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Shazlin Amir Hamzah
Adil Johan


Upon its independence in 1957, Malaysia was in the process of becoming a modern nation and therefore required modern totems to bind together its diverse population. Malaysia’s postcolonial plural society would be brought under the imagined ‘nation-of-intent’ of the government of the day (Shamsul A. B., 2001). Music in the form of the national anthem and patriotic songs were and remained essential components of these totems; mobilised by the state to foster a sense of national cohesion and collective identity. These songs are popular and accepted by Malaysian citizens from diverse backgrounds as a part of their national identity, and such affinities are supported by the songs’ repeated broadcast and consumption on national radio, television and social media platforms. For this study, several focus group discussions (FGD) were conducted in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and the Klang Valley. This research intends to observe and analyse whether selected popular patriotic songs in Malaysia, composed and written between the 1960s to 2000 could promote and harness a sense of collective identity and belonging amongst Malaysians. There exists an evident lacuna in the study of the responses and attitudes of Malaysians, specifically as music listeners and consumers of popular patriotic songs. The study finds that unlike initially hypothesised, patriotic songs – instead of commercial popular songs – are more popular and wide-reaching in appeal across different professions, ethnicities, religions and geographic locations of Malaysians. Patriotic music provides a means for social cohesion, not via the propagation of dogmatic patriotic content, but through the personal, intimate and affective associations that such songs solicit from individual citizens.


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Author Biography

Adil Johan, Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

ADIL JOHAN is a research fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), The National University of Malaysia (UKM). He currently has a book published with NUS Press titled, 'Cosmopolitan Intimacies: Malay Film Music of the Independence Era', which examines nation-making, cultural intimacy and the cosmopolitan music of Malay films in 1950s and 1960s Singapore and Malaysia. His educational and professional background in jazz performance, music education and cultural anthropology led him to pursue a doctoral thesis in ethnomusicology, awarded by King’s College London.  His current research highlights how popular music artistes, producers and groups in Malaysia such as Sudirman, Sheila Majid, OAG, and the Alleycats contribute to intercultural cohesion in Malaysia. In line with that, he is interested in cultural intimacy, cosmopolitanism, ethno-cultural diversity, the consumption, production and performance of popular music, music and technology in screened media, the politics of ethnicity and the history of postcolonial nation-making in the Nusantara and Southeast Asia. As a musician, he plays the saxophone and sings for the folk-punk collective, Azmyl Yunor Orkes Padu and the ethno-progressive-rock band, Nadir.


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