This paper concerns the material culture and political agency of musical instruments. Based on recent dissertation research in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I examine the power of an iconic Arab instrument—known as the oud—to enact, distribute, and extend cognitive representations of ethnic heritage. Based on Malafouris’ material engagement theory (2013) and Bennett’s political ecology of things (2010), I argue that widening the anthropocentric lens of social agency to include musical materials opens new channels to understanding Malay identity construction, particularly amongst a subculture of urban musicians where overt political criticism is avoided. Thus, “soft” political channels, such as music, are valued for this purpose. Considered part of Malay heritage, the oud reveals a debate between the contentious Arabization of Malay culture versus pluralistic—including pre-Islamic—ethnolinguistic and artistic lineages. While Malays are the majority population, what it means to be Malay—including their status as indigenous—is fraught with controversy. Malays are historically pigeonholed as rural dwellers with a low impact on the economy (Roff 1967), while their Chinese Malaysian counterparts largely control the urban economy. I show how the oud stirs and tempers anxieties about the place of Malays in urban Malaysia. I accomplish this by revealing the materio-symbolic power of the oud as it emerges in urban spaces. My analysis reveals ways in which musical materials shape the mind and how the mind shapes musical materials in an amalgam of ethnic representation.