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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 August, 2003, 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK
New anthem marks Malaysia's Independence Day
By Jonathan Kent
BBC, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia marks its National Day on Sunday, expected to be its last under its long-serving Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysians will also have their first chance to hear the newly rearranged national anthem.
Mahathir Mohamad
Mahathir is stepping down after 22 years

But a suggestion that its lyrics and title be changed has provoked a storm of opposition.

You mess around with a country's national anthem at your peril, as Jimi Hendrix found out when he reinterpreted the Star Spangled Banner.

Hendrix and many of the Woodstock generation thought it beautiful, but many older Americans were horrified.

In Malaysia, plans to revamp the anthem Negaraku, My Country, have also unleashed passions.

Mixed feelings

Its origins are rather hazy.

It is thought the tune comes from a French song, which became a favourite of the Sultan of Perak after he was exiled to the Seychelles by the British in the 1930s.

The melody was adopted at independence in 1957, but its current up-tempo treatment, which dates from 1991, produces mixed feelings.

"There's no class to it," one Malaysian woman told me, "I think the slower version has a more majestic quality."

A Malaysian gentleman agreed.

"We are used to the old national song," he said.

Lacklustre

The composer Wah Idris, who was asked by the government to come up with a new arrangement, agrees with those who feel that Negaraku simply does not stir up patriotic feelings in its current form.

"It doesn't have the touch of patriotism. It doesn't have the value for all nation to sing because I want all the nation to be proud of their song," he said.

But what really provoked an outcry was the suggestion that the anthem be renamed Malaysiaku, My Malaysia, and that its lyrics be changed accordingly.

Jake Abdullah, of the pop radio station Hitz.FM, said when they held an online poll, listeners voted against the change in droves.

"The response was incredible. Sixty-seven per cent said they'd rather stick to the old one, which I thought was, you know, really weird, you know, let's go for a change and they said 'no, we want the old one'."

End of an era

When Malaysia celebrates its 46th birthday on Sunday, change will be on everyone's minds.

It will be the last time with Dr Mahathir, Malaysia's prime minister of 22 years, at the helm.

It will be the first time the national day parade has been held in Putrajaya, Malaysia's new seat of government.

And it will be the first chance Malaysians will have had to hear the new take on their old anthem.

The words and title, however, have not changed. Public opinion swayed the government's hand.

The newspaper letter pages are sure to be abuzz for days to come.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Listen
to the new version of the Malaysian national anthem


Listen
to the old version of the Malaysian national anthem



SEE ALSO:
Malaysia eyes life after Mahathir
04 Mar 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Malaysia
08 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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