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When Sheila Majid sings ‘out of tune’

Photograph: Sheila Majid's Facebook

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The work of artistes is not only to entertain their respective audiences, but also to address issues of the day in their own creative ways via popular culture, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

What was vocalised by popular jazz singer Sheila Majid recently was perceived to be so disturbingly discordant that she earned the wrath of some Umno Baru leaders and their supporters.

One detractor of hers, TV personality Azwan Ali, was so outraged that he even went to the extent of shooing her off to an imagined infernal abode.

And what was Sheila’s ‘sin’?

All she did was tweet issues about the cost of living, which these days affects many ordinary Malaysians, particularly the working class, who find it difficult to make ends meet.

It is invigorating to see that this deep concern of hers subsequently struck a chord with fellow artistes such as Nur Fathia Latiff, Adibah Noor and Sharifah Amani and TV personality Daphne Iking, who strongly feel that, like many taxpayers and citizens of the country, they too have the democratic right to express their opinions.

To be sure, these are artistes whose work is not only to entertain their respective audiences, but also to address issues of the day in their own creative ways via popular culture.

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And they should be applauded not only when they sing the praises of the powers that be; they also deserve accolades when they choose to stand up and be counted on the basis of principle, no matter whether their criticisms hurt the government or the opposition.

In a thriving democracy, comedians poke fun at a country’s leaders almost on a daily basis. And yet, the politicians concerned have the confidence and maturity to take this mockery in stride, even though such moments could be their most vulnerable (when audiences are laughing at them).

This largely explains why comedians worth their salt cannot make it, or survive, on Malaysia’s national television.

There are also others in Malaysia’s artistic circles whose freedom to express has been censured, if not censored, by the powers that be in recent times.

For example, a few weeks ago, artists from Pusat Sekitar Seni pulled out from the Kuala Lumpur Biennale 2017 art show to protest against the removal of certain parts of their work.

Police reportedly removed a word, “Rasuahahahahaha”, from their art creation.

Another instance involves the irrepressible cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, popularly known as Zunar, who was questioned by police a few weeks ago over a cartoon that depicted piggy banks to represent public trust funds and government agencies.

Police were curious as to what the cartoon really meant, to which Zunar insisted – and rightly so – that he would leave it to the public to interpret.

The above cases share a common problem: the authorities concerned do not like views expressed in the public domain that they perceive to be not in consonance with their prescribed narrative.

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They insist on their straitjacket view of the world, which may not be a credible reflection of social reality.

Incidentally, this insistence on a prescribed script has a parallel in the terrain of Islamic religious authorities in the country, which reflects the entrenched refusal of the powers that be to engage ordinary Malaysians in consultation, dialogue or debate on matters of national and social import.

There is also another dimension to the incidents involving artistes which requires our attention and scrutiny.

Some of these artistes have a big following, especially within the Malay community. It, therefore, explains the uneasiness that prevails within the Umno Baru fraternity because what is uttered by these artistes has the potential to influence the hearts and minds of many Malay-Muslim people, especially the young, ie their party’s political base.

Or, at the very least, [these artistes have the potential to] bring the attention of the Malay community to particular important issues that are sometimes considered as ‘sensitive’ by the powers that be.

As implied above, these cases also indicate that differences of opinion and dissenting voices, which lay the foundation for democracy, are denied legitimacy if not criminalised.

This certainly does not add value to our already smudged records of human rights and democracy – even in the week when we, together with others the world over, are supposed to celebrate Human Rights Day.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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