August 30, 2009
1Malaysia in Music: A Malaysian Identity or just strategic branding?
By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
There are several ways of appreciating music, appreciating a song. Songs are like stories or Shakespearean quotes; they can be seen and analysed in a multitude of ways, and there is no limit to what a song can mean to somebody.
For me, the first thing I look for in a song is the lyrics. I go ape when a song addresses serious socio-political issues, or talk about life and death, god and religion. Trouble is you’ll never hear songs like these hit the local airwaves, or even make it to television.
Now don’t get me wrong. Sure I don’t mind the occasional Akon’s “I-Wanna-Make-Love-Right-Now-Na-Na” but I find it a little troubling when the same song is repeated on every radio station.
It doesn’t even matter if you don’t particularly like the song; at the end of the day you’ll be singing along to the lyrics because the radio stations have brilliantly pasted the song inside your head via fervent repetition.
So I was coming home from work one day and I happened to tune in to one of the local stations. They were playing this Merdeka-themed song featuring a lot of guest artists, and I think it was called “Satu Malaysia”. It talked about how we were one as a nation even though we are from different races, and how we are united in song and in the end nothing else matters.
That same night, I chanced upon a television advertisement while enjoying the usual teh tarik with my band mates after a jamming session. Apparently, in conjunction with Merdeka, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has organised a 1 Malaysia song competition, aimed at “capturing the diversity of the nation.”
It was initiated by Najib himself who wanted a song which “represented the spirit of Malaysia, written and chosen by the people to voice out what 1 Malaysia meant to them.” Ten finalists have already been chosen, and the winner will be announced on the 31st and walks away with a cash prize as well as a music video.
While I applaud the efforts taken by our Prime Minister, at the same time I cannot help but remain somewhat unmoved by this gesture. True, the best way for creative expression and engagement of the public is through music, but the cynical part of me wonders: what type of songs will be selected? Do they (the songs) touch on the good and the bad of what’s happening in the country, or is it just going to be another “we are united despite being different”.
I, for one, think that the winning song will probably be about how we are “diverse but still together”, strong, bold in facing challenges. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s done in a mixture of languages eg Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin etc.
Most importantly it will push the concept of 1 Malaysia.
I guess every administration needs a slogan, a catchphrase of the day, something to adhere to. It’s like the wrestling entrance music for a wrestler. Back in Tun Dr. Mahathir’s time it was Wawasan 2020.
The thing is, is 1 Malaysia a relatively new concept? I think not. I think that the concept in itself is a more of a strategic branding than a Malaysian identity. I mean, I think we as citizens would have realized by now that after 52 years of living together, we have somehow found some common ground on issues that matter to us:
1. Corrupt politicians are a no-no!
2. We need more sugar, and cheaper petrol (yes please!)
3. The need for the government as well as the opposition to be transparent and fair in every process. There are so many things that have happened in our country that needs clarification, what with the scandals and an on-going inquest. Transparency please!
4. Race attacks in newspapers (have we really come down to this?)
This is my 1 Malaysia Merdeka wish list. I don’t mind listening to patriotic songs which tell me that we are happy together all-the-races-living-in-perfect-harmony, but I would be lying if I said I actually believed it.
No society is perfect. Problems like race and religion are issues that will be part of our daily discourse for a long time, like a scab refusing to budge. It’s just like a band. You cannot force every band member to like a certain type of music. People will always have different tastes and opinions.
But I guess that is what is good about having a functioning democracy. We agree to disagree on some concerns, and talk it out in the open. Having room for dissent is always good, that way we can value varying thoughts and beliefs.
And that is what makes us function as a nation. Not through government-sponsored song competitions, but understanding and realising that we have similar concerns that go way beyond our differences.
1 Malaysia or not, life goes on. We simply have to catch up with it.