Friday, April 1, 2011

Loud and clear

by Haris Abdul Halim

Published on 1 April 2011 © The Star

Music can inspire change in people’s lives and attitudes, as reflected by the Radio Demokratika compilation and the upcoming Rock 4 Rights concert.

THE first thought that came to my mind, and probably many others’, when mentioning this genre of music, that is, protest songs or civil rights music, was youthful rebellion towards certain aspects of society. For the new generation, they had somehow hoped that their anger would be heard, but then again, no one listens to an angry person, especially if they are nobody.

MC Stiff’s contribution Moral Bankruptcy is an unsung gem in Radio Demokratika.

Bearing that last sentence in mind,Radio Demokratika produced by the Malaysian Bar Council’s public service MyConstitution Campaign (MyConsti in hip speak), is a compilation album which speaks to the current generation, not through anger and rebellion, but through a positive tone throughout the album.

MyConsti has been up and running in Malaysia since 2009. The initial idea was a two-year campaign organised by the Bar Council designed to inform and educate the public about constitutional awareness, their rights as citizens of Malaysia as well as the way the country is run. Forums and workshops have been held across Malaysia to raise awareness.

The Radio Demokratika compilation, featuring diverse local acts, sees MyConsti finding a louder voice through music.

This Saturday the compilation will also receive a profile boost with the Rock 4 Rights concert and carnival taking place at Fort Cornwallis in Penang. The 12–hour music marathon organised by the Bar Council, in partnership with Frinjan and Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM), will feature a host of acts from the Radio Demokratika compilation as well as like-minded artistes on stage throughout the day.

Apart from movie screenings and information booths, the free admission event has slotted names like Bittersweet, Azmyl Yunor, Couple, Amirah Ali, An Honest Mistake, Maharajah Commission, Keladak, MC Stiff, Barcode, Car Crash Hearts and others for the Rock 4 Rights gig.

Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah will also be part of the live line-up with a special performance on the main stage.

Nurul Izzah will be giving a special performance at Rock 4 Rights.

“It is a great blessing when singer-songwriters like us are given opportunities to perform and share our music with others, especially songs about social and humanitarian issues. Ultimately, music is about honesty and writing what is true in your heart ... that is what is most important,” said Amirah Ali, who will be on stage in Penang this Saturday.

“Judging by the number of participating acts (including notable and popular ones) in events such as these, there is a form of paradigm shift when it comes to the role of local music in civil society as a whole,” said Azmyl Yunor, renowned for his back-to-basics folk rock music. “An act might not write political or social songs per se (you don’t have to, really), but by showing support for a cause or by participating in related events, does show that bands or musicians who have a conscience, regardless of political leanings, are now showing their support and empathy. It’s a norm overseas, why not here?”

But it was Radio Demokratika that sparked this recent and concerted flurry of pro-activity from the music community. This compilation, released last month, encompasses many styles of music, from hip hop to rock, to metal and even country.

“As you know, everyone is different, therefore, everyone’s tastes are different. This album has been very accessible in a sense that it appeals to a broad range of people. In a way, the music becomes the tool for unity, and if we’re not united, nothing can be accomplished,” said Michael Loo, one of the co-ordinators for the Radio Demokratikacompilation project.

Indie jazz singer Amirah Ali is in the concert line-up, too.

“We wanted to end this campaign with a bang, and that was how Radio Demokratika came to be. Music, after all, is the one thing which is ever present in our lives, and this is a great opportunity to reach out to the general public of Malaysia,” he added.

The album, which comes with an information booklet, also plays around with the lyrics and the way the lyrics are written – some are obscure, some are abstract and some are really just like staring at you right in the face, and again, this creates an appealing variety. Cilia Chong, also directly involved in the making of the album, added that they tried to make the album as accessible as possible, so they could avoid seeming elitist in any way. Comprising 12 tracks, which were contributed (free) by local artistes and bands alike, along with a few members from the Bar Council, it is an album which might pique the public’s curiosity through it’s diverse sound and clear message.

Radio Demokratika encompasses many genres and styles of music, everyone will have at least one track to relate to,” she said.

Sonically, being a compilation album which is not confined to one genre, it would tend to have a diverse palette. Although all of the artistes are local, the sound that they managed to produce is quite impressive. Hints of U2 can be heard in Lord Bobo’s Minions’ track, Better Than This. A familiar riff, which is heard on Thin Izzy’s track, Shine A Light, would be noticed by Led Zeppelin fans.

The whole album contains many good tracks, including contributions from underground scene favourites like Carburetor Dung, Azmyl Yunor and Maharajah Commission, but one which stands out is newcomer MC Stiff’s dark and ominous Moral Bankruptcy, which has so much meaning to the words, and the way it is crafted is just beautiful. The track gives a sense of empowerment to the people.

Rebel with a cause: Post punk outfit The Panda Head Curry? delivers a direct message for consitutional awareness on Joget Melayu Liberal, one of the highlights of the Radio Demokratika compilation.

“There are a lot of good acts on the album, but it’s cool that local hip hop as a genre is represented and not forgotten. I wrote Moral Bankruptcyespecially for this compilation. I thought about the issues and put down verses that reflected the cause (awareness for the constitution). Everybody involved in this project hopes that it reaches out to the public,” said MC Stiff.

The last song on the album is Joget Melayu Liberal by The Panda Head Curry? and it sends out a clear message through direct lyrics. It summarises all that is happening in the compilation with seemingly pointless lines, but it does show the role that a constitution plays in the development of the country, saying that, without it, we would be mere animals.

The Rock 4 Rights concert and carnival takes place at Fort Cornwallis in Penang this Saturday. The 12–hour non-stop event starts at noon. The Radio Demokratika compilation is available at selected recordstores nationwide. More details at

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