MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

End Little Napoleons’ power trip over stopping 'rock n’ roll'

The last time I went to a hot and sweaty live music gig, I took a gamble just by attending as it was the night before the 15th general election (GE15) nomination day.

Despite my early wake-up call the next morning, I eagerly made my way to the centre of town to stand in an impossibly small room.

How it could fit 60-odd folks beats me. I was there to see an indie rock band that I have been following for a few years now - heck, I even managed to get my hands on their extended play (EP) before it was officially launched.

As a young singer-songwriter, the Covid-19 pandemic - which began just two years back - had cut short whatever toes I was dipping in the metaphorical pool - be it attending gigs and talking to other musicians in person.

There are not many spaces that support young acts of both local and foreign origin - armed with original music.

Merdekarya, run by Brian Gomez, has even gone to the extent of barring performers from playing covers, to make way for the great Malaysian sound of the 21st century, without the fear of censorship - an unconventional move where covers are a-plenty in the nation’s live performance circuit.

During the pandemic, most venues were barely surviving, losing money due to the brunt of the economic downturn, lack of adequate government funding and policy barriers.

However, while the threat of Covid-19 is a diminishing concern for many in 2023, there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel for the issues still faced by these arts and culture venues and groups.

On Jan 28, authorities decided to raid a so-called hardcore music gig at a newly-opened record store in Georgetown, Penang.

This resulted in the arrest of four people - with three of them detained for merely filming the raid.

A co-owner of the Penang-based store, which is called Ruas Records Store, was detained for more than 12 hours for not holding an entertainment licence, before being released on bail.

With the raid seeing the seizure of musical equipment and significant financial losses for the newly-opened venue, some have even taken to start a crowdfunding campaign to get Ruas Records back on its feet and support musicians affected by the raid - in the true do-it-yourself spirit of 'rock n’ roll'.

Cracking down on the wrong thing

I am confident that with the help of its supporters, as well as some local representatives whom I was told were assisting the situation, Ruas Records and its musicians will get back on their feet eventually.

This does beg the question, however: why are we so keen to crack down on the arts scene, when injustices are aplenty elsewhere in the country?

It’s a rhetorical one, really. We know it is easier for the little Napoleons to clamp down on freedom of thought and freedom of expression than the slurry of religious-driven politics.

Not to mention, some, not dissimilar to a bully lurking on school grounds, sure do get a kick out of robbing the arts industry of the single RM20 note that it’s been passing around for years.

For those blaming Ruas Records for not having the proper papers: remember that of the thousands in Klang Valley who ask for help from the government to lubricate its operations, only a handful get through the system successfully.

Many venues are unable to afford to maintain their high costs, which often leads gig organisers towards more illicit means of holding gigs. Can you blame them?

Reform the entertainment licence

In reaction to the incident involving Ruas Records, some are even calling for a reform to the entertainment licence application process.

“We believe the entertainment licence application needs serious reform. The way authorities view music and culture can be archaic, and whatever forms of expression that do not conform to mainstream ideals are apparently a threat to society.

“Promoters who believe in their unique talents are already facing uncertainty in ticket sales; the fear of being raided is just (going to) dampen the spirit of organising future events,” said a music venue owner, who did not wish to be named.

It is clear that we are so scared of the mythical diversity of Malaysian talents, that we bleat like sheep roaming in endless circles when faced with something that does not fit the boxes laid out by the state.

Is 'rock n’ roll' a greater fear than those in Parliament who have been known to pit us against each other?

In the end, a loving state-sanctioned stamp of approval awaits those who peddle the culture and heritage of the majority.

Hurrah! Here’s one for calligraphy and this year’s over-the-top Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL) winner. (Sorry, guys, no 'rock n’ roll' for you this Raya.) - Mkini

ALENA NADIA is a member of the Malaysiakini Team.

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