Every national anthem “deserves to be sacred”, not to be “experimented with”: Dr Rohana Zubir, daughter of “Majulah Singapura” composer, on Ramli Sarip’s new rendition

Every national anthem “deserves to be sacred”, and should not be “meddled with” or “experimented with” at “the whims of someone else’s musical inclinations”, opined the daughter of the late Zubir Said, the latter of whom is the revered composer of Singapore’s national anthem “Majulah Singapura”.

Dr Rohana Zubir, in an open letter on Wed (4 Nov), penned a critique of veteran singer-songwriter Ramli Sarip’s rendition of the Republic’s anthem at the National Day Parade this year.

Narrating how “Majulah Singapura”, composed sixty years ago, was “a legacy” and “a prayer” left upon her “and to every citizen of Singapore” to commemorate the independence of Singapore, Dr Rohana said that both the musical score and the words of the anthem serve to instil within the youths of Singapore “feelings of patriotism, pride, hope and the drive to make Singapore a nation to be reckoned with, a name to be carved in gold in the eyes of the world”.

“Those youths of yesteryear lived by the precepts in Pak Zubir’s prayer and put Singapore on a pedestal of pride and glory.

“Now sixty years later, just as those youths (if they are still around) have grown old, it appears that the original rendition of the Singapore anthem my father composed is also considered old and change is necessary,” she said, while questioning the need for such a change.

“Sadly, the revised rendition of “Majulah Singapura” lacks the quality, the oomph, of a national anthem. It is rather tortuous [sic] to listen to.

“The tempo in the new rendition is slower than the original and the musical composition a challenge to singers – the citizens of Singapore who will be singing the anthem.

“It is as if the original composition, now sixty years old, is required to grow older to a slower tempo, the lyrics chewed slowly, one at a time,” wrote Dr Rohana, adding that she “would like to know what the semangat baru (new spirit) is in Encik Ramli’s rendition”.

The “semangat baru” in the anthem’s “Marilah kita bersatu / dengan semangat yang baru” (“Let us unite / with a new spirit”), added Dr Rohana, “was imperative sixty years ago and still is today”.

“The same semangat requires sealing and cementing so that Singapore will go forwards, not backwards,” she stressed.

Dr Rohana also cited other national anthems such as the British “God Save the King/Queen” and Malaysia’s “Negaraku”, which have not been affected by such changes and remain “sacred”.

“The people of Singapore are wonderfully creative but this creativity should not extend to meddling with the musical score of the country’s national anthem. This is one area where there should not be change.

“It is also important for Singaporeans to be proud of their history and to respect individuals, such as my father, for their contribution to nation-building,” she concluded.

Dr Rohana, who is now retired, was previously an Associate Professor and Deputy Dean, and a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. Prior to her career in higher education, she spent several years teaching in secondary schools in Singapore and Malaysia.

She graduated from the University of Singapore in 1964, before pursuing a Diploma in Education and a Masters in Education at the University of Malaya (UM). She also pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom in between her years as a lecturer at UM’s Faculty of Education.

Music video featuring veteran singer-songwriter Ramli Sarip’s NDP 2019 rendition released on 3 Dec

A music video featuring Mr Ramli’s rendition was released on Tue (3 Dec).

Mr Ramli, who is affectionately known in the regional Malay music industry and among fans as “Papa Rock”, is seen performing alongside other Singaporeans, including comic writer-artist Sonny Liew, wheelchair-bound rapper and music producer Danial Bawthan — commercially known as Wheelsmith — and former Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin.

Creative producer Benjamin Tan, 30, who was tasked to be the NDP’s show producer for two consecutive years since last year, told The Straits Times: “While working on the NDP, I became more aware of how powerful the lyrics were and how the song is timeless and resonant.”

“I felt that it was a pity if we didn’t do a proper music video for this version of Majulah Singapura,” he added.

Film director Alvin Lee, 28, said the black-and-white scheme deployed in the video pays homage to the past.

“Everyone in the video is looking up but in different directions. This symbolises how we all have different ideals and different notions of progress but, at the end of the day, we are all Singaporeans,” he added.

Mr Tan also noted that the Singaporeans who appear with Ramli in the video are “everyday people doing wonderful and extraordinary work”, including criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, AIDS activists Iris Verghese Sim and Calvin Tan, and Interfaith Youth Circle co-founder Dhaniah Suhana.

The music was directed by this year’s NDP music director Sydney Tan, and — in stark contrast to the orchestral version — features additional traditional instruments such as an erhu played by musician Darrel Xin and a tabla played by musician Mohamed Noor.

New, separate orchestral rendition of S’pore’s national anthem debuted on public airwaves the same day

The same day, a new rendition recorded by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra — separate from Mr Ramli’s version — made its debut on public airwaves.

The release of the new version marks the 60th anniversary of the Republic’s national symbols — namely the National Anthem, the state crest and flag.

A spokesperson for the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth earlier told The Straits Times that the new rendition is based upon the 2001 musical arrangement by composer and Cultural Medallion winner Phoon Yew Tien.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu told reporters on the sidelines of the One Community Fiesta carnival at Jurong Lake Gardens on Sun (1 Dec) that the introduction of Singapore’s national symbols was a significant moment for the Republic as a young nation.

“Listening to the Anthem, whether you’re in Singapore or when you’re overseas, brings along the emotions of being one with one another and with the country,” said Ms Fu.

“I think 60 years on, Singaporeans are wearing the flag proudly. They are singing the Anthem proudly,” she said.

“Right now, our Team Singapore athletes are wearing the flag on their sleeves, proudly representing Singapore, and if they win, they will be on the podium and the National Anthem will be played,” she added, referring to the SEA Games in Manila“.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra has previously performed Mr Phoon’s arrangement of “Majulah Singapura” at the finale of its National Day Concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 18 Aug last year.

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