(NOTE: A few sentences were not printed or were shortened by the paper. See if you can guess which ones!)
Lagu IT and collective memory
While doing research for my upcoming book Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things, I was overcome by the need to quote from the IT song.
You know the IT song. If you were in Malaysia in the 1990s, you must know the IT song. Unless you were a Luddite who vigorously denied yourself the pleasures of TV and radio, you will definitely know the IT song.
Lagu IT (as it is known) was created by none other than the Information Minister of that time, Mohamad Rahmat. This jovial personality was sometimes known as Mat Setia, due to his admirable loyalty to the administration and also the Setia campaign some years before that. The latter campaign, which ran sometime during the late 1980s, included the relatively mirthless Jenaka Hang Setia programme on TV, and the Setia Bersama Rakyat (Semarak) nationwide roadshow. Oh yes, there was also the song Setia. It was quite a nice song, performed by the wonderful Francesca Peters. Unless you were an unrepentant cynic, your heart’s cockles would have surely been warmed by the song.
Why was there such a need to stress the importance of “loyalty” in the late 1980s? Well, this has to do with the UMNO deregistration, the setting up of Semangat 46, the constitutional crisis involving royalty, and so on lah. If you want to know more, pick up a book!
Anyway, back to the subject. Lagu IT was different from the Setia song. It didn’t warm anybody’s cockles. In fact, it probably popped a few blood vessels.
A version was sung by the wonderful Siti Nurhaliza. But as far as I know, Siti has not included it in any of her Greatest Hits CDs, or sung it at any of her Istana Budaya concerts. I don’t dare speculate as to the reasons for this omission.
This is the song that wants you, in fact commands you, to love Information Technology (IT). If you had the radio or TV continually on, chances are you would have received this hectic exhortation several times in a day. So insistent was this song on the benefits of IT that you got the sense that a refusal of IT’s charms would be tantamount to some form of treason.
It’s hard to convey how ubiquitous this song was. It either made millions rush out to buy their first modem to experience the delights of Jaring service, or it could have made people throw their computers into the nearest river. Someone should do a survey.
So I did a Google search for the lyrics. Astonishingly (hold your gasps) there were no results. I then searched Limewire, where you can download all sorts of stuff. Once again, nothing there. Even an official site called Suara Patriotisme failed to include its MP3 among the toe-tapping, spirit-rousing numbers that can be accessed.
What gives? Did I simply imagine this song in an unusually vivid and protracted nightmare? But no, there were fragments of the lyrics quoted in various sites. They all agreed that the words “Cinta IT” and “Guna IT” appeared in it somewhere. It was also agreed that the song was probably the tuneful equivalent of the famed Chinese water torture.
So, the song did exist. Phew! Many people did take note of it, although not with great affection.
So if the song was indeed known to many, why were the lyrics nowhere online? Before you dismiss this with a sclerotic “That’s why you must trust the PRINT media more than the Internet!” I should say that I even looked through the archives of this worthy organ and its sister publications, all of whom chose to be reticent on the matter.
There is an irony in this, and a lament. The irony is that it would take only a few months from the song’s unveiling to the administration’s realisation that IT wasn’t all hunky dory after all. This realization coincided with a spate of reformasi websites, which caused all kinds of concern about how they were funded and maintained. The chairman of an “anti-defamation panel” at that time even said that it takes tens of thousands of ringgit to set up each site. If he had “cinta IT” enough to do research, he would have known that most of those sites could be run for virtually nothing.
The lament has to do with collective memory. It could be said that the IT song was so annoying that nobody wanted to archive it. But it is, paradoxically, this widespread annoyance that should have ensured a form of immortality. This was our very own, public-funded equivalent of the Crazy Frog ringtone, or the Numa Numa song, or anything by Stock, Aitken and Waterman. But no one wanted to commemorate it, and this is sad.
It’s easy and respectable to be moved by the sad state of heritage-worthy buildings, but our collective memory is also composed of non-tangible things. Songs that bore their way into our consciousness, the way termites eat through wood, should be included. An architect once told me that a city without old buildings is like a man without a memory. Well, a country with no memory of annoying songs is like a man with no personality.
Then again, all sorts of things are being erased at the moment, or might be soon. A best-selling newspaper opined a few days ago that a new biography of P. Ramlee (by his son) was wrong to mention that the late entertainer was fond of mahjong. Mentioning it was equivalent to an attempt to aib (humiliate) the man. Since he is a posthumous Tan Sri, such things should just not be put into print. The son was told to just invent some other location where he hung out! This is censorship in the name of propriety. More of this, and the past will seem very boring indeed.
So anyway, I got a friend to break into the RTM archives to access Lagu IT. (Forgive us!) Oddly enough, it is listed as a 2003 song. Surely it’s older than that?
But anyway, thanks to me, I am now happy to say that the lyrics can be found online if someone were interested enough to do a search.
It’s not such a great feat. I didn’t save a centuries-old temple from demolition. I didn’t record a performance by the last practitioner of an art form before the said practitioner bit the dust. But in my own small way, I feel I have contributed to this thing called national heritage. And I don’t even need a posthumous title to be thanked, really.
I will leave you with some lines to ponder. No, they are not by some Dead White European Male. They are by one of us, and represent a stirring call to action. I could quote Shakespeare’s Henry V’s call to war, but how could those lines even compare to the end of the song I’ve been talking about: