Friday, September 4, 2009


by Joe Chelliah

Notice that the thumbs are not up

So the search for a 1 Malaysia song is over. However there are two officially recognized versions. One was composed by Audi Mok in a contest organized by Media Prima which bears the title Malaysia Satu. The NST reports that the song depicts racial unity and the diverse cultures in the country. I wonder how this conclusion was drawn. The report also says that Hot FM, a radio station under the wing of Media Prima, had taken up the challenge of finding the ultimate 1Malaysia song.

Composed by Audi Mok with lyrics by Nor Fatima and sung by Faizal Tahir the winning song was chosen from among 10 songs that made it to the final. I honestly wonder who chose the song and if they were qualified musicians in the first place. Or was the final choice done by the PM or the Culture Minister as I heard it was? Being totally western in design and concept from its very form, harmonies, melodic direction and tempo there is absolutely nothing Malaysian in the winning song except for the lyrics which are in Bahasa Malaysia. This was also clearly evident in all the top ten songs in the final which I listened to intently through the internet.

The other song is the one chosen by the Information, Communications and Culture Ministry with the objective of popularizing patriotic songs among Malaysians which has been RTM’s role since Merdeka. The winning song titled 1 Malaysia was composed by Nik Nizamerrie Naham with lyrics by a Lokman Ghani. This song is set in march tempo and very characteristic of the most unimaginably boring patriotic songs that RTM has been airing in more recent times.

Sadly, both 1 Malaysia songs are nothing more than another round of campaign songs that will in all probability not be remembered even a year away from now just like the national day songs of yesteryears. For songs to really reach out to the people and be endeared they must have catchy tunes, simple lyrics and most of all a local flavour. It is my opinion that such truly 1 Malaysia songs are already out there in the form of our earliest of patriotic songs such as Putra Putri ( Jimmy Boyle) and Tanah Pusaka (Dato’ Ahmad Merican) that have also withstood the test of time. These songs need to be nurtured and aired daily. Perhaps we do not need any new and trendy rock or pop styled music or songs set in March tempo to reach out to Malaysians and to get their patriotic spirits soaring.

The ingredients of Malaysian culture must be the base for any Malaysian design from clothes to music. For example, truly hot favorite Malaysian foods such as nasi lemak, nasi kandar, mee mamak and mee curry all have very Malaysian base elements such as belachan, curry powder, noodles, kichap, santan, tahu and so on. If there is only mayonnaise, mustard, cheese and ketchup in the foods they cannot be termed Malaysian although they may be very popular with segments of Malaysians. This is also analogous to the big problem with the Petronas’ Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra for its lack of “local ingredients”. Truly Malaysian music too must have the above characteristic base elements to reach the Malaysian soul.

Local musical ingredients for a song can come in the form of musical elements such as scales (major and minor pentatonic, Asli, Javanese) tonal inflections, implicit as well as explicit local rhythms( Joget, Zapin, Bhangara, Thilana, Baila, Dangdut, Fandango etc.). Most of all, it must have a beautiful melody line that is easily recognizable and singable with a sensible vocal range. Once the tune is a catchy melody, it can be “dressed up” in jazz, rock or asli just as anyone with a good physique will look good in anything from beach wear to formal outfits.

The sorry state of things in Malaysian music today can be attributed to a general lack of sense and direction in the arts. It all stems from an education system itself that is not rooted in the humanities at all. Even the song writing contest has been in favour of those who are totally dependent on music technology. In this way the contest rules had indirectly favored those from the recording industry and music technology savvy people. As such traditional musicians, veterans and amateurs had been inadvertantly excluded in this exercise. An untutored singer (like Zee Avi for instance) singing a song with a guitar at home may have come up with a better song.

A better way to get a really good One Malaysia song would be to commission well known and proven composers – young and old with clear guidelines for the melodic and lyrical content of the song. Pay the prize for the winning song and a token for the other participants as rejection fees.