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Stop calling him Mr Mari Kita!

A light projection artwork at the Singapore Bicentennial edition of Light to Night Festival hopes to demystify national anthem composer Mr Zubir Said by showing his life story as a boy from Indonesia to the well-known musician behind many important musical works.

Stop calling him Mr Mari Kita!

Local composer Julian Wong got to play "Suhanna", a song written by national anthem composer Zubir Said for his favourite grandchild Suhanna, for his daughter Dr Rohana Zubir at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Singaporean composer Julian Wong wasted no time in agreeing to take part in the bicentennial edition of the annual Light to Night Festival which was officially launched on Monday (Jan 28). Themed Traces and Echoes, this year’s edition is meant to rediscover Singapore’s collective memories. 

He hopes to jog everyone’s collective memory of the man who composed Singapore’s national anthem, Mr Zubir Said.

Mr Wong is taking part in an artwork which depicts the life and work of Mr Zubir, projected in lights on the wall of National Gallery Singapore’s Padang Atrium. It is titled Sayang di Sayang: The Lesser Known Works of Zubir Said. 

He feels a strong connection towards Mr Zubir, because of his teacher, prominent musician Iskandar Ismail. Mr Zubir had taught Mr Iskandar to play the piano and was his first music teacher 

“I really hope that it demystifies this legend. Everyone just knows him as the composer of Majulah Singapura and even in his lifetime, he will tell children to stop calling him Mr Mari Kita. I hope the viewers will realise that he is incredibly human and was really a truly gifted composer,” Mr Wong said. 

Two projection artists, Brandon Tay and Safuan Johari designed the light projection according to Mr Wong’s arrangement of Mr Zubir’s music. 

Accompanying it is a three-song medley - Sayang di Sayang to reflect Mr Zubir's earlier works in the Bangsawan style and captures his early days, Majulah Singapura for his patriotic works and Suhanna, a song written for his granddaughter. 

Mr Wong will also perform a 35-minute concert on Feb 1 and 2 that will feature ten of Mr Zubir’s works from classics such as Selamat Berjumpa Lagi, Orang Singapura and Semoga Bahagia.


Mr Wong chanced upon Suhanna when he was reading a biography on the composer published by his daughter Dr Rohana Zubir in 2012. In the book, Dr Rohana had published the score for Suhanna, which had never been seen in public before.

“So I magnified it and played it. It was such a beautiful song and I don’t know if it’s ever been performed in public before. The melody and the lyrics are really beautiful and touching,” Mr Wong said. 

“Dr Rohana wrote that he’s always felt especially close to his granddaughter and I think it’s because when she was born, he was also in the hospital. The song ends with, I translate, ‘If I live long enough, I hope we meet again’. Coming from a grandparent, it takes on a different meaning,” he added. 

The song also reminds him of his music teacher, Mr Iskandar, who died in 2014. 

Mr Zubir's daughter Dr Rohana Zubir, who is in her 80s, was also present at the first public showing of the light projection told Channel NewsAsia that she felt "emotional" and "tearful" listening to her father's music again and thinking of him.

"I can't express it. I'm enthralled. It's just an amazing feeling that someone is taking so much effort for us to publicly enjoy (Suhanna) like that," Dr Rohana said. 

"I would like her to know of this memorable evening when I get the chance," she added.


Another favourite of Mr Wong's, which will also be performed at the concert, is Semoga Bahagia. 

He said Semoga Bahagia has a special meaning for him and Mr Iskandar, his music teacher. It was the song Mr Zubir pointed to when Mr Iskandar was deciding if he should pursue his music studies in Boston in 1979 or stay put in Singapore. He made the decision to go to Boston.

“Zubir Said encouraged him in the spirit of Semoga Bahagia,” said Mr Wong. The first line of the song says “we move forward in search of knowledge”.

“Because Zubir Said had left his home (in Indonesia) in 1928 to pursue that dream also. In 2009 when it was my turn, Iskandar encouraged me the same way and he told me this story,” Mr Wong said.

National anthem composer Zubir Said's daughter Dr Rohana Zubir interacting with local composer Julian Wong and his students at the opening of Singapore Bicentennial. Lesser known works of her father are featured as part of a light projection artwork at the National Gallery. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

To follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, Mr Wong will include four of his students in the performance.

“I thought that was very important because that is always Zubir Said’s spirit. Knowledge is not meant to be taken to the grave so that those I teach today will teach others later on,” he said.

“It’s really a joy to do this, and I think my teacher would have been very happy,” Mr Wong added.

Source: CNA/fs