Making a sensation with provocative political songs


PETALING JAYA: Engineering student Tan Zijunn, 26, has become somewhat of a sensation in the Malaysian Chinese community for political songs with provocative lyrics, one of which says listeners should “sell their rear to save the government”.

At the Bersih rally in 2015, he posted a quick homemade music video entitled “卖屁股,救政府 (“Sell Your Rear, Save The Government”), calling on Malaysians to speak up against a spendthrift and wasteful government.

Within a few days, the video had been viewed almost 100,000 times on YouTube and Facebook.

“The government we have depends on who we are – don’t just criticise without taking action,” Tan sang. “The process of democracy still has a long way to go; we need more people to step up.”

In an interview with FMT at the time, Tan said that the song was written in an effort to encourage people to be involved in the democratic movement.

He said that the admittedly inflammatory title “Sell Your Rear” was a reference to the rakyat’s relative poverty in contrast to the rich, spendthrift people in power, adding that it was probably the song’s sharp, tongue-in-cheek content that caused the video to go viral.

“We are too poor to do anything else but protest,” he said simply.

Nearly a year later, the musician provocateur continues to write similarly challenging songs, although he says that he tries hard not to be partisan in his songwriting.

“I don’t think that anybody should be free from criticism, especially if they are in positions of power. No matter what side of the political divide they come from,” Tan said.

From Kluang, Johor, bassist-songwriter Tan is an engineering undergraduate at a local university and also plays with a band in Subang Jaya.

His latest song, “五分钟的浪漫” (Five-Minute Romance), speaks of Malaysians who share the same trials and tribulations in life, but are divided by arbitrary lines set by politicians, the media, and their beliefs.

“We worry about the same things and face the same problems, but are pressured by the same ruling powers,” goes a line from the song. “But we shouldn’t talk about these things, because they are such sensitive issues,” the next line sardonically follows.

Another song that Tan wrote reworks the traditional Malay song, “Rasa Sayang”, into an uplifting chorus that segues into an extensive polylingual commentary on race and patriotism, aptly entitled “Colours Of The Skin”.

“Apa lagi Malaysia mahu?” he cheekily raps in Malay, playing on a now infamous news headline “Apa lagi Cina mahu?” (“What more do the Chinese want?”) before switching back to Mandarin: “Just to work hard and do well, to find our friends and go for some halal bak kut teh.”

“I think that rational Malaysians, no matter what their race, will respect their cultural differences,” Tan later told FMT. “If that means finding halal alternatives so that we can eat with our friends, so be it.”