnudurai was from Batu Gajah, Perak – my schoolmate. He was junior to me.
It is sad that neither his home town mates, his state – Perak – nor his country recognised him.
There is an old saying that Prophets are not recognised in their own lands.
It is too late now.
Paul, Rest in Peace and May the Almighty shower his choicest blessings on your soul.


What a loss. What a talent. RIP Paul


Paul is a part a of our beautiful country Malaysia I remember fondly from Bakat TV till I met him again a few years ago in Auckland and what a treat it was to hear him again.
I would like to raise a glass or two and a prayer to the memory of the Great Paul Ponnudorai. May he Rest in Peace and May Almighty God give him Eternal Rest.
Thank You Anil for giving us this opportunity to express our thoughts. Good luck with your accounto-journalism. You are doing a fantastic job.

Best Regards

francissca peter
ibrahim phee

Fran, Just so you know, you are a class act!

the mythbuster

” Up there with the best but barely recognized in his homeland.” Hasn’t such a scenario taken a life of its own since the advent of NEP and the affirmative action where only ONE race and its mediocre talents are recognized?

The country would only find its rightful place as a true democracy among other nations once everyone born and bred in the country is recognized as citizens and given equal opportunity in everything, be it education or employment. Then only we would see a fully developed and modern Malaysia in the 2020s.


i remember that name, Paul Paribum Ponnudorai. when i was very young, I watched that kid performed in Bakat TV, forgot what year, might be in1974-1976, he beat my kampong mate Ahmad Shahir Shamsudin in the final, both played guitar. Ponnudorai was very very young, the youngest in the contest that year, might be 12 years old, but he was fantastic. People only remember Rahim Osman and A Razak Rahman who produced by Bakat TV but nobody mention Paul Ponnudorai eversince. Some 15 years ago, I’ve asked my friend who is a guitar guru in KL if he knows Paul… Read more »


Anil, thanks for bringing the news. I watched the attached video and yes, it was Paul Paribom Ponnudorai that won Bakat TV those year, I still remember the face. How I wish that I could watch his live performance, shake his hand and say to him,” hey Paul, I watched you on TV plucking guitar some 40 years ago, in black and white…”


I remember that Bakat Tv program too! There was a wonderful pool of talent out there then. Some made it big, others ostracized for whatever reasons. I think it’s a crying shame that Malaysia missed yet another genius in its midst. But for those who had the opportunity to appreciate hard luck artists like Paul, the memories will remain and if possible, passed on to the next generation through whatever means – personal compilations, old records, cd’s demo tapes, whatever, so one they they will all be recognized for the right reasons. That’s my hope and prayer, anyway! Thx for… Read more »


“quite possibly the greatest musical interpreter of our time.Up there with the best of them, but barely recognised in his homeland”. Very apt. Very sad. Will never forget my one experience watching you live in KL one night 10 years ago. Thx for the songs, the interpretations rather, and the memories. RIP, bro.

Andrew I

The only thing that gets recognition is wooden acting in a film featuring an invisible car.