The Malay Marker in the Non-Malays


By Harold Kong

I was watching the YouTube of the Taiwanese American musician Wang Lee Hom performing at Genting Highlands an almost flawless rendition of Getaran Jiwa marred only by his pronunciation of “irama” as “imara” where the word appeared a second time in the lyrics of the song.

I noted the predominantly Chinese Malaysian crowd screaming their heads off, which unfortunately detracts from the quality of our experience viewing the YouTube video now.

An important point to note is the fact that he sang a Malay song and this struck a chord with the crowd. A Mandarin or an English song would not have triggered such hysteria. It would have been wholly expected of the repertoire of an American who now makes his career in Taiwan. By singing Getaran Jiwa, Wang Lee Hom acknowledged their identity as Malaysians. And it so thrilled them, perhaps more so and certainly in a different way from other songs that he sang that evening.

In my view, it is safe to assert of the Chinese Malaysian, that there is a Malay marker encoded in his consciousness and he is dying to express that; to tell the world that he belongs here. He is anxious, to be marked out as different from a Chinese from Taiwan or America or wherever.

This impulse, his getaran jiwa if you will, comes from his belief in the values that Tunku Abdul Rahman stood for, the land on which we stand, the water that we drink, the nasi lemak, the coconut trees, orchids and spiders that are local to this land, the Malay friends we had in school, the football heroes that we looked up to, and a thousand and one things that are subtle and small.

It is important for both the Malays and the Chinese in this country to know and understand this condition in the latter and turn that into positive energy.

I have, thus far, framed my observations in relation to Chinese Malaysians only because it was prompted by the crowd’s reaction to Wang Lee Hom’s rendition of Getaran Jiwa.

A more important and general statement that can be made without hesitation is that there is a Malay marker in the consciousness of all non-Malay Malaysians. There is no lack of desire on the part of all of them to belong here. But that natural tendency cannot be made more pronounced in a hurry using ill-advisedly hegemonic forms of social engineering, historical revisionism in the negationist sense and other emotionally coercive methods.

All of us are Malaysians. Each culture is available for others to appreciate and emulate. There needs to be a more profound mutual respect of each other’s cultures. And we also have a world culture that we all should be a part of. That mix of possible diversities should be readily available to all of us.

The current Government cultural policy is lost in some bureaucratic misunderstanding of what culture means. It is geared towards keeping the Malays in cultural solidarity and directing the non-Malays to accept the primacy of Malay culture using a set of policy carrots and sticks. This is a misdirection of policy, particularly in a world without cultural borders.

It seeks to restrain one group of people and force another group. Profoundly, it fails to respect what Nature has already provided, that is, there is a getaran jiwa in each of us. Its spirit of sharing needs freedom, it needs attention, affection and arousal. Culture manifests and defines our values. Does current policy deal with culture with a high touch and bring people together?

Culture is best shared with others through friendly interaction with the expectation and hope that both sides will imbibe some of the other’s offering. Whether in the long or short run, both sides should accept the prospect of change arising from the interaction.

That spirit of change can be discerned in the fact that it has been Malays who have actively spread the above Wang Lee Hom YouTube video on the Internet and both Malays and non-Malays have commented favourably on it. Malays on the Internet were thrilled to see a Chinese singing Getaran Jiwa with such style and sensuousness and found it interesting that the non-Malay crowd was enraptured with an iconic song.

There is another Wang Lee Hom rendition of the same song, a duet with Najwa Latiff who looked pretty in tudung and long dress, performing as his guest on the same evening. All Malaysians were proud to see a young Malaysian talent perform as a work partner of a foreign superstar. It is in these interactions that we feel the getaran jiwa of Malaysia. We will not feel it if we stay apart from each other or allow ourselves to be kept apart from each other.

Do view this YouTube video of the Taiwanese American musician Wang Lee Hom performing at Genting Highlands:

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