Literature Music News

Let the words of ‘Rosalie and other love songs’ serenade you with Malaysia’s musical history

SCHOOL students sing it daily, and the rest of us? We hear it, once in a while. But none of us really know where Negaraku, Malaysia’s national anthem, was truly conceived. Matters like this can be unearthed in Rosalie and Other Love Songs, the brainchild of Datin Saidah Rastam, available at Gerakbudaya this August.

This is the first time the book will be available to the general public since being published in 2014 by Khazanah Nasional Bhd. The book documents the history of Malayan music from the 1850s to a brief post-independence period and has gathered numerous positive reviews, making it a book that every lover of history, music and the country must read.

Excerpt of the book

“Either in 1955 or in ‘early 1956’ Read told Dol Ramli to go and see Tunku. Tunku told him the country needed a national anthem, and that he was to organise a worldwide competition for it. ‘He told me the prize money was $50,000,’ Dol said later. ‘I remember gaping. That was a lot of money at the time.’ It had to be done as soon as possible, ‘before August next year or the year after.’ The prize money was huge, but what struck Dol more was that independence from the British was on the cards, conceivably as soon as the year after next. Back at Radio Malaya, he told Bert Read about it, and Ahmad Merican, whose ‘eyes bulged when I mentioned the $50,000 prize money. He said many good composers would come forward for that money’.Tunku-and-composers

A National Anthem Committee was formed. Tunku was Chairman, then there was Tuan Haji Mustapha Albakri, the keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, Dato’ Abdul Razak, Education Minister, Yacob Latiff, Director of Information Services, A.W. Crofts, Director of Music of the Federation Police Band, Captain Edgar Lenthall, the Director of Music of the Malay Regiment, and Dol’s boss, the Deputy Director of Broadcasting, A.T. Read.

The competition was open to composers worldwide. It was publicised with the help of the Foreign Ministry and Information Services. The winning entry would be free of copyright, owned by the Government. Entries could be in the form of manuscripts or recordings. The prize was initially $5,000, which was later increased to $10,000 for the winning tune, with consolation prizes and a special prize for the best composition of words. Initially no closing date was fixed, then it was fixed as October 31, then December 1956.National-Anthem-CommitteeN2

By August 1956, 80 entries had been received, including entries from America, India, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Indonesia. World-famous harmonica player Larry Adler, already Oscar-nominated and for whom Darius Milhaud and Malcolm Arnold had written music, submitted an entry. A man from Singapore submitted 15. Jimmy Boyle’s ​Kemegahan Negara Ku and Johar Bahar’s ​Malaya Oh Tanahairku​ were among the entries according to Tan Sri Ahmad Merican, who was working in Radio Malaya at the time and involved in the compilation of the music. In August the judges met at Federal House in Kuala Lumpur, to listen to recordings of the scores played on the piano by Mr. William Rea, a music programme assistant at Radio Malaya.”

This Merdeka, celebrate 60 years of independence by delving deeper into Malaysian music history with Rosalie and Other Love Songs.  Did Negaraku come from the Seychelles, the Bangsawan troupes or what? Find the answers in this splendid book. Keep your eyes peeled for Rosalie and Other Love Songs which will be available for purchase soon.

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