Monday, July 9, 2012

MUM IS HISTORY NOW - R.I.P. THE MUSICIANS UNION OF MALAYSIA 1959- 1996)




Michael Veerapen
Charles Peters
Freddie Fernandez ( now Dato')
The Late Swithin Monteiro - another MUM strongman.
MUM's Hon. Sec 1991 - 1995
MUM was an organization that was initiated by its first president Alfonso Soliano in 1959. It was probably created to unite professional musicians working in clubs and hotels at the time. It was a legally registered body under the Registrar of Trade Unions (ROTU). Surprisingly it was supposed to be for salaried workers only and almost all its members were contract workers at best. And, in fact all salaried musicians in the Royal Malaysian Police Band and armed forces bands did not join MUM which would have been a perfectly proper platform for them. I do not know much about its early activities particularly in its early years of existence. No records or documentation exist that I know of. Here, I wish to put MUM on record for the current crop of musicians..........at least in its last days of existence when I was its member so that present day musicians and future ones would have an idea of what it was.

In 1987 I had just returned from USA after completing my tertiary studies. Freddie Fernandez was MUM’s President then. Freddie was the band leader of the famous Revolvers of the 70’s and 80’s. Freddie had gone on into business and had made a name for himself as a leading jingles producer at his company Betarecs. He had become MUM’s President and invited me to join the union although I was not really a professional musician. However, I had some union activity background with The National Union of Teachers (NUT) in the 70’s and had even served as a committee member at the state level in Negeri Sembilan. So I joined Freddy and His Merry Men as impresario Mike Bernie referred to us.....he too was a MUM member.

As an aside, somehow or rather Malaysian Indians have always been very active in unions, till today….. a tradition of sorts one might say. Most trade unions in Malaysia were led by Malaysian Indians…..P.P. Narayanan at the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) was the largest and most powerful union in the country. In February 1949 , the MTUC itself was established under the presidency of the the legendary unionist Datuk P.P. Narayanan. NUT was led by Gurnam Singh and today exists as the NUTP. Unions have always served a societal function in democratic societies but since the 1980’s when Tun Dr. Mahthir helmed the government unions were discouraged and their activities curbed. Today most unions exist more as “toothless tigers”.

So with Freddie Fernandez leading MUM he had prominent musicians like Michael Veerapen (Scat Studio) and Francis Danker (Memories) who were also successful businessmen as his deputies. During my years with MUM we had many other prominent musicians committee members such as Andy Peterson, Lewis Pragasam, Josie Thomas, Paul Ponnudurai, Jenny Chin, Leonard Tan, Rafique Rashid, Charlie Peters, Maniam, Param Fats, Seha Freedom and so on. Membership increased but the base membership was essentially pub and club musicians with a pronounced non-Malay majority. 

Many musical happenings were created and organized such as Musicfests, its own newsletter "The Musician" and "Top of the Pubs which was antionwide talent quest for the best local acts that brought performers like Leonard Tand and Paul Ponnudurai to the foreground. MUM also had branches in Penang (led by James Rozells) and in Melaka (led by Don Beins) and was about to start one in East Malaysia. 

MUM was also the first local body to champion the 50-50 ratio to check the influx of foreign musicians that was starting to affect our musicians’ livelihood even back then with the government. MUM produced a magazine called “The Musician” with people like Charlie Peters and Swithin Monteiro as editors and me too writing articles in it. MUM even sent lawyer’s notices to establishments especially pubs that did not pay some working bands or renegaded on contracts. MUM even had a lawyers' panel mind you and acted as a "mother hen" of sorts for working musicians at the time unions were slowly.


All this was brought to an end by the government since the 1980’s after a new prime minister took over - who else but Tun Mahathir.  MUM was really no threat to the profession, industry or even the government. In any case, MUM’s turn came in 1995 when I was its Hon. Secretary. We were called up by the Registrar of Trade Unions and told to dissolve MUM and start an association instead. I was told that disciplinary action could be taken on me for being a member of an unrelated union according to the General Orders. I was a government servant at the time and was lecturing at Maktab Perguruan Ilmu Khas and had therefore no choice but to resign from the union. MUM continued and slowly fizzled out prinicipally because of lack of support for MUM and its President from the musicians themselves.

Around this time, Dato Rahman Hassan and MUM leaders met with the possibility of MUM merging with PAPITA ( a Malay artistes and musicians association). We agreed but at our first general meeting of MUM and PAPITA members, it turned quite bad with some measure of objection from PAPITA members such as Aris Ariawatan and Hattan. Racial tones were afloat like at an UMNO political meeting. All MUM members walked out led by Michael Veerapen and that was the end of that effort.
MUM finally dissolved and morphed into MAM (Musicians Association of Malaysia) but by then MUM stalwarts like Freddie Fernandez and Francis Danker had moved on to other platforms. Julie Sudiro and few others tried to pull it through but MAM remains a dream till today.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

excellent publish, very informative. I wonder why the opposite specialists of this sector do not understand this.
You must continue your writing. I'm confident, you've a great readers' base already!
Feel free to visit my web page :: buygoldcanyoncandles.blogspot.com

JV Chan said...

Excellent....I like to see more of this having lived in Malaysia almost all my life but now from afar. Hope that you can include some other musicians that you may have met-and dealt with-strollers,grim preachers,revolvers,Xperiments etc.