Hari undi dah nak dekat! Demokrasi semakin porak-peranda. And one of the most iconic thing that happens when the climate gets political is that artists get creative. Music has been the outlet for many political thoughts and concerns for a long time in humanity. Goes back probably to the times when jesters made funny songs about their kings, or when Tchaikovsky wrote an orchestral piece about war, or when Bob Dylan sang in the Vietnam War.
Our beloved Nusantara is no different. Although with all the censorship and political bias we may not have as many overtly political songs as we should have. For example, there is an unfortunate dearth of women artists on this list or songs from different languages than Malay and English (both of which we regret, so if you have any recommendations, send us a comment!). Despite all of that, the Nusantara still stays strong and breed a couple of people with something to say to the person-in-charge (or the people in general), so here’s a list of our favourite songs with political elements to decorate the election season.
You can also check out The Level’s awesome GE14 playlist too.
1) Kelibat Korupsi – One Buck Short
“Tukar cara kita fikir, baru hapus korupsi”. This song is an almost-forgotten politicial anthem by the legendary punk pop band of Malaysia’s early 2000s, One Buck Short. It has everything, catchy hooks, pedas lyrics and a Kelantanese bridge to boot.
2) Pawana – Search
Although you’re going to have to read between the lines, Pawana is a profound song about the innate demons of humanity throughout history. Those hard riffs tells a story of turmoil, a world of “survival of the fittest”, where the strong succeeds, and the weak abandoned. “Semua inginkan kuasa Rebut dengan sengketa Yang lemah jadi hamba“
3) Partai – Marjinal
The Indonesian punk scene is rife with political gold. Marjinal is one of those bands that does that without any BS – all-in with full aggression especially in their lyrics (“Pada suatu pesta, pesta demokrasi rakyat/ Banyak tengkulak berebut massa rakyat”)
4) Ini Sekolah Bukan Kilang – Spooky Wet Dreams
Part of a healthy democracy is constant reassessment of our educational system. Spooky Wet Dreams encapsulates this anger towards an educational system that focuses on creating ‘workers’ rather than ‘human beings’ in this punchy track. Say it with me now, “Ilusi yang kita harapkan/ Kerusi yang kita undikan“.
5) Layu – Malique
Malique puts hard rap beats to the side to make way for this beautiful, introspective spoken word about the Malay identity and the state of our nation. It’s all profound verses here, laid bare as a foreground to a children nursery rhyme – illustrating it as a cautionary tale. Remember, “Tanahair kita yang punya/Kita siram, kita baja/Tapi angin, api, kita lupa”.
6) 2.6 Bintang – Orkes A Hizadin
Although this indie rock ballad uses a metaphor, the rest of the song is actually pretty straightforward. It’s a sad lamentation of a person wondering where all the ‘stars’ have gone. The singer’s complaint hits close at heart, and is a good representation of how the political and the personal can often intertwine.
7) Made In Malaysia – Roots & Boots
A punk anthem doesn’t have to spit in anyone’s face, or threaten the overthrow of an entire establishment. Roots & Boots is a good example of a good punk track that’s all about solidifying our love for the nation. We don’t care just who you are. Just shout it out loud, we were made in Malaysia.
8) Inspektor Remos – Hujan
We’ve got revolutionary, acidic punk anthems in here, and now it’s time to balance it out with a little consciosuness. Hujan’s Inspektor Remos lyrically comments on a state of society obsessed with the digital and drugged by anti-establishment fervor – fitting for a world where most of our political discourse happens online. We initially wanted to put Ludah Amerika, but Inspektor Remos feels more universal.
9) Tentang-Tentang – Butterfingers
Loque singing Ape bende yang merdeka/Jilat bontot depa repeatedly is one of the more subtly iconic political anthems in the early 2000s. Tentang-tentang is another song that uses Malay traditional songs (in this case it’s Geylang Si Paku Geylang) to send a message of protest.
10) Evening News – Jason Lo
The fact that large parts of this song is literally news clips, with the verses sang in the character of a news announcer, makes Evening News a work of art. If you were a Malaysian born in the 90s and Hitz.TV was your go-to music source, Evening News was probably one of the first ‘woke’ Malaysian songs you were exposed to. Open your eyes, don’t believe the lies! (Break prime time with surprise and lies/You’re signed and sealed/With what you see with anybody else’s eyes/You’re talking the talk/But you ain’t walking the walk man/One mike, one camera And you become an educator)
11) Bangsat – Iwan Fals
Before hip hop or punk, one of the most popular genres of protest and political commentaries was folk with artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Southeast Asia is no different, with Iwan Fals standing as one of the most legendary folk voices of Indonesia (in 2002, TIME magazine named him the Great Asian Hero). The song is no less relevant even as the time passes, and even if it is a different country. Iwan Fals growls is a slap in the face, as he sings about corruption and back-stabbing leeches.
12) Freedom & Justice – The A.C.A.B.
The long guitar introduction sets a mood for a rock song that just gives you the chills. The A.C.A.B. has a long list of aggressive punk songs that seals their fate into the underground skinhead (no, not the Nazi kind, the anti-racism kind) scene, but Freedom & Justice substitutes fast riffs for a slower, more sentimental rock melody. All of this reverberating behind cries of No right to speak and no right to fight, ’cause the tyrant will always be right
13) Tayang Sulit – Killeur Calculateur
Another song in our list that speaks to the a modern age of hypocrisy and worshipping human beings. Although the political message is here a little bit more subtle than the others, Tayang Sulit is still a freaking awesome banger that finds its place in the soundscape of our current political atmosphere. (Fitnah talamkan muka/Suara semarak benci)
14) Here In My Home – Malaysian Artistes for Unity/Pete Teo
Okay, we tried really hard not to include any cheesy songs about patriotism or unity on here that has the feeling of a warm Yasmin Ahmad film (hence why you have not seen any Keranamu Malaysia or even Faizal Tahir’s Negaraku), but we’ll give one pass to this lovely melody. I mean, it’s been 62 years since independence and race-based fear mongering is still at large, so maybe a little cheese once in a while to remind us that all of us should unite is necessary. So much love to this part. Remember when Awie sang with Afdlin Shauki? Good times.
15) Bonus song!
Nothing is more iconic than Malaysia’s first ever Marilah Mengundi song. How can we not have this on the list?
Suitable to the topic of democracy, we’re starting a collaborative playlist where you can put your favourite songs to listen to to pump you up for the election (or to express your annoyance towards the whole thing). Tak kisah parti, Undi Rosak pun boleh tambah lagu sekali!