Monday, November 05, 2007

Malaysian Love Song

A few weeks ago, I heard a bit on NPR Morning Edition about a new ad campaign that the Malaysian tourism office is running.

It seems that the campaign relies on a catchy little folk tune, "Rasa Sayang", or "Feeling of Love", which the Indonesian government claims is theirs.

The NPR story was interesting enough that I thought I'd look for a bit more, and found it in the Sydney Morning Herald

Now, I am the first to admit that the sum total of my awareness of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur and world's tallest building. Most of what I know about Indonesia comes from the 1980's film The Year of Living Dangerously. And, of course, there's general regional stuff like batik fabrics (which have been the rage at least twice in my lifetime; wish I still had that cool, blue batik shirt), monsoons,shadow puppets, and the 2004 tsunami.

And not that the Sydney Morning Herald article yielded up a lot more, but now I know that, not surprisingly:

The two neighbouring countries have close religious and cultural links, and are part of the vast Malay archipelago where the Rasa Sayang song is believed to have originated. The archipelago straddles the Indian and Pacific Oceans, consisting of some 20,000 islands between South-East Asia and Australia.

And that the Indonesian government is, somewhat preposterously, thinking of suing the Malaysian government.

Indonesian Tourism and Cultural Minister Jero Wacik today said he was investigating whether Indonesia could claim copyright and had scheduled a meeting with legislators, one of whom has called for legal action against Kuala Lumpur.

"Our two nations might come from the same root, so our songs are sung in Malaysia and the other way around, but for commercial use, ethically there should be a legal notice," he said...But  said Jakarta should consider action against Malaysia for using Rasa Sayang in its "Truly Asia" radio, television and online tourism commercials.

"We want a proportional response," said [Indonesian House of Representatives member] Hakam Naja today. "We ask the ministry to sue Malaysia, but only after checking the originality of the song. We should not let other countries misuse any of our national heritage."

It's easy to laugh this off, of course. Musical borders tend to be pretty porous. Did the Scots come up with "The Banks of Loch Lomond", or borrow it from Ireland's "Red is the Rose"? And who owns all those folk tune strains in Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring?

As an immigrant culture, American's are used to borrowing. Hard to imagine our music without the twin strains of Africa and Ireland, with a little Eastern Europe shtetl and a bit of South of the border thrown in.

So I'm inclined to think, what's the big deal?

And then I go take a look at Malaysia's tourist web site and compare and contrast it with that of Indonesia.

Looks like there's at least a little rich country, poor country antagonism at play.

Malaysia's aiming at the upscale experience for the upscale traveler. It's not clear what Indonesia's aiming at - other than here's some stuff about our country.

Indonesia government officials are no doubt miffed that their more well-to-do cousins are able to appropriate and exploit what's in the family with a slickness and panache that they cannot.

Silly and sour grapish to consider suing? Of course.

But it must be hard when so much of what you've got going for you is your cultural richness, and you don't even have that loving feeling of "Feeling of A Love" to call your own.

1 comment:

Charles H. Green said...

Interesting. Having just come earlier this week from Malaysia and Singapore, I read your post with interest. I can't add a darn thing, but it's curious how fascinated I was to read it.
Had I not just been there, I might have skipped over.
Funny what it takes to get our attention.
(I must have missed the song, though...)