Friday, August 21, 2009

Gema Merdeka: Muzikal Tun Abdul Razak

Another slightly off topic post. This time on Gema Merdeka: Muzikal Tun Abdul Razak, which I saw at Istana Budaya, Malaysia's national theatre, on the last night of a 5 day run (20 August).

This was an ASWARA musical production, featuring mostly students from this ministry-run arts academy, but buttressed by some Malaysian pop stars, with professional direction and choreography and a pop score by Ruslan Mohd Imam. With funding from the 1Malaysia government initiative, this was as much a bio of politician Tun Abdul Razak (1922-1976) as a piece of government propaganda about the necessary rise of Barisan Nasional in the wake of the 1969 race riots.

Indonesia features in two scenes. One scene represents Konfrontasi: paratroupers are seen descending from the sky in a video backdrop as soldiers do dance manouvers in front. In a second, Tun mediates a post-konfrontasi treaty between Indonesia and Malaysia. All the Indonesians are dressed in batik-- batik skirts, pants, shirts, head coverings-- and the women take on stereotypical Javanese dance postures.

More interesting perhaps is the use of the gamelan. The orchestra features a full Terengganu style gamelan (kendang, gong, saron, peking, penerus, gambang, and 2 kromong) which plays at the opening. Thereafter the gamelan comes in occasionally as ethnic 'colour' in conjunction with other instruments. Orchestration of the gamelan is very simple - mostly all the instruments play in unison. Repeated gong strokes also features in one moment of the musical to illustrate a sense of urgency. Gamelan is of course part of the ASWARA curriculum and was elevated to a national Malaysian art form in the 1970s. But it has no real connection with Tun's life and times. I wonder what dramatic function gamelan take on in this musical. Clearly it is NOT to signal Indonesia....

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