Thursday, October 06, 2005

Negaraku in French? Sacre bleu!

Jo's response prompted me to delve a little deeper into the history of our national anthem.

Did you know that the melody was composed by a Frenchman?

Taken from


It was not until 1956 that anything concrete was done about the choice of a National Anthem for the then Federation of Malaya. Up to that time, each of the eleven States that made up the Federation had their own State Anthems but there was no single National Anthem or patriotic song of any sort for the whole country. In the year, with independence just around the corner, TUNGKU ABDUL RAHMAN (1903-1990), then Chief Minister and Minister for Home Affairs set up a Committee for the purpose of choosing a National Anthem suitable for Malaya. On his suggestion, a worldwide competition was launched and 514 entries from all over the world were received.

After going through the entries, the Committee felt that none of the entries were suitable and it was then decided to invite selected composers of international repute to submit compositions for consideration by the panel. The composers' chosen were Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Sir William Walton (1902-1983), Carlo Menotti (b.1911) and Zubir Said (1907-1987) (who later composed the National Anthem of Singapore). Although the compositions submitted were of a high standard, they were still not considered suitable as the National Anthem.

The Committee then decided to hear the State Anthems to find out if any of them might be suitable. The final selection was made on August 5 1957 and an adaptation of the Perak State Anthem was selected on account of the traditional flavour of its melody. The lyrics for the National Anthem were written jointly by the Panel of Judges with the Tengku himself playing the leading part.

Up to the time of the choice of this melody as the National Anthem of the country, it was, while still the State Anthem of Perak, also a well-known and popular Malay song under the title, 'Terang Bulan' ('Bright Moon'). The song was very popular on the island of Mahé in the Seychelles where the Sultan of Perak, was living in exile. It was played by a French band, which gave public concerts on the island. It is believed that this melody was composed by a Frenchman, PIERRE JEAN de BERANGER (1780-1857), who was born and died in Paris. The tune was later introduced into an Indonesian Bangsawan (Opera), which was performing in Singapore. In no time at all, the melody became extremely popular and was given the name 'Terang Bulan'. Side by side with its dignity and prestige as the Perak State Anthem, the tune became a Malayan 'evergreen', playing at parties, in cabarets and sung by almost everybody. Many Malaysians who grew up in the 1920's and 1930's have fond memories of this tune. Today, of course, since independence, it is not played as a popular melody.

'Terang Bulan' was a love song. The 'Negara ku' ('My Country') is also a love song - a song of the love of the people for their country, a song depicting the charm and the peacefulness, the gaiety and the tolerance of the people of Malaysia.

In 1993, the Malaysian Government approved the re-arrangement of the tempo of the National Anthem into a "fast march" tempo (from 96 beats per minute to 126). In accordance with the National Anthem Act, 1968, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong gave his consent to the change on August 20 1993 and the new version was played for the first time during the National Day celebrations on August 31 1993.

No comments: