Music lost on KL
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Published: Fri, 13 Apr 2012
That Kuala Lumpur exists and her beauty lost to so many is beyond me.
I’m in love with Kuala Lumpur and and how I do wish there were more great songs written about this brilliant city and the country it is in.
Being young in a place like KL is exciting. The combination of fresh-faced enthusiasm and the city’s vitality revives you day in and day out.
While the old is jaded, the young is not yet there. She’s not bored yet.
Your happiness level is on a manic scale, soaring and dipping with every triumph and every esteem-crushing blow.
That’s the paradoxical beauty of great cities like KL. She holds your ambition ransom. You grovel and fight your way there and every nuance of that strength or tears embeds us. Pause for a bit, feel that energy -be it from joy or the concrete tragedy- dancing on your skin.
But these expressions are mute. What worsens it is its absence among the youth. Are they not the last bastion for ideals and romanticism as civilisation grapples with an increasingly cynical world?
KL’s intricacy is unrealised and lost to them. There are no saxophones crooning about our streets, no serenades for the glittering sombre nights. The concrete slabs are silent. No songs sang for its daily battles. Her voice is slowly waning.
It wasn’t always a gloomy picture, though. Alleycat’s “Senyumlah Kuala Lumpur” was my parents’ generation wistful sigh when they commuted to work daily. P. Ramlee’s “Airmata di Kuala Lumpur” vividly described a man’s who sought love from her but was unrequited. The Blues Gang’s “Apo Nak Dikato” was a song about the changing dynamics between Negeri Sembilan and KL. The melody and lyrics was the brilliantly local “nonchalance” (or more accurately, the Malay word “selamba”) attitude of a Negeri Sembilan local caught between the old ways and new beginnings of this Peninsular state.
These songs had meaning and originality. They are on par with the ingenuous poetry meant for other cities like John Coltrane’s beautiful description of New York’s Central Park in “Central Park West” or the Clash’s “London Calling.”
The most heartfelt songs, the ones that tug the heartstrings the most, are the ones that bemoan but romaticises the toughness, the cruelty of the city. The writers saw beauty in the daily struggles of KL’s average dwellers. They are as real as the cold pavements that beds the homeless in the back alleys of Chow Kit road.
However, one must wonder if the same can be said about their modern local counterparts. They are few in number and their existence is obscured by hits such as “Malaysian Boy”, a song many proudly say represents us.
This song is a remake of an American pop song called “American Boy”, substituting their country name with ours and adding some local “flavour” into the lyrics.
It employs this overrated and massively misconstrued notion that if we include the three main races (smiling and hugging each other) and their respective languages, we will have unity i.e. racial tokenism in crystal clear HD.
So we get a localised version of some feeling and a little attitude but zero meaning. It’s not clever, it’s not subtle, it’s not real. Like every Top 40 song and Tourism Malaysia tunes (“Untukmu Malaysia”, “Here in my home”, “Kami Anak Malaysia”, etc) except for a few exceptions, it’s just a catchy and soon forgettable hit.
This country and her soul, KL, is not half-hearted catchy jingles and marketing gimmicks. It’s not a box of cereal to be manufactured and then tossed to the vultures in corporations and empty institutions to feed on.
She is our city, filled with our banality and heroes. Ours, not any corporations or any other country’s.
There are modern songwriters who know this and are proud of her, our KL now . Noh and Altimet’s “Kotarayaku” and Hujan’s “Kuala Lumpur Oh Kuala Lumpur” may lack the privilege of maturity and retrospection Alleycats and P. Ramlee had, but their youthful rawness and strive for some honesty exists and comforts us that all is not lost. Yet.
Her stories now are no less true than before and no less true than others. Our words can be just as clean and honest.
Fools that we are, we look to the past and elsewhere, instead of beautiful KL in front of us.