On the eve of Merdeka Day: Hot on 1Malaysia?

malaysian insider

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 52nd Merdeka symbolquotes; 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.

shazwan04-aug30So 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.

5 thoughts on “On the eve of Merdeka Day: Hot on 1Malaysia?

  1. Shazwan is correct about the need to focus on our common concerns, these in my view being rampant corruption, high crime rate, lack of transparency, absence of responsible independent (not of the Utusan Malaysia type) media, rising cost of basic necessities, environmental degradation, incompetence in public administration and political leadership, and racist politics and religious conservatism.

    Songs, patriotic songs in particular,are meaningless when the government continues to stifle peaceful dissent, and when we are a democracy in name only. 1Malaysia– and we are going to spend millions upon millions of ringgit promoting it– is another slogan that is being forced down our throats.

    Recall what happened to Mahathir’s “Bersih, Cekap, dan Amanah” and Cemerlang, Gemilang dan Terbilang” of the Badawi administration.Over the last 28 years, we have erosion in our moral values and ethics, and greed has become the creed.

    Can I today say to you, “Happy Merdeka “, when I know, and you know too, that there is more than rot in the state of Malaysia than we wish to recognise.

    August 31, that is today, is the occasion for us to remind the government of the day that if you can’t change, we will change you. Your arrogance of power will no longer be tolerated. The Japanese have spoken when they just voted out the LDP which ruled Japan for more than 50 years. The era of the Democratic Party has just begun. It will be our turn soon.— Din Merican

  2. Americans celebrate Fourth of July Independence Day by having picnics, barbecues, attending sporting events, fireworks and proudly flying the American flag and not just attending parades. In fact most would be having barbecues in their lawns with neighbors and friends and family. But what one thing you never fail to see are the flags flying from their homes.

    Malaysians generally are not a patriotic lot when it comes to flying their national flags. Here we have Puerto Ricans, Costa Ricans, Panamaians, Hondurians, Bolivians, Peruvians, Cubans and of course Mexicans running around with their country-of-origin flags flying in the wind, from their cars and homes but come Independence Day the same people would be flying the Old Glory. Nobody asks them to do anything. The government has no role in it.

    I have yet to see Malaysians flying the Malaysian flag anywhere. I would fly the Malaysian flag once the price of rambutan in New York drops from RM2.00 per fruit to something more affordable. I just bought 16 of that hairy fruits and they are small ones, which cost me USDLS7.00 which works out to US 0.43cents a fruit. That’s about the cost of one first class stamp or double the price of an egg.

  3. Patriotism in Malaysia has to be bought. Merdeka is a state-sponsored event with a gala bash in Putrajaya and other state capitals. This is Bolehland for you. Can’t blame the rakayat. They’re never taught to be self-reliant from day one. It’s always Big Brother knows best.

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