Happy 52nd National Day, Singapore

AUGUST 13 — There are, of course, many things I do not like about my country. For example, its sometime ruthless-seeming development, its racialised policies or the lack of support for migrant workers.

But there also many things I love about it and I am incontrovertibly Singaporean and so every August I inevitably find myself swept up in the pomp of the island’s National Day celebrations.

Abroad this year, I resorted to playing my favourite Singapore songs on YouTube and ordering “authentic Singaporean/Malaysian Chinese chicken rice with ginger paste” from a tiny Chinese restaurant in Sri Lanka.

Okay, it sounds a lot sadder than it was. Mainly, I enjoyed belting out the tunes I knew so well and as my foreign friends would say, been thoroughly “indoctrinated” by.

A lot of these songs have been created by the government with a purpose — to give a young, tiny and arguably artificial nation a sense of unity and nationhood.

A fireworks and lights show illuminates the sky during the 52nd Singapore National Day celebration in Singapore on August 9, 2017.  — Picture by AFP
A fireworks and lights show illuminates the sky during the 52nd Singapore National Day celebration in Singapore on August 9, 2017. — Picture by AFP

Unlike say Ireland, Peru or the Philippines we don’t really have a strong tradition of national folk music so the government set about creating one — using pop singers, creative agencies to devise catchy multilingual jingles.

Generally, these are deployed around August and every year, our National Day Parade has a new theme song (most Singaporeans will insist the new ones just aren’t as good — and I would be hard-pressed to even name them).

Perhaps to an outsider it does sound a little cringeworthy but like the very concept of Singapore — while it doesn’t make conventional sense — it works.

Certainly, among my generation of Singaporean there’s real affection for some of these pieces — like cheesier Disney anthems but in a way better — because well, like all “national music” these are tunes that only we know.

To know the lyrics of Singapore Town with its little clap is to be part of the exclusive club of Singaporeans.

And as my list will show, in a way the experiment has worked. Singaporean artists are now singing about Singapore, organically as well.

So, here in no particular order, are my top 3 Singapore-themed songs in English:

3. We are Singapore by Hugh Harrison aka an ad agency. Okay, knowing that a foreign agency produced this cynically undermines a lot of the sentiment and reinforces the “propaganda” accusation these songs sometimes get.

But damn it, the song is catchy, easy to belt out and that refrain... it brings tears to my eyes. Because this IS my country!

2.  Lion City Kia by Shigga Shay. Born and raised, Lion City Kia! Proud, diverse, hilarious, 100 per cent Singaporean and just an excellent track.

I hope kids in school are singing this in music class and playing it on the recorder (do kids still do that?)

1. Fried Rice Paradise by Dick Lee. I loop the video on YouTube; it shows Dick Lee young, handsome and having so much of fun with a song that perfectly encapsulates the Singapore story by bringing together local references with a Western style so seamlessly and memorably.

Every now and then over the years I have found myself singing this chorus: Some people have 99 problems, we have 99 varieties.

So, Happy National Day to my paradise of fried rice!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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