Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Silencing a Malaysian student / rap artist

I'm a big fan of Chinese music even though I'm not Chinese educated. When I saw this Star report on how local Chinese singer Ah Niu was using his music to promote Malaysia and Malaysian Higher Education, it reminded me that I've been wanting to write something about the student who sang and composed the 'Negarakuku' and 'Muar Chinese' rap songs which have become a phenomenon. Be warned, this is going to be a long post!

I like Ah Niu's songs because he brings in many authentic Malaysian experiences such as going to the mamak and mixing up English, BM, Mandarin and Hokkien instead of trying to cater to a more Taiwanese or Mainland China audience by taking away the 'Malaysian-isms'.

Similarly, I was intrigued by Wee Meng Chee (黄明志) rap song entitled Muar's Chinese (麻坡话语) - a creative MV criticizing people from KL who speak Cantonese and look down on their more provincial cousins in Muar who speak Mandarin (as well as Hokkien). You can listen to his MV here or you can just type in 'Muar Chinese' on youtube and you'll have lots of hits.

I couldn't find an MV with an English translation but JuneX2 has translated the lyrics in one of her posts in her blog.

Muar's Chinese has become a youtube sensation (at least by Malaysian standards) with numerous uploads recording probably 300,000 hits in total, if not more.

His lyrics are somewhat crude but I think it an honest reflection of what his young composer's feelings are towards life in general. Some of the content was made in a tongue in cheek fashion and was clearly made with purpose of eliciting a laugh rather than to incite racial hatred.

Perhaps I've been in the US for too long and I'm too used to seeing and hearing politicians and racial stereotypes being made fun of by comedians (and the good ones make fun of politicians from all stripes and people of all races). Perhaps it's because Meng Chee didn't make fun of the Chinese as much as he did the other races. But I enjoyed his rap piece and became an instant fan.

His follow up song / rap was something called Kawanku. You can access the youtube video here. This is a version has an English translation. His lyrics are more offensive in this video especially in regards to his statements about the Malays.

He hit the headlines for the wrong reasons recently when his 3rd song (on youtube that is), a parody of the national anthem, Negarukuku, was noticed by the Malaysian government and legal action was threatened against him, including jail time. You can view his rap / song here with an English translation.

He got into trouble for highlighting the widespread corruption among the police, the lackadaisical attitude of our civil servants, the notion that he was insulting Islam by saying that the morning prayers from the mosques are very noisy, the fact that the government only helps the Bumiputeras in the country and that it is very difficult for non-Bumiputeras to enter local universities.

Wee is currently a student in Taiwan but his family in Malaysia has been pressured over his Negaruku rap and I won't be surprised if he's picked up by the police or the Special Branch if he comes back to Malaysia in the near future.

His rap songs on youtube have received tons of comments and so has his own personal blog. If you have the time to trawl through some of the comments, you'll find a fair number of posters who are incensed by him as well as a fair number who are supportive of him and his songs. Because the issues raised here are pretty complex, I think that it is important to break down the discussion into different parts.

Firstly, does the Malaysian government have the right to go after Wee over his youtube postings, specifically his Negarakuku rap? Of course it does, given the prevalence of many draconian laws which exist in the country including the ISA and the Seditions Act, just to name two. Wee must be responsible for his lyrics and his rap songs, which he himself made public.

But does that mean I think it is right for the Malaysian government to go after him? Of course not. After all, he's just a harmless student studying in Taiwan. Yes, some of the things he rapped about were indeed offensive and he did use vulgar language, but he did not advocate for an overthrow of the government. Indeed, in one of his songs, he told the Chinese in Malaysia to be thankful for government policies since it made them more resilient and forced them to work harder and to seek opportunities abroad.

Those of my friends who watched the live proceedings of the UMNO general assembly last year told me that they were frightened by the tone of voice and language used by many of the delegates, especially those directed against the non-Malay community in Malaysia. Isn't this a more serious threat to the racial 'harmony' of the country given that these are political leaders rather than a harmless, long-haired student currently studying in Taiwan?

Secondly, do I condone or agree with all of what was sung by Wee? Of course not! I don't agree with his characterization of all Malays as being lazy. This is blatantly untrue and not helpful at all. I don't think he should have made fun of Malay women who wear the tudung. But just because I don't agree with this point of view, does not mean that I think he should be silenced!

I know of many non-Malays who agree with this kind of characterization of Malays, which I think is unfair but to a certain extent, encouraged by the continuation of certain economic policies in the country. It won't surprise me that many Malays have negative characterizations of Chinese and Indians and other non-Malays in Malaysia. But arresting people just for holding these views isn't necessarily going to improve race relations in Malaysia, is it?

This is entertainment, this is a rap song! We shouldn't take it so seriously (definitely not as seriously as something like the UMNO General Assembly, which actually has political bite). I watch a lot of Jay Leno on the Tonight Show here in the US. He constantly makes fun of US politicians from the left, right and center. Is Jay Leno endangering democracy in the US in any way? Of course not! The Instant Cafe Theatre (ICT) in KL is famous for making fun of Malaysian politicians and of racial stereotypes. Should they be arrested as well? Of course not!

Thirdly, Wee brings up more than just racial stereotypes. He makes fun of the Singaporeans who come to Malaysia to buy chewing gum and then spit it on the streets, he pokes fun at the Chinese who go to KL or live in KL and speak Cantonese and think that they are better than the Mandarin and Hokkien speaking Muarites, he raps about transvestite prostitutes in Muar, he makes fun of the habits of foreign workers who work in factories, he talks about life in small town Muar, driving Proton cars, and so on.

He's just a kid, a student, that has been conditioned by his upbringing and surroundings, putting into words and song his feelings about the world, in a way in which he thinks is creative, honest and perhaps even funny. He's from a Chinese educated background and is probably not that proficient in English (but probably better than my Chinese) and was probably forced to go to Taiwan to study at the university level. His profile is very different from most of the readers of this blog but perhaps not that different from many non-Malays or Chinese from small towns scattered all of Malaysia.

If you read his personal blog, you'll find an idealistic, passionate and perhaps somewhat naive young kid.

I've translated his post entitled "Getting ready to go to jail" when he found out from a reporter that the Oriental Daily, a Chinese newspaper in Malaysia, had an article about how he might be charged and arrested and put in jail. Perhaps those with a better command of the language can help me out with the translation.

Today I received a phone call in Taiwan from a reporter who told me of a news report in Oriental Daily in regards to my 'Negaraku' rap. The contents of the newspaper report can be summarized as such:

The deputy director of the Minister of Culture (Chinese division) expresses his view that the Wee's version of Negaraku twists the lyrics and cast aspersions on civil servants by insinuating that they are corrupt and damages the good reputation of the country. In addition, namewee's video on youtube does not conceal the faces or the identities of those filmed. Therefore, legal proceedings have to be taken and if it is determined that a legal transgression has taken place, Wee will be sentenced and put in jail.

I thought to myself, when did I 'insult' my country? Wasn't what I described part of reality? They can arrest me, but I would advise them to go and arrest the criminals in JB first. Given that the crime rate in JB is so high, why not deal with that situation and catch the criminals there instead of coming after me?

Some more (sic) dare to say that I insult the country ... actually I feel very disappointed with what they have said ... because they tell lies with their eyes wide open.

Furthermore, he himself is a Chinese ... sigh

In reality, scandals are not important...
Ironically, my song is finally getting some recognition from them! Maybe it's a good thing after all!
At least I won't be going to jail for nothing.

I love my country, which is why I did what I did (inaccurate translation)

Going back to the newspaper story, I'm actually looking forward to going to prison. This is not a facetious remark. When I was younger, I used to watch those Hong Kong prison drama serials. I got very interested in the situations that developed in this prison settings...especially those with Chow Yuen Fatt in them!

I'm very happy that another exciting episode has occurred in my life - when I get to eat curry rice every day! I'm sure that this is an experience which most people have not tried before. What an opportunity!

My girlfriend often tells me that I'm a magnet for strange events since I am often confronted with many baffling and unpleasant situations...thus increasing my experience in these things! That's life ... wanting to experience different things.
Otherwise, a life that is too peaceful and without incident can be seen as somewhat tragic. Hopefully going to jail will help be gain new experiences and enable me to come up with better products (talking about his music) ... On with the revolution!

This is a translation of his most recent post. Again apologies for any inaccuracies.

I have removed my Negaraku song from youtube
My youtube account is being monitored closely so there's not much I can do
The is great pressure on my family ... even though they have been very encouraging but I cannot be too selfish

This is what you call 'draconian pressure'

Though the song has been removed from my account, there are many other accounts out there
They can oppress me, they can catch me, ask me to remove anything
But nobody can change the thoughts and ideas of others
Nobody can cover up the truth

My reason for composing this song is very simple
I only use music as a way of reflecting society
I'm only someone who likes to play music ... it's really that simple
Never thought of wanting to make political waves, never wanted to incite racial sentiments, or to oppose the government

However, because somebody had a guilty conscience, was shamed into anger, made a mountain out of a molehill

Thanks to everyone for their encouragement, thanks to everyone for their criticism
As long as there is air, there will be music, no one can stop the spread of music.

This is a somewhat different post from what I normally write about but I thought that since we were discussing freedom of expression among students in Malaysian public universities, I thought that this is fair game.

Still think that Wee should be arrested and thrown in jail?

P.S. You can view his personal youtube account here. Again, note the comments.


Anonymous said...

His rap is pretty funny actually.

If he is guilty then so are many of the politicians, who say things with so little regards for the society. But then we have different rules in Malaysia for different people.

Perhaps you would like to post our Raja Nazrin's speech as well, at least his is a sensible voice amidst the bullshit.


Kian Ming said...

This just out today:

Errant student may be recalled

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian university student in Taiwan who insulted the Negaraku and mocked the Government in a video clip will be recalled if he is found to be sponsored by the Government, Higher Education Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Dr Adham Baba said yesterday.

He said other forms of action could also follow.

“Let the ministry investigate this matter,” he told reporters after launching the Caring Hospital Enterprise System, Filmless Hospital and IT-literate programme at Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia here.

Dr Adham was commenting on the student, who went by the pseudonym “Namewee,” in a video clip singing the Negaraku littered with obscenities. – Bernama.

Since when did the Malaysian government start sending govt. sponsored students to Taiwan?

Anonymous said...

He makes fun of the Singaporeans who come to Malaysia to buy chewing gum and then spit it on the streets,

He made fun of Lee Kuan Yew too.

But why did Singapore or Lee sue? The actions of the other group does illustrate to us the meaning of "tolerance", "understanding", "big heartedness" and lastly, "sense of humour", which is lacking in you-know-who.

Anonymous said...

Sorry correction.

But why didn't Singapore or Lee sue

Anonymous said...

Err..perhaps coz it's too menial and insignificant for them to bother about? Look at the hot soup Far Eastern Economic Review and the Economist had gotten themselves to by writing some articles regarding Singapore. The Lees are not really that tolerant or big-hearted especially when the word "nepotism" is being brought up :)

Kian Ming said...

"Negarakuku" Is Outside Police Jurisdiction

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 7 (Bernama) -- Police have no authority to investigate or detain individuals involved in broadcasting the song "Negaraku" which had been adapted to insert seditious elements although it involved a national of this country.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohd Najib Abdul Aziz said the police could not take any action as the incident occurred outside the country.

"The police can only take action if the incident occurs in the country," he told reporters after a function here tonight when commenting on a local newspaper report on the issue.

Local newspapers today reported that a student from Muar, Johor who is studying in Taiwan had aired a video clip of the song 'Negaraku' which had been adapted and inserted with negative elements such as racial issues and touched on religious sensitivity.

The video clip "Negarakuku" which lasted five minutes and 32 seconds, which was inserted in the YouTube website since the middle of last month, also inserted a rap song in Mandarin which carried anti-government messages.

However, Mohd Najib said police would still carry out an investigation if there were groups in the country which had lodged a police report on the incident.


Anonymous said...

I disagree. I think there's a very fine line between satire/humor and intolerance and this video is pushing into racism/intolerance. You gave the example of freedom in the US. Nevertheless, just recently there was the case of Imus calling Rutgers women basketball players "nappy headed hos" and there was a huge outcry so he resigned in the end. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the social fabric in the US, "nappy headed hos" is a horrible characterization of the mostly African American team. There was also the controversy of a UPenn student calling some fellow African American female students "whales" because they were very loud. Given the US's history of mistreatment of African Americans, intolerant remarks by whites about blacks are not taken lightly.

Going back to Malaysia, I think the guy's video is making a bad situation worse. Fine, criticize the politicians but to air racist remarks is completely inappropriate, especially if this guy is seen as representing popular Chinese sentiment. There are many comments on his YouTube video and I think these are a good reflection of how national unity in Malaysia is disintegrating.

Many of his comments about the police and government servants are true of course, but I think most people take offense at his characterization of the azan. With alternative media like this, I think legit alternative media's cause just went down the drain. Adding to this, our dear politicians' well sanctioned remarks about the minority races. There was recent news about 800,000 Chinese having emigrated from the country since independence. I think the present situation is pushing the other 4 million to leave. And all this talk about brain drain. Mahathir's comment about asking industrialized countries to pay us for the lost talents is the most ludicrous thing in the paper today.

Johan Marco said...

freedom of speech...the freedom should be limited when it comes to racial issues,religion etc...just to keep the peace...hey we've survive 50 years on that...i say I LOVE MALAYSIA.....

Anonymous said...

If religion and race are forbidden in public speeches, then there will be no public speeches (and freedom of speech for that matter). As known, religion and race are the backbone in Malaysia. Anything pertaining to religion and race will come under strict scrutiny. Political correctness is merely a superficial layer to protect the fragile harmony in one nation but in no way it represents the truth.

Anonymous said...

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian university student in Taiwan who insulted the Negaraku and mocked the Government in a video clip will be recalled if he is found to be sponsored by the Government, Higher Education Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Dr Adham Baba said yesterday.

What a joke. For a chinese independent school student who didn't take spm nor stpm, he could not even enrol into the public university let alone obtain government sponsorship.

Everything is a big crap!

Anonymous said...

What about the 'kris wielding' incident?

As Orwell said in the book animal farm. some animals are more fairer than other animals

Actually it is a very good video..nice beat, lyrics and choreography. good camera works

coinpapa scam said...

he is just expressing himself with the music how he felt about msia.
I believe that's the truth.

Where's the freedom of expression?

BBC said...

This is what happened when 'Pareto Optimality Principle' is not obeyed.It says 'Given a set of alternative allocations and a set of individuals, a movement from one allocation to another that can make at least one individual better off, without making any other individual worse off'.In simple words,no one should be made better,at the expense of others.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

1. I find the song entertaining and not in any conceivable way insulting the King, the government, the national anthem, the country, its people or even the police.

2. Politicians should back off this one because it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Malaysian not unlike its previous anti-Eurasian stand

Anonymous said...

instead of trying to silence the public - he is after all a malaysian - and perhaps not the only one who's a bit fed up with the way the country is run....maybe the government should stop pointing fingers at others and weilding kerises in the house of representatives, and instead .... try to integrate themselves.

Anonymous said...

spoiland (6 minutes ago)
aku dah hantar orang cari budak ni. memang dah sampai ajal dier.. ahli keluarga dier pon aku dah suruh orang cari.. hahaha.. dier main2 dgn ISLAM? nak main2 dengan bangsa melayu... tunggu video klip penggal kepala ini cina sial dan seluruh ahli keluarga nya........... INI AMARAN UNTUK BANGSA CINA DAN MEREKA YANG ADA DISINI... AKU DAN ORANG2 AKU MEMANG TAK TAHU SIAPA KAMU SEMUA.. TAPI INGAT!!BANGSA CINA TAK AKAN BERTAHAN LAMA.. AKU AKAN BAKAR KELUARGA CINA SATU PERSATU.. |||

======> this is posted by a person in youtube commenting about namewee. so uncivilized. if the person is a real Islam, he won't be talking in this way. this shows how stupid and brainless he is. I agree that not all Malays are useless and some are even great in par with indians and chinese. but most of the Malays received too much privileges up to the extent that they cannot advance and be civilized. Wake up...and don't depend solely on the government to feed you....if u think u r useful...then prove us wrong.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why the Malays are so upset with such thing. Are they really care about NegaraKu, or the facts that are being broadcasted to the world? Why can't these people be more civilised, view the matter from another prespective rather than being protectionism? Can't the just looked at it from the artistic side? Wee has a talent there, although not the look.

To be frank, Wee is propagating the truth. I believe Malays will not resort to such condemnation and to the extend of posting something cited by the person above me. Only UMNO cybertroopers will do it, because they are afraid of losing their grip on the country, their source of income.

When i read that "Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he is being fair to all races ...." i fell of my chair again. Another talk and no walk gesture from him. I must get used to his behaviour, else i will have bruises all over my body for falling off the chair each time.

Anonymous said...

This student did not change the lyrics of the national anthem and so did nothing wrong. I don't understand the fuss. As what many people said, what he rapped about was what we see everyday in Malaysia. Maybe, the truth hurts. If anything, the juxtaposition of the national anthem and his song about present day Malaysia just insinuates the sad situation we are in. I realise the words "bersatu dan maju..rahmat bahagia" all become so hollow and meaningless in today's Malaysia. Instead of criticising him, the govt should be asking where has the country gone wrong? His "Kawanku" even tells the Malays we have to learn to live together and look ahead to 2020. What's wrong with that? That MCA guy who criticised the student was really pathetic. Guess he knew which side of his bread was buttered. Maybe the Chinese voters should show him which side is the correct side. The Star reported that MCA was sending people to tell his family to be careful. Really pathetic. Yesterday, after watching the videos a few times, I found myself whistling the Negaraku tune while driving and wondered why I would do that. Maybe the way he sang it was really good.

Anonymous said...

What about the other 'incident' a few years back when the country under certain prime minister decide to change the beat of Negara ku?

Is that an offence too?

Anonymous said...

It's a video in youtube forgodsake! Who takes that seriously? Apparently our government does.The guy is just reflecting and yes with the stupid remarks but hey he's just a college kids with no bad intention.

The US can't sued people who do stupid video about them.Rather than spending money on trying to put this college kid in jail why not spend the money in improvising malaysia? Like he said the crime rate in JB is increasing everyday.

Anonymous said...

Its really a joke when the whole governmental organization going after a student. It just goes to show how sick the mentality of certain people are. Like the Malay phrase that goes, translated in English " If you dont eat chilli, how do u know it's hot?" So someone feels the pinch after all? I didnt! I think its hilarious and also its the truth!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I just read half of kian ming post. I can just say like this. If your child doesn't know how to swim, and he play near the river, don't blame the river for taking his life. The rapper is just a kid who studying at taiwan, don't waste time to cover his ass. Just shut our mouth up and lets Malaysian decide his fate. That pig deserve to be insulted. Fucking chinese.