Your Weekend Dig

August 27, 2016


Image result for Miss Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman

Here is Miss Peggy Lee with her sultry voice to entertain you all this weekend. It has been a demanding week for most of us and Merdeka Anniversary is just around the corner. But let us ask ourselves seriously, what is there to celebrate given the state of our politics today. –Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican


A Weekend for Easy Listening

August 13, 2016

A Weekend for Easy Listening

Easy Listening? Well for that, there is no one than Perry Como who can do it in style. He belongs to a generation of crooners led by Bing Crosby. So here is as your entertainer for this weekend. All you have to do is to  sit back and take it easy and let Mr. Como do his thing with his opening number Papa Love Mambo, which was a hit in the 1950’s. With best wishes from Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican.



Enough Pressure, desegregation can occur

August 12, 2016

Enough Pressure, desegregation can occur

by Tunku Zain Al-Abidin


The (Malaysian) government’s role in regulating the things (some) Malaysians consider to be fun has punctuated our country’s political life for decades.  The first Prime Minister brushed off protests by students of Universiti Malaya over certain concerts in campus, but perhaps Malaysians of my generation will remember the controversy over Michael Jackson’s performance in 1996 being amusingly portrayed by cartoonist Dato’ Lat.

In the face of religious objections to Selena Gomez’s recent concert, the Selangor Menteri Besar bravely replied “sexiness is God’s creation and subjective, do not be over excited by it”.  Prayers for her concert to be cancelled did not have the desired effect, but she dressed more modestly than usual, and 4,000 Selenators kept their hands to themselves.

Pokemon Go is the current target for calls for a ban. Apart from religious justifications, the mobile nature of the game has also led to arguments based on concerns about public safety and trespassing.

So far, only the Kedah fatwa committee has declared the game haram for Muslims, while the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has released safety guidelines. Earlier, the minister gave himself some wriggle room by saying: “Even though some countries may restrict it, we in Malaysia have not reached that stage.”

The same minister also stepped in to modify the awards for the upcoming Malaysian Film Festival so that the Best Picture category will no longer be segregated by language, which had been the case since 2011, though the awards have been running since 1980.

This year, two acclaimed films (Jagat and Ola Bola) were nominated in the Non-Bahasa Malaysia category, and actor Afdlin Shauki announced he would be boycotting the festival because of the segregation, asking “When will Malaysians, no matter the race, be truly recognised for their craft as Malaysian artwork?”

This move was publicly approved by Dato’ Seri Nazir Razak and Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, triggering viral support, but perhaps the most dramatic act was cinematographer Mohd Noor Kassim returning his two awards (won in 2009 for Setem and 2011 for Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa) to organiser National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Director-General in a garbage bag. “In film, the language of film is what’s important,” he said.  Indeed, this week at the premiere of Temuan Takdir — a fully Malay film — its Malaysian multiracial credentials were rightfully highlighted.

While the minister’s intervention might be hailed as a progressive move as a result of listening to the people, we should question the very idea of politicians having such powers over culture in the first place.

There is a fine line between government being a facilitator and promoter of culture as defined by the people on the one hand, and of actually being the arbiter of what constitutes Malaysian culture on the other.  (In pre-Merdeka times, some art forms certainly enjoyed royal patronage, yet folk art also prospered outside the palaces.)

The creation and appreciation of culture (including our enjoyment of non-Malaysian output) belongs to every citizen, not to politicians, yet during cultural controversies, agitators often cite the Federal Constitution, the National Culture Policy, Bangsa Malaysia, 1Malaysia and of course, their own religious beliefs to press the government to take their side and use the power of the State to enforce it.

However, another cultural controversy came and went without any political involvement last week when local television show MeleTOP parodied Yuna’s performance with Usher (of them singing “Crush” at the Roots Picnic music festival) featuring an actor in blackface.

The video was widely shared online, leading Yuna to post a forceful message asking those who found it funny to educate themselves on the practice now considered highly disrespectful in the United States.  Here was an example of cultural sensitivity being developed not by political fiat, but by an appeal to history and education — and the show duly removed the video and issued a “sincere apology.”

Last weekend at KLPAC, I witnessed another precious cross-cultural phenomenon — Ahmad Yatim’s adaptation of Trisno Sumardjo’s translation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet directed by Dato’ Faridah Merican.

The fact that a play written in Tudor England can resonate with a Malaysian audience in our national language emphasises the universality of storytelling.

While there are brave pioneers in the arts world leading the way forward, the political world remains stuck in the past, or at best constrained by what apologists will call “political realities.”

Our country’s newest political party has an explicitly racial name and there are two classes of membership based on race.  Our arts pioneers have shown with enough pressure, desegregation can occur.

It is up to voters to apply the same pressure in our politics towards towards the same objective.

* Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin is founding president of Ideas


Jazz at The Riverside, Phnom Penh

August 7, 2016

Jazz at The Riverside, Phnom Penh

The weekend is almost over. But there is still time to relax with Tenor Saxophonist Stan Getz and Guitarist, Charlie Byrd. It is, in fact, not strictly over. At the Riverside, in the area near The Foreign Correspondents Club by the Tonle Sap, nocturnal activity is about to begin. May you all enjoy Brazillian Jazz samba by the two outstanding exponents  of the Bossa Nova.

Let us note that in another place in some distant city, Rio de Jenario, Brazil, in another time zone, the 2016 Olympic Games is being held. Our Brazilian friends are to be congratulated by defying the odds to stage the Games amid difficult economic and trying political times in their country. From all counts, despite controversies over the doping scandal involving the Russian Olympic contingent  the Games  promises to be a great success.

Image result for Brazilian samba

Dr. Kamisah and Din Merican wish to pay tribute to Brazil  and the Brazilians for their strength of character, resolve, and resilience in ensuring that the spectacle of 2016 is happening in Rio de Jenario this summer. You did not disappoint the world. In stead you showed the world that  you as a people have the capacity and the political will to honour your commitments to the Olympic movement by staging the Games.--Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Jazz Time from Phnom Penh

July 30, 2015

Jazz Time in Phnom Time

It is the  time of the week (Saturday) for us to get away from it all–the cares and woes, the hustle and bustle,  the noise from angry voices, and politics– and just relax.

Phnom Penh is  a unique city. There are plenty of places to go for a good meal with friends and enjoy the music. The FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) by the Riverside, for example, is a popular spot for the curious and adventurous. If you come to Phnom Penh, go there and listen to jazz, enjoy a great meal, and meet tourists, journalists,  and the English speaking educated locals who frequent the FCC to sit back and relax.

So in that spirit, Dr. Kamsiah who is in Kuala Lumpur where she is attending her nephew’s marriage dinner at The Tropicana Golf Club and Din Merican  who is blogging in Phnom Penh present The Dave Brubeck  Quartet .

Jazz Pianist Dave Brubeck and his colleagues (Paul Desmond on Alto, Joe Morello on Drums and Eugene Wright on Bass) need no introduction. Din is proud to say that  David “Dave” Warren Brubeck (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012) was äwarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music in May, 2010 for his contributions to American music and culture by his alma mater, The George Washington University. Listen to The Quartet and you know why Dr. Dave Brubeck deserved to be remembered.–Din Merican

Your Weekend of Songs–Rick Nelson

July 16, 2016

Your Weekend of Songs–Rick Nelson

After a short break when Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican were in New York and Washington, we are pleased to feature the songs of teenage idol of the 1960’s, Rick Nelson for your entertainment this weekend. He needs no introduction to men and women of Din’s generation. The millennials, however, can visit wikipedia. org for his resume which is indeed impressive.

BTW, our visit to the United States was always exciting with plenty to see. We also made new friends and renewed our contact with old ones.

We were fortunate to be in Washington on the Fourth of July and had the time to spend some time at Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington and Hanover, Va and revisit monuments around the capital and the campus  of The George Washington University, just a few blocks from The White House. The Fourth of July Fireworks in Washington DC was a spectacle. Smokey Robinson and other entertainers were there to entertain all of us. It was an unforgettable occasion, thanks to our host and friend, Ambassador John R. Malott.

Please have a good weekend.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican