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‘Majulah Singapura’ composer’s daughter says Ramli Sarip’s rendition is “rather tortuous to listen to”

The people of Singapore are wonderfully creative but this creativity should not extend to meddling with the musical score of the country’s national anthem. This is one area where there should not be change, said Dr Rohana Zubir

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In an open letter published on Wednesday (4 Dec), Dr Rohana Zubir – the daughter of Pak Zubir Said, the original composer of Singapore’s national anthem ‘Majulah Singapura’ – criticised Ramli Sarip’s recently-released rendition of the song her father composed over 60 years ago.

A music video featuring Mr Ramli’s rendition of the national anthem was released on Tuesday (3 Dec), to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Singapore’s National Symbols – the anthem, the flag and the state crest – that were introduced to Singaporeans on the same day that Yusof Ishak was sworn in as the nation’s very first head of state.

On the same day, the Government released a re-recording of the national anthem by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, that is separate from Mr Ramli’s version. The orchestral re-recording released by the Government is based on an earlier musical arrangement while Mr Ramli’s version was not strictly orchestral and included additional instruments like the erhu and the tabla.

While Pak Zubir’s daughter did not comment on the re-recording of the original national anthem, she was disappointed with Mr Ramli’s version. Asserting that the national anthem “deserves to be sacred” and should not be “meddled with” or “experimented with” at “the whims of someone else’s musical inclinations,” Dr Rohana called Mr Ramli’s rendition “rather tortuous to listen to”.

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Noting that her father’s composition was essentially a prayer encapsulated in the form of an anthem, Dr Rohana said that the musical score and lyrics served to invoke “feelings of patriotism, pride, hope and the drive to make Singapore a nation to be reckoned with” among Singaporean youths. She lamented:

“Now sixty years later, just as those youths (if they are still around) have grown old, it appears that the original rendition of the Singapore anthem my father composed is also considered old and change is necessary. But why the need for change?

“The tempo in the new rendition is slower than the original and the musical composition a challenge to singers – the citizens of Singapore who will be singing the anthem. It is as if the original composition, now sixty years old, is required to grow older to a slower tempo, the lyrics chewed slowly, one at a time.”

Pointing out that the national anthems of other countries, like Britain’s “God Save the King/Queen” and Malaysia’s “Negaraku”, have not been affected by new changes, Dr Rohana said: “Sadly, the revised rendition of “Majulah Singapura” lacks the quality, the oomph, of a national anthem. It is rather tortuous to listen to.

She added: “The people of Singapore are wonderfully creative but this creativity should not extend to meddling with the musical score of the country’s national anthem. This is one area where there should not be change.

“It is also important for Singaporeans to be proud of their history and to respect individuals, such as my father, for their contribution to nation-building.”

Read her open letter in full here:

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