AT Dewan Filharmonik Petronas last weekend for the Saturday night performance of Malam Terang Bulan, we sat back and lost ourselves in the remarkable world of Saidah Rastam‘s Rosalie and Other Love Songs.
Initially created for last year’s Khazanah Megatrends Forum, the public premiere of Malam Terang Bulan took place over three days and received a very strong response from the rakyat. Saturday night for example was packed with individuals, couples and families of various ages.
In the hall, audience members oohed and aahed, verified facts with their partners in-between pivotal scenes, sang along to Saiful Bahri‘s “Berjaya”, and unanimously rose to their feet upon the first signs of the “Negaraku” — a crucial, poignant moment in Malam Terang Bulan.
Some sang along to the “Negaraku”, some cried silently. Others simply smiled, warm.
Anthem of our generation
In the world of Malam Terang Bulan, the national anthem is not something of a routine or a chore. It is not a throwaway melody to remind you of your allegiance to a geographical region, nor is it merely a song. Here, you have to earn the right to listen to it, which you get only through taking the time to really know the song.
It’s not a particularly hard task either, thanks to Chacko Vadaketh‘s booming wizard voice and all the captivating material carefully-curated for the performance.
As soon as the anthem ended, applause filled the room for approximately two minutes. Every single audience member participated in the standing ovation. The cast took their bows, but returned on stage after a minute’s worth of clapping, joined by Saidah and Malam Terang Bulan producer Zainariah Johari.
Upon realizing something of this scale most probably wouldn’t have an encore, people finally started leaving.
After the performance, a long line formed downstairs for a signing session with the cast of Malam Terang Bulan, a queue occasionally held up by a selfie-taker or a satisfied Dayang Nurfaizah fan.
Casting a spell
Styled much like a lecture performance, the concert had Chacko and Zahim Albakri running on and off the stage doing little sketches — mostly amusing re-enactions of historical scenes — conjuring the past with aid of projected visuals.
There were times we were slightly worried for Zahim, as he did seem literally breathless to be there in various characters. After a particularly quick costume change, the poor man drew noticeable breaths in between phrases. Zahim was undoubtedly a delight however — he won over audiences with his lovable, offbeat portrayal of Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Not much useful can be said about its musical performers, who were simply outstanding. Dayang Nurfaizah’s interpretation of “Jauh Jauh” was slightly divisive due to her ad-libs, but she pulled through with gold stars in our books. Zamzuriah Zahari was a whole different beast altogether — her captivating voice and achingly graceful moves while performing “Saat Demi Saat” was a moment to treasure.
Mei Lin Hii‘s contribution was not merely a musical one; in a long black dress with her black hair flowing past her shoulder, the pianist commanded every bit of attention during her number with Dayang. Mei Lin was a dreamy, enigmatic presence on stage which further strengthened the visual aspect of the experience during her rare appearances.
The execution of Malam Terang Bulan was unpretentious and truthful, which would’ve come as a surprise to those expecting something more 1Malaysia, given that it’s presented by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, a strategic investment arm of the government.
For a performing arts project affiliated with a governmental body, there was none of the poster-patriotism rubbish we see adorning national campaigns.
“One of the best things about Malam Terang Bulan,” gushed Wendi Sia, our editorial assistant who bought additional tickets to the show, “was that there were no Chinese, Indian and Malay representation forced together painfully like they belong together in a set of three.”
Indeed, the brand of patriotism and national identity put forward by Khazanah’s collaboration with Saidah in Malam Terang Bulan feels untainted; surprising factual discoveries are presented without intention to sway anyone’s beliefs or to prove anything to any group of people. These people have not rewritten history for their own benefit with Malam Terang Bulan; they’ve instead archived and presented it.
Khazanah’s investment in this particular artistic endeavour also forms part of a preservation project on Malaysian music, with all proceeds from ticket sales going to organisations championing local arts and heritage.
Malam Terang Bulan smartly utilised every single one of its performers in order to show us where the “Negaraku” came from. As a result it made us cry, laugh, sing, and perhaps most importantly, reflect.
Performances like this don’t come by often. Three years of Khazanah-funded research conducted by one passionate woman was what it took to create all the magic you saw on stage.
We’re not expecting a revolution by next week, but we believe everyone who watched from 20 – 22 November took more pride in being Malaysian. Because being Malaysian isn’t about what you see or hear from social media and friends — Malam Terang Bulan returned to us visions of illustrious times, an era when intelligent, charming men led an exciting, fertile land to its independence.
The impact Saidah and company have created warrants an encore, if only that it may reach a bigger audience. Whether the cast have the stamina to meet potential demand remains to be seen.
Read more about Malam Terang Bulan in our previous write-up!