The Mari Kita Conundrum

pkt- If music brings people together, I guess there are no better ways than to bring a nation together than the National Anthem. This article goes a little off tangent from my defence/ military theme, nonetheless the anthem is an important key in national identity and people’s commitment to defence. This topic has been stuck in my head and heart for a while, and until comments on Channel News Asia’s video on Zubin Metha anthem performance where audience were seen not standing for the anthem. Although I have to say the video editor have to be shot for putting that in or clipping it after the anthem scene, but I do admit there is a missing passion and commitment of locals when comes to singing the Singapore anthem (probably except during the Suzuki Cup).

For the longest of times, the national anthem are used by all nations to rally their people together to sing about the country’s aspirations, struggles and history. You can hear echoes from people singing the anthem in Indonesia, S.Korea, in concerts and events, and they all sing it loud and proud. The common constant in these nation is that their anthem is written in the people’s mother tongue, Chinese anthem in Chinese, Indonesian anthem in Bahasa Indonesia and even in New Zealand, the anthem is sung in Maori and English. Think about it, the people actually know and feel what the lyrics is coming out of their mouths is about. When Majulah Singapura was written in 1958, Singapore was still under British rule and the song was written by our dear Zubir Said. Malay was the national language, as evident in state motto, commands etc, and we were about to join the Malaysian Federation. Many then spoke little English but understood Malay, which was taught in schools to all students, including Chinese students. I am sure pre independent Singaporeans were excited of an anthem of their own and sang it with much pride.

Fast forward 50 years, after Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, she became a cosmopolitan country. English became lingua franca and kids were taught their respective mother tongue. People understood lost touch with the Malay language except in their foot drill commands. Over time, only 13% of Singaporeans understood and speak Malay. 

Please do not get me wrong. I am not inciting that the current language for the anthem is not good. It embraces the culture and heritage of our country and nation. But instead, due to our special language predicament, little effort is made in the education system to make the anthem a culture. Kids in pre-school were taught to memorise the pledge and anthem and although they are taught the translation, are a little too young to understand the aspiration of a country. And as they grow to primary and secondary school, they will sing the anthem in their morning/evening assembly as a daily affair/ a chore to some. National Education lessons is only a couple of days a week, and their importance is of course overshadowed by the core L1R5 etc subjects. An average school going student will sing the anthem for 10-12 years in their life, but pick one randomly if they understood the lyrics, they will probably only able to cough out Majulah Singapura = Onwards Singapore. Not to mention the influx of new citizens and PR, the percentage of people actually know how to sing and understand Majulah Singapura becomes diluted.

While singing is one issue, getting them to sing is another. The anthem is rarely played in public in Singapore, usually before football matches, National Day, and if you wake early enough, 6 am on every channel. As mentioned, I think the only time Majulah Singapura is sung with most pride is in football match between Singapore and Malaysia. This and also the etiquette during an anthem, no doubt one have stand for the song, but also keep still, not talk and preferably remove your headwear. In the other hand, numerous countries sing the anthem before concerts, yes, pop concerts and internal sport matches. Guns and Roses opened their Indonesia concert with Indonesia Raya, with the entire audience singing in unison and Thailand have a unique habit of honouring the King and country by singing the anthem at 8am and 6pm, playing the anthem before movie, and bowing after the anthem. You can see them below.

In my opinion, Singapore has one of the most uplifting anthems in the region and it will be kind of a waste if we do not sing them loud and mean what we sing. Look at how everyone sings to ‘Home’ during the month leading to national day and I look forward to the day when bands Aerosmith open their concert with our anthem.  If the national day steering committee is reading this, please do away with the pledge moment and make everyone sing. Cause singing makes people happy.

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One thought on “The Mari Kita Conundrum

  1. For those who understood the deeper meaning of the lyric, it is all good, What about those.
    If we are to look at the anthem in another ‘light’ and really understood what the words and sentences stands for, then it is only right that we sing it with conviction,

    The lines in the anthem are actually ‘supplication’ for Singapura – the Lion City; That it shall forever move onward and foreward and never falter in face of challanges!

    For those who wish to know more,,,,, I applaud you.

    What you have said about Thailand and Indonesia and some other countries that I’ve come across, the people are proud to sing to their anthem because they are nationalistic. This is can be seen from how the children are educated in school.

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