After expanding regionally into Indonesia, and inspired by the scene across the Malacca straits over yonder, Founder and Director of The Wknd Fikri Fadzil ruminates over the question of our national identity in the music we produce.
Recently, we’ve broaden our scope with our first regional series of The Wknd Sessions, featuring some of the finest Indonesian bands from Jakarta. We also managed to speak to some veteran music journalists, archivist, and scene supporters, which was an eye opening experience, which led to me to take a step back, and relook at the scene, or industry, call it what you want to call it in Malaysia.
When we started The Wknd Sessions years ago we had tonnes of questions on our minds, “Can we pull this off? Will we feature the right acts? Will we make a change to the community or will this affect anyone at all?”, some of which we’re still trying to answer. Out of all, the biggest question that took the cake was (still is), “What is the Malaysian sound?”
And I mean “the Malaysian sound” in the contemporary/youth/alternative sense, not ‘Irama Malaysia’, which is ethnic/folk/lagu rakyat music. Music by and for our generation. Like how pop yeh yeh was for the Malayans in the ‘60s, a cheeky blend of surf and pop music, recognised as distinctively from this tropical region, or how d’n’b music is for the British youth in the ‘90s, distinctively from the dark and gloomy British isles. Both are examples of rebellious youth culture going against the grain of popular music and culture of their times, creating their own subculture and worlds.
“Bila ada kanan, kena ada kiri.”
I’m in no position to give you my answer. Heck, even veteran music journalists, enthusiasts, and teh tarik pundits (yes, they exist in the music world too) dare not give a straight answer. I, however, am curious why we’re still in the dark, or why we can’t definitively answer the question.
“If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer.” – Confucious
So what does that say about Malaysia? Are we still in the postcolonial hangover phase, where our self-esteem as creatives, and as a nation, is still recovering? Or do Malaysians perceive everything imported as of higher quality?
I often look at other industries, for any similarities, hoping to find a possible solution. For instance, I peeked into the Malaysian car manufacturing ‘scene’, specifically at the nation’s pride and joy. Having had support and backing by the government for close to three decades, Proton has been facing the same issues on each “record” release, often deemed as a sketchy make. Should millions more be invested into it, or should they abolish the import tax, forcing ‘the band’ to innovate and push its creativity. My point being, the majority of us are complacent, and comfortable, with the status quo, and will only innovate when forced into it.
There have been campaigns run by everyone across the board, from recording industry associations to smaller music collectives, rallying people to support locally produced music. “Supportlah lokal muzik,” etc. Although I agree with the campaign/idea to a certain extent, does this really push musicians to create more compelling work, or just simply asking for some sympathy?
Not all is bleak however, there are some pockets of ‘resistance’, reviving and experimenting with Nusantara elements, which is a step forward. We really need to embrace our culture fully, and understand its history (both left and right), before discovering who we really are, musically, and as Malaysians.
I remember saying to a European friend I met, while touring with a band a couple of years back, “Malaysia and Southeast Asia is [sic] a sleeping tiger, and it’s almost dawn”. A bit bold, I know, but it’s really how I feel.