SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (Dec 3), as part of celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of Singapore’s national anthem, a music video was released, featuring veteran singer Ramli Sarip singing his rendition of Majulah Singapura - first performed at this year’s National Day Parade.
This is not to be confused with the updated official recording of the national anthem also released on Tuesday and performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the Esplanade Concert Hall, which retains the original arrangement by composer Phoon Yew Tien.
I don’t know about other people, but until this week, the national anthem always reminded me of tedious school assemblies, butchered Malay words (occasionally comical, often a buzzkill) and SEA Games award ceremonies.
It wasn’t until this rendition by Ramli Sarip came along that I realised what it really means to have a national anthem you can sing to with conviction.
A FITTING SINGER FOR AN IMPORTANT SONG
First of all, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more worthy to sing the song than “Papa Rock” Ramli Sarip, who at 67, is part of the Merdeka Generation that witnessed Singapore’s birth as an independent nation.
He didn’t write the song, but the man has an impressive track record that makes his association with the anthem fitting. Ramli Sarip was the frontman of 1970s rock band Sweet Charity and a respected songwriter, with more than 10 albums under his belt.
Many of his songs continue to get plenty of radio play, among them Bukan Kerana Nama (Not For Fame) and Kita Insan Biasa (We’re Ordinary People), considered by many to be heartfelt commentaries on human nature.
Listening to his rendition of Majulah Singapura, I can imagine it being the soundtrack to his observations of the goings-on around coffee shops in the Arab quarter, where he is often seen with a guitar in hand.
A SOULFUL, MOVING RENDITION THAT PROVOKES REFLECTION
If you were one of those who lamented the performance’s sombre and funereal qualities, I can see why you would think that way. It is significantly slower-paced, especially when compared to the new recording of Majulah Singapura, written by the late Zubir Said and composed by Mr Phoon, which is five seconds faster than the original.
The video, produced by Chuan Productions, is in black-and-white. Listeners have taken to social media and other online forums to criticise it for being “so sad”, and calling for something more “upbeat” and “semangat” (spirited). But are they missing the point?
By definition, a national anthem is indeed a kind of eulogy. It mourns the loss of something by reflecting on its history and struggles. It is meant to be both sobering and uplifting, but most of all, it is an invitation for quiet reflection.
Notice this version also allows for better enunciation and thus, reflection of often glossed-over phrases, like “Mari kita rakyat Singapura” (“Let us, the citizens of Singapore”), “Berjaya, Singapura” (“Be successful, Singapore”), “Marilah kita bersatu” (“Let us unite”) and “Semua kita berseru” (“Together, we all proclaim”).
A REPRESENTATION OF SINGAPORE
Finally, there have been calls recently for a more accurate representation of Singapore in the media, following the release of Hollywood hit Crazy Rich Asians and Netflix reality TV show Singapore Social. This video is it.
It is respectful of both the past (director Alvin Lee has said that the black-and-white colourisation was meant to be an “elegant nod to the past") and the future (everyone in the video looks hopefully in a different direction, which producer Benjamin Tan said “symbolises how we all have different ideals and different notions of progress, but, at the end of the day, we are all Singaporeans”).
Standing alongside Mr Ramli are 24 Singaporeans of diverse backgrounds and strengths, but who have similarly contributed to Singapore in admirable ways. Among them are Singapore’s first female Olympian Tang Pui Wah, comic writer and artist Sonny Liew, HIV-positive programme coordinator Calvin Tan, disabled rapper Wheelsmith, paralympian Theresa Goh and former Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin.
Even the musical composition is representative of Singapore’s multiculturalism, with its incorporation of traditional instruments like the Chinese erhu and Indian tabla, and the unique Malay “lenggok”, a form of lyricism that Mr Ramli in his signature way lends to the song.
The diversity in the video reminds me of these profound words by the late Zubir Said: “Dimana bumi dipijak, disitu langit dijunjung.” (“Hold up the sky that towers over the ground on which you stand.”)
The message, from a man who was born in Indonesia but whose most enduring work is a symbol of independence for Singapore, is clear: Whatever one’s background and wherever one’s strength lies, one’s responsibility is to lift the place one calls home to new heights.
Ramli Sarip’s Majulah Singapura isn’t fancy like the National Day Parade or a fun sing-a-long like Home and Count on Me, Singapore, but in it is an opportunity for citizens, wherever they are in the world, to reflect on what it means for them to be Singaporean.
Hidayah Salamat is an editor at CNA Digital News.