How did Negaraku go from a love song to our national anthem?


  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 17 Nov 2015

Music from the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee (1928-1973) will also be a part of the Malam Terang Bulan shows at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Jalan Ampang, KLCC, Kuala Lumpur from Nov 20-22.

It’s every stage director’s greatest nightmare. You finish your show, and you get no applause.

Yet this was the predicament faced by Datin Saidah Rastam after her show, Malam Terang Bulan, premiered at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in Kuala Lumpur last year. The concert, created and directed by her, was the story of our national anthem, Negaraku.

Fearing the worst, Saidah went out to confront the audience, thinking her show had been an utter failure. What she saw, however, took her by surprise.

“The audience was trailing out, and they were all crying. Men, women and children! I was like, what just happened? I asked them, why were they so emotional? And they said, they remembered their own feelings about the country,” recalls Saidah.

“I was a bit shocked, I didn’t expect this reaction.”

More positive reactions, however, were on their way. Malam Terang Bulan was lauded by much of its audience, with musician Isabella Soliano, director Jo Kukathas, activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and Negri Sembilan crown prince Tunku Abidin Muhriz singing its praises.

That show, held as part of the Khazanah Megatrends Forum 2014, was open only to invited guests. One year later, however, Malam Terang Bulan is being restaged. This time, it is open to the public.

Malam Terang Bulan will return to Dewan Filharmonik Petronas on Nov 20-22.

British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) wrote a Malaysian national anthem in 1957. But his submission was famously rejected by the Malaysian goverment in favour of Negaraku.Photo: Decca
British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) wrote a Malaysian national anthem in 1957. But his submission was famously rejected by the Malaysian goverment in favour of Negaraku.Photo: Decca

Billed as “an orchestral concert with narration”, the show features music from the Merdeka era. Works from composers such as Gus Steyn, Saiful Bahri, Alfonso Soliano, A Rahman, P Ramlee, Zubir Said and Benjamin Britten will be played.

Malam Terang Bulan also tells how a love song became the country’s national anthem.

According to Saidah, the concert came about after she finished a research project to raise awareness about the history of Malaysian music.

“After a career as a composer, working with all types of music, I found that some of the most beautiful music in the world existed right here ... under our noses in Malaysia. I did some research – one year turned into two – and it resulted in a book, Rosalie And Other Love Songs,” says Saidah, a renowned local composer who has written music for theatre, film, dance and TV.

“But a book about music didn’t seem complete. After all, music is all about listening. So this is the reason for the concert.”

Malam Terang Bulan features Datuk Zahim Albakri, Chacko Vadaketh, Dayang Nurfaizah, Musly Ramly, Zamzuriah Zahari, Evelyn Feroza Fernandez and MeiLin Hii. Faizal “Lok U” Uzir serves as musical director and arranger, and Ahmad Muriz Che Rose as conductor.

The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will perform the set.

The concert comprises 17 songs, featuring local music after WWII to the glory days of Radio Malaya. Classic songs such as Jimmy Boyle’s Jauh-Jauh and Tunggu Sekejap, Ahmad Merican’s Tanah Pusaka and Rosiah Chik’s Saat Demi Saat are on the playlist.

“The idea for the concert was to present all this music, not in a contemporary form, but as true to the original as possible. And that’s how it’s going to be,” says Saidah.

“Next year, maybe we’ll do a contemporary reworking of the music, but in Malam Terang Bulan, it’s the music as it is.”

Part of the cast and crew of Malam Terang Bulan (from left) MeiLin Hii, conductor Ahmad Muriz Che Rose, Dayang Nurfaizah, Saidah Rastam, Zahim Albakri, Zamzuriah Zahari and Chacko Vadaketh. Photo: The Star/Haziq Azimi
Part of the cast and crew of Malam Terang Bulan (from left) MeiLin Hii, conductor Ahmad Muriz Che Rose, Dayang Nurfaizah, Saidah Rastam, Zahim Albakri, Zamzuriah Zahari and Chacko Vadaketh. Photo: The Star/Haziq Azimi

For classical music fans, Britten’s untitled submission for the Malaysian national anthem will be of particular interest. RTM Orchestra deputy leader Gus Steyn’s original composition KL Overture is also set to be a highlight.

“It was a benchmark. It’s very symphonic, and in those days, we didn’t have many people who could play that kind of music. And yet he managed to do it, despite the limitations of those days. And that’s a huge thing, which is why it’s in Malam Terang Bulan,” says conductor Ahmad, a Berklee College of Music graduate, who is currently leading the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

The National Anthem Committee meeting at Federal House in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 15, 1956. The story of the national anthem will be told at the Malam Terang Bulan shows at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Jalan Ampang, KLCC, Kuala Lumpur from Nov 20-22.
The National Anthem Committee meeting at Federal House in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 15, 1956.

Award-winning singer Dayang Nurfaizah adds that she is excited to be part of the concert. Dayang will perform Jauh-Jauh and Tanah Pusaka, two songs she has always loved.

“I feel lucky and proud to be part of this. I think it’s important we know where our national anthem comes from. I take it as my responsibility, not just as a singer, but as a Malaysian, to share our history,” says Dayang. Malam Terang Bulan’s story will be narrated by veteran actors Zahim and Chacko, who promise to put their own little “brand of theatre spin”.

Composer Saiful Bahri’s (right) works will be featured at the concert. He is seen here with Mohd Noh Iman.
Composer Saiful Bahri’s (right) works will be featured at the concert. He is seen here with Mohd Noh Iman.

According to Zahim, who is also a director, being involved in this concert has a personal significance for him. While doing research on a previous show, Two Minute Solos, the actor discovered his grandfather Haji Mustapha Albakri had been a member of the National Anthem Committee.

“So when Saidah asked me to do the project, and said part of it would involve the telling of how Negaraku became the national anthem, I immediately said yes,” says Zahim, whose directorial debut Spilt Gravy On Rice had its world premiere at the Colombo International Film Festival recently.

Zahim mentions he and Chacko will take on different characters throughout the story.

“We play the judges during the competition for the national anthem and the characters from Radio Malaya, who were put in charge of finding the anthem,” says Chacko.

Chacko praises the Malam Terang Bulan idea as an excellent way for younger people to understand and appreciate their heritage, and for older people to relive the music of their times.

“The story of Negaraku is a story that I didn’t really know while growing up. So it’s great to discover it. And more than anything else, I’d like to share this story with other Malaysians, especially our young. They need to know our heritage,” says Chacko.

The narration of Malam Terang Bulan will be interspersed with photographs of old Malaya, which Saidah found through her research.


Malam Terang Bulan will be showing at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Jalan Ampang, KLCC, Kuala Lumpur from Nov 20 to 22. For more information visit www.mpo.com.my.

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