Azmyl Yunor: Rebelling — Beyond the Superficial

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So what does it mean to be rebellious anyway? Sure, you’ve got your Rage Against the Machine tracks blasting out of your stereo/IPod/boombox/handphone, and sure you’ve got the “I don’t give a sh!t” haircut, but rebelling goes beyond your sense of style or the swag in your walk. So listen up kids, cause AZMYL YUNOR is about to school your a$$es.

Rebels often have a special place in our collective hearts. They are romanticised and canonised as pure spirits who follow their heart.

In our part of the world, well Malaysia specifically, the rebel is often made a scapegoat and marginalised. Forgotten from popular imagination. A pity, since unlike in most libertarian societies, the rebel is often etched into the nation’s history, vilified as an embodiment of independence and liberty.

Our conformist and conservative society doesn’t exactly place the rebel in high regard. Just take the ongoing armchair debate on who’s the real hero: Hang Tuah or Hang Jebat. I’m a Hang Jebat man, since he stood up for his buddy Tuah and valued friendship over blind loyalty towards their bosses. You don’t see towers or halls named after Jebat, but Tuah is all over the place in our national rhetoric. I would definitely check out a club or watering hole if it were called Jebat. The late Australian heartthrob Heath Ledger played Australian rebel Ned Kelly in a movie, though I doubt any of our Malay heartthrobs would ever play Jebat. Unless of course, he repents and dies in the end of the movie instead of dying in a blaze of glory (cue Jon Bon Jovi’s song from the Hollywood romanticisation of a bunch of American rebels in the 90s flick Young Guns).

Looking like a rebel is something that anyone can do with the right accessories; but living by your principles against the currents of mainstream society and doing so ‘til the bittersweet end is the real essence of a rebel. I’m not saying I’m an expert in all things rebellious or even that I am a “rebel” myself (those are things that should be left to others to describe). The rebel could range from the outsider like James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause to local literary legend Salleh Ben Joned (who had been described by Dato’ Lat, “like meeting Hang Jebat on his day off”) to the late American soul and jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron.

The only “rebels” I know locally are my heroes like folk singer-songwriters Meor Aziddin Yusof ( and Nik Bin Jidan ( , and the late and sorely missed artist/poet/performer Avroco Nasir. Even so, I doubt they would like to be called a rebel per se. In our region, the only effective and evergreen legendary rebel would be Indonesian country folk singer-songwriter Iwan Fals, whose concerts in the past were so packed and emotional that they would sometimes descend into riots. Again, they are more rebels in the mould of the Country music rebels embodied by the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash – people who blazed the trail for the genre and industry, who were eventually marginalised and rejected when the same industry became such a money-making venture and sucked its soul dry. They were made into rebels by those who rejected them.

Most of my friends and acquaintances in the punk, hardcore, or Chinese underground scene are rebels in their own right, but only because they choose to live life on their own terms, not because they fancy the idea of being a rebel. Bands and performers like Carburator Dung, Pusher, Nao, Citizens of Ice Cream, Second Combat, Vandal, Sudarshan, Shh…Diam!, Kuning Pening, etc. could all be considered rebels in the larger definition of all things musical, purely because our society and culture is so narrow minded in embracing new or different ideas.

So the question remains, is there a “rebel scene” in Malaysia? Well, no. Rebels are those who paved their own paths away from square society, possibly out of disaffection or a sense of alienation from “official” ideologies. The things is, a lot of the rebellious elements of music subcultures (both its music and fashion) are often incorporated and commodified into forms that lose their original meaning and use, and consumed and appropriated into that group of people often called hipsters.

The rebel could be the weirdo, the syok sendiri fella, the outcast, the crazy fella you see wandering along the Federal Highway. Just because you break stuff, it doesn’t make you a rebel; it’s all relative to what is the norm.

French-Algerian existentialist philosopher and author Albert Camus (not the cognac brand) wrote that rebellion emerges out of the contradiction between our quest for an explanation about things around us and the realization of the apparent meaningless nature of the world. This notion is linked directly to the idea of “revolution”, a word now bastardized in various “cool” marketing campaigns and advertisements, which are a far cry from the very meaning of the word.

It’s a philosophy, not a scene. Let us reflect. Go ahead, buy that pre-torn jeans on sale during your air-conditioned weekend shopping spree.

Azmyl Yunor is a folker and educator. He’s just released a rollicking new album called Wilayah which is available at all Rock Corner and Victoria Music Centre outlets. Drop by and follow him on for gig updates and info about other places where you can purchase his albums.

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