KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 2 — The “Janji Ditepati” (Promises Fulfilled) melody picked for National Day celebration this year is heating up the airwaves but for the wrong reasons, with some online users noting its striking resemblance to a 2008 gospel song by Jakarta-based Christian band True Worshippers, featuring Indonesian songstress Ruth Sahanaya.
The latest controversy, coming just days after a public furore forced Putrajaya to axe the badly-designed 55th National Day logo in favour of the 1 Malaysia logo, could see more red cheeks for government officials and could further strain diplomatic ties with the Southeast Asian giant.
Malaysia’s chattering class has been critical over the “Janji Ditepati” lyrics, penned by Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim but four days ago, they intensified their attacks on popular video-sharing site YouTube, and other social networking sites like Facebook after a blogger who professed to be a Christian pointed out that the song’s melody was strikingly similar to an Indonesian gospel song titled “Serukan Namanya” (Call out His name).
“Lagu tema KEMERDEKAAN MALAYSIA ke 55 kedengaran seperti LAGU Pujian di GEREJA (Malaysia’s 55th National Day theme song sounds like a church praise song),” said the anonymous blogger’s July 30 entry.
“Hal ini lagi mengejutkan sekiranya lagu tema kebangsaan di ambil dari lagu rohani org Kristen… Mungkin kementerian tidak tau tapi seharusnya pencipta lagu ni tdk berbuat demikian (menciplak) sebab did ditugaskan untk membuat lagu tema kemerdekaan. [This matter is all the more shocking if the national theme song is taken from the Christians’ spiritual song… Perhaps the ministry is unaware but the songwriter should not do so (plagiarise) because he was tasked with creating the national theme],” the blogger said.
The unnamed blogger urged the ministry to demand a refund from the songwriter and to replace the song, which has been panned for its lyrics, with another.
Copies of the posting and video links to both “Janji Ditepati” and its comparison to “Serukan Namanya” have since gone viral and were repeated on several blogs and online community fora such as Miricommunity.net, an Internet bulletin board popularly visited by Malaysians who hail from Sarawak.
“Amen, Yesuslah Raja!! Tapi sorry ya, Rais Yatim dengan lagu ‘Janji Ditepati’nya sama style dengan lagu ni (Amen Jesus is King!! But sorry, Rais Yatim with his ‘Janji Ditepati’ has the same style as this song),” said a YouTube commentor under the moniker amoker27 in one of the video clips featuring the Indonesian song here that has seen over 100,000 views since being uploaded on September 5, 2008.
The song, by Christian band True Worshippers led by Sidney Mohede and whose members include the regionally popular artiste Ruth Sahanaya, was released in their 2008 album “All Things New”.
“Now i really hate our ministry because duplicate this song and make it political in malaysia. really shame of my own country because of our idiot minister. sorry indonesia!!” said another YouTube commenter under the name vandridel.
The apology to Indonesia was in reference to upset Indonesians who attacked Malaysia’s missions in the archipelago, hurling eggs, stones and pieces of wood injuring personnel and damaging property as recently as June, claiming cultural theft after Rais had announced a move to add North Sumatra’s Tortor dance and the Gordang Sambilan drums to the its heritage list.
The two neighbouring countries are known to have a history of political, economic, and cultural friction.
But “Janji Ditepati’s” melody was purportedly created by a group of people only identified as Aye, Jasnie, Arman E six.
A YouTube posting of the video clip here has drawn over 255,000 views since it was uploaded on July 27 with over 30,600 dislikes compared to only 415 likes as of this morning.
Rais had also acknowledged the brickbats when he took to Twitter two days ago and invited the public to share their views on the song he wrote.
“Apa pandangan sdr tntg lagu janji d tepati? Di utube dah cecah 140k lebih. Tapi yg ‘ibu jari k bawah’ ada juga (What are your views on the Janji Ditepati song? On YouTube, there are more than 140,000 views. But there are those who have also given it a ‘thumbs-down’,” the minister said on his account @DrRaisYatim.
Several singers, songwriters and composers contacted by The Malaysian Insider have also noted the striking similarities between the “Janji Ditepati” melody and the gospel song but stopped short of labelling it plagiarism.
“Similarities in melody usually would bring up the issue of plagiarism,” said music educator Tay Cher Siang, who is also music director for The Venue, a live music space at popular city mall Pavilion.
He agreed that there were many similarities between the two melodies but said that the music scale is limited as it contains only 12 notes. He added that most pop music compositions frequently feature seven notes.
“No matter how much I hated the whole ‘Janji Ditepati’ fiasco, to be fair, I have an ounce of doubt for this issue of plagiarism,” he said.
He was loathe to brand it an outright musical theft, saying he had no knowledge if the composers of “Janji Ditepati” were aware of the similarities with “Serukan Namanya” and had been influenced by the song and sought permission to use the melody or had deliberately reproduced it without attributing the inspiration.
Folk singer and songwriter Meor Yusof Aziddin, 45, echoed Tay’s view, saying the issue of plagiarising musical melodies was very subjective. He pointed out that pop melodies have using the same formula since the Beatles’ era in the 1960s and 1970s.
He noted that the national anthem, “Negaraku”, has the same melody as an Indonesian song, “Terang Boelan”, and which can be traced back to an 18th-century song, “La Rosalie”, by French composer Pierre-Jean de Beranger.
Another independent singer-songwriter-composer, who declined to be named, however, was intrigued by the similarities between the choice National Day melody and gospel music.
“That there is substantive similarity between an Indonesian Christian gospel song and the new Malaysian Merdeka day song is interesting, don’t you think?” he asked.
The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition had chosen “Janji Ditepati as the theme for this year’s National Day celebrations, a move that has drawn intense criticism from the opposition and Malaysians.
The opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders have accused the BN government of hijacking National Day celebrations for its own political campaign.
They also accused BN of using the theme to abuse government machinery for political campaigning purposes.
Last Friday, Rais had defended on Twitter the National Day celebrations theme, pointing out that “everything can look bad if the mind is closed”.
“Malaysia has truly arrived as an achieving nation after 55 years of independence. Why can’t we say janji ditepati?” he said in response to growing criticisms against the theme for mirroring BN’s political campaign theme ahead of the next general election expected soon.