PETALING JAYA — As the 59th Malaysia Day approaches and patriotic songs in Bahasa Malaysia are heard over the airwaves, few remember a clutch of songs that celebrated the birth of the nation in English.
Who of such vintage as this scribe can forget Oh Malaysia, Malaysia Wonderful, or Malaysia For Ever that were reflective of the dreams of English-speaking citizens of Malaya and Singapore.
The instrumental Sunrise in Malaysia also delighted Malaysians wanting songs to mark the momentous occasion of a nation’s birth.
They were penned soon after the peninsula, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore came together as a confederation of states.
Pop musicians on both sides of the Causeway were also marking the formation of the new country with songs that stirred the spirit and lyrics that tugged at their heartstrings.
Oh Malaysia by singer Anneke Gronloh and Malaysia Wonderful by Singapore bands The Sundowners and The Tornados who recorded it together were the favourites of the day.
The first line of the Dutch-Indonesian singer’s ballad ran Oh Malaysia Land of Glory, Where I found my heart’s true Love; In a Night So Warm and Tender, With the Moon and Stars Above.
The Sundowners and The Tornados together recorded Malaysia Wonderful which had the opening lines I Found a Paradise, I’ll Stay there the Rest of My Life, Its Called Malaysia, Wonderful Malaysia …
Both songs reflected a romance between pop culture and politics in the peninsula and Singapore that died an early death after the island pulled out of Malaysia following political differences between the People’s Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew and Umno headed by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.
Sunrise in Malaysia is a beautiful instrumental recorded at different times by The Stylers who played out of Singapore and the Dutch-Indonesian band Sky Devils.
Try as this writer did, he could not find the words for the song which makes an impact just like The Shadows did with Apache.
Another Malaysia Day song that was never heard after 1965 when Singapore went its own way was Malaysia For Ever written by Canadian Bobby Gimby.
It was recorded in Singapore by the winning songwriter who has numerous other commercial English hits to his credit.
Apparently, Tunku had at one point called it the unofficial national anthem of Malaysia due to its popularity.
Gimby had written the song to raise funds for the Marymount Vocational School school on the island besides feeding a local thirst for Malaysia Day songs in English.
It is said Gimby, who joined Rothmans of Pall Mall in the United Kingdom at some point to create jingles for the tobacco company, had come to Malaysia as the nation was taking shape.
The first few lines resound with the joy of being part of a new nation
Let’s get together, Sing a happy song, Malaysia forever, Ten million strong.
Land of the free, Marching as one. Ready to share in every way, So let’s get it done — get it done, get it done,” children sang across the island, the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak.
The back cover of the record carried a message from Tunku appreciating Gimby for creating the song.
“Malaysia For Ever has been written at a time when the peoples of Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo, Brunei and Singapore are about to forge into the Malaysian nation. The lyrics of the song aptly identifies the spirit of the peoples of these territories — to work and live together in peace and unity,” he wrote.
Early songs in Malaya which rode the waves in the day included Malaysia Berjaya written by Saiful Bahri, an Indonesian who made Malaysia his home in the 1950s.
Children of that era will surely remember the song that was popular from its creation in 1964 to the 1980s.
It was a hit among students who had gone to school in Malaya and who were fascinated by the new name, Malaysia, heard daily over television and radio in 1963.
Interestingly, Saiful was commissioned in 1964 to write the song to create a patriotic spirit among Malaysians in the face of Konfrontasi that began the year before.
Apparently, Tunku wanted a song that would unite Malaysians against the aggressors.
And what a hit the song initially sung by RTM announcer Jamaluddin Alias, and later by countless others, turned out to be.
It is speculated that Saiful had to change his stage name to Surya Buana (after his initials) in 1965 to prevent the Indonesians from claiming that one of their own had created the song.
Some are said to have wanted to prevent the kind of controversy that the national anthem, Negaraku, invited from the southern neighbours who claimed it was an Indonesian tune, Terang Bulan.
Another song that Saiful wrote for the brand-new nation was Inilah Barisan Kita with its martial tempo that took Malaysians into its grip.
Again, it was Jamaluddin who recorded the song that became popular across the length and breadth of the nation.
The song was popular across universities in the 1970s — an expression of the growing spirit of independence among undergraduates then.
Today, the song and others that have faded with time are only alive in the minds of a few who will never forget the heady days of Malaysia’s formation.