Global Hit: Singapore’s un-official national anthem

The World

The Southeast Asian nation of Singapore celebrated its 43rd birthday this past weekend. That meant it was time for the annual National Day Parade. It’s a big deal in Singapore — an extravaganza with military fly-bys, pop stars, and fireworks. There’s also a musical tradition that goes with Singapore’s National Day. As part of our ongoing series on unofficial national songs, Michael Switow tells us about Singapore’s yearly anthem.

Singapore’s national day is like America’s 4th of July.

“You must understand that in Singapore, right, we celebrate National Day with big pomp and fireworks and huge stadium show.�

photo: Michael Switowphoto: Michael Switow

But Singaporean music industry veteran Lim Sek points out a difference. He says Singaporean authorities see to it that there’s a new national day anthem every year.

They would commission a local writer to especially compose a piece that would be used to move the audience and it would be promoted to death.

This year’s piece is “Shine for Singapore”. The singer here is Chinese pop star Joi Chua. It’s too early to tell if “Shine for Singapore” will have staying power. Previous national day anthems have become etched in the Singaporean consciousness.

Singaporean DJ Vernetta Lopes says her favorite is the 19– national day entry, “we are Singapore.”

�I’ve actually hosted some of the National Day Parades within the stadium and to see the crowds singing along is really a nice feeling and it feels your heart and you feel real nation pride while singing it, plus I remember watching visuals of Singaporeans doing what they love to do / that was part of the music video and that really got me quite proud of who I am as a Singaporean. So I like that tune. It’s got a really nice lilting feel to it.�

This is my country
This is my flag, this is my future
This is my life, this is my family,
These are my friends,
We are Singapore, Singaporeans

“We are Singapore” had a `ra-ra yah Singapore’ patriotic message. That was true of the national day anthems in the 80s and most of the 90s.”

But in 1998, says Lim Sek, A song called “home” broke the pattern.

“Home was the first time that the theme song took on a softer edge. Something almost akin to like a ballad and I think the difference really made people sit up and listen. It touches them and makes them realize that no matter what it is.. Singapore is Home and your friends are here and that’s a different feel to the whole thing and I think that’s why to today, it is still so important.”

“This is home truly, where I know I must be Where my dreams wait for me, where that river always flows This is home surely, as my senses tell me This is where I won’t be alone, for this is where I know it’s home.”

There is a second group of songs that some Singaporeans also consider unofficial anthems. These are the traditional folk songs which predate Singapore’s nationhood. Songs like Rasa Sayang.

Students: “Must be together, ah. 1-2-3� Rasa Sayang eh (sing verse, then laughter)

So how do you feel when you hear Rasa Sayang?

�Well in Malay, Rasa Sayang means “feel the love” so i guess we all feel the love right now. (laughter)�

Indonesia and Malaysia had a dispute this year over Rasa Sayang. Malaysia used the song in tourism commercial.

Indonesia said “you can’t do that! Rasa Sayang is Indonesian, not Malaysian”. Singaporeans don’t really care where the tune comes from. They just love it. Music producer Lim Sek and DJ Vernetta Lopez certainly do.

Rasa Sayang singers at the Dick Lee 30th Anniversary Concert in 2004: life.stories: Dick Lee’s 30th anniversary concert 2004Rasa Sayang singers at the Dick Lee 30th Anniversary Concert in 2004: life.stories: Dick Lee’s 30th anniversary concert 2004

“That song, Rasa Sayang, is something that all of us know, regardless of race, language or religion. Don’t ask me how. It’s one of those things that you hear when you’re in kindergarten and then learn when you’re in school and then you come in touch with it all time.”

“It’s so sweet, I feel like I’m being transported back to Old Singapore. I remember the roots, I remember where we came from. I’m a very nostalgic person so anything that’s nostalgic gets me going, so that’s a good song, actually”

For The World, I’m Michael Switow in Singapore.”

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