Monday, January 19, 2009

What Has Happened to Singing State and National Anthems?

By Johami Abdullah

Most Malaysians cannot sing the national or any of their respective state anthems well today. Way back in the 1960's and 70's, Malaysians used to stand and sing the national anthem played at movie theatres, stadiums and even at the end of social functions. Today we usually merely stand and listen to the recorded national anthem sung by the RTM choir blared over the PA system.

What has happened to such aspects of the musical culture of the early Merdeka years? Why are the prominent composers of today steering clearly away from composing traditional, folk and patriotic songs? In the 1950's and 1960's the musical greats of the period like Jimmy Boyle, Alfonso Soliano, Dato Ahmad Merican, Johar Bahar, Dato Johari Salleh, Tony Fonseka and of course Tan Sri P. Ramlee himself all composed nationalistic flavored songs with hardly any financial incentives in mind.

One such last patriotic effort was when Michael Veerapen and Paul Ponnudurai composed "One Thousand Million Smiles" for Sudirman to sing at the Royal Albert Hall in London way back in 1989. How many of us today can today confidently sing our beautiful patriotic songs like Putra Puteri, Tanah Pusaka, Cendering, Sg. Pahang, Titiwangsa, Gunung Kinabalu, Setangkai Mawar, Tanjung Bunga, Gunung Jerai and so on.

Music teachers from my generation taught such songs in the sixties and seventies. These songs were also aired through programs like Siaran ke Sekolah-Sekolah by RTM. There was a Pesta Muzik religiously held in every state annually. There were many national song writing contests organized as late as the 1990's. Such non-formal efforts to advance music and music education should have, logically speaking, progressed but developments in Malaysia especially since the KBSR era have, sad to say, almost totally negated such early efforts and advancements.

The Ministry of Culture, Unity and Heritage may want to look onto this matter seriously. The Rakan Muda program by the Ministry of Youth and Sports too can help in this matter.