Bob Marley once sang these famous words:

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our minds

Have no fear for atomic energy

‘Cause none of them can stop the time

I wondered whether he was high on weed when he was writing those words. Whether he was or wasn’t, this song went on to become one of the most iconic songs for those who value freedom, particularly of the mind.

This article is about political expression in music. But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that this is going to be anti-government propaganda, here’s an interesting fact. Politics and music are not just about anti-establishment, anti-war or peaceful expressions of protest against any form of government or political ideology. It can also be pro-establishment such as seen in the national anthem or patriotic songs.

So, if anyone starts criticising that music with a political theme is evil, let’s be reminded that the Negaraku, which contains the lyrics “Raja kita selamat bertakhta”,  is a song that all primary and secondary school students are compelled to sing first thing in the morning in schools.

I’ve always thought that political expression in music is a fairly recent phenomenon. When I think about music and politics, I usually picture half a million demonstrators gathered at Washington DC singing “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon in peaceful protest of the Vietnam War in 1969.

I was, of course, proven wrong when I googled and discovered that classical composers such as Beethoven, Verdi, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, just to name a few, have been known to compose music that had either abhorred foreign domination or venerated a particular regime.

We, who live in this modern era, tend to identify more with singers and bands such as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, The Clash, U2, Rage Against the Machine, Bob Marley, Sex Pistols and many others when it comes to expressing political messages through music.

When it comes to spreading and sharing messages, nothing has been quite as effective as music, which explains why Christians still sing praises to God and the Taliban banned it in Afghanistan.

Music can either reinforce a message or destroy it, depending on which side you’re looking from. After all, music is a manifestation of freedom and for some, this is something to be feared.

In 1990, a non-profit and non-partisan organisation called Rock the Vote emerged in the United States of America to attract the seriously declining youth population to register as voters and to vote in the election.

Its modus operandi is none other than music, popular culture and new technologies. The campaign was so successful that the percentage of registered young voters increased by 20 per cent within two years since its inception.

In 2004, more than 1.2 million youths registered as voters on its website. I believe wide participation by celebrity spokesmen such as Christina Aguilera, Robert Downey Jr, Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Timberlake played a part in making this campaign a major hit.

In 2004, rapper Sean “P Diddy” Combs led a not-for-profit organisation called Citizen Change responsible for the campaign “Vote or Die”.  In the 2004 US elections, the campaign attracted 20.9 million young voters from the age of 18 to 29; a staggering change from the 16.2 million young voters in 2000. This inevitably helped to raise the overall percentage of voters in America in 2004.

I have learned that there are 27 million Malaysians, 11 million registered voters, and four million more eligible Malaysians who haven’t registered to vote. I also learned that we have a Federal Constitution that guarantees all of us rights, freedoms and a democratic system of government that answers to us. But the question is: how many Malaysians know this?

The information above can be found on the CD inlay of Radio Demokratika, a music album produced by the Bar Council’s MyConstitution Campaign in conjunction with its elections and democracy theme.

Some of you may have seen the eye-catching pocket-sized booklets that contain a wealth of information pertaining to the Federal Constitution produced by the Campaign, but this music album only just made its debut.

Last Saturday, amidst a decent crowd of more than 200 people, the album was released at Pekan Frinjan 18, a regular event organised by Frinjan at Dataran Shah Alam. More than 50 copies of the album were sold within a couple of hours, especially after electrifying “live” performances by some of the bands.

Radio Demokratika features 12 original songs written and performed by 12 local independent bands. I was told that names such as Azmyl Yunor, Carburettor Dung, amongst others, are infamous in the underground music scene and no strangers to many urban youths the last 20 years.

Apart from the obvious fact that the songs are mainly about the Federal Constitution and socio-political issues that concern Malaysian youths such as inter-racial relationships, freedom of expression and political responsibilities, it has huge potential to unite youths from all racial divide and in so doing, encourage them to play a role in making Malaysia a better place to live.

As I listen to the lyrics of one of the songs that goes like this:

We’ll be the change that our nation needs to see

We’ll turn the dream into reality to be

A land that’s peaceful and strong

Which fights for right against wrong

And all of its people united and free!

I’ve begun to realise that this is precisely what this Campaign has hoped for.

There is no doubt that this Campaign can never achieve the same kind of magnitude that “Rock the Vote” or “Vote or Die” have achieved but make no mistake that it has great potential, with your support.

There is nothing more refreshing than this Campaign as you flip through the morning headlines that write about nothing but what Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat have or have not done. The Campaign does not speak about political parties but only political issues.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I’ll say that the greatness of a truly democratic nation can be judged by how far we have emancipated ourselves from mental slavery. Music is just a start and it’s here to stay.

Radio Demokratika will be officially launched at the Rock 4 Rights concert on April 2, 2011, from 12pm to 12am, at Fort Cornwallis, Penang.

Rock 4 Rights is co-organised by the Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee, Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia and Frinjan, with support from the Penang State Government. The event is open to the public.

To find out where to purchase the CD, log on to

Lim Ka Ea is a traveller who sees travel as the answer to all the world’s woes. Writing is a grand love. Ka Ea has had NGO and legal experience.

Originally published by The Malaysian Insider. Click to view original here.

Ka Ea used to be a globe trotter. She has lived in Timor Leste and Afghanistan while working as a civic education and human rights officers for the United Nations. She then tried to be a full time housewife...

2 replies on “The Message Is In The Song”

  1. Waiting in vain is for those who do not act. As some of us have, act en masse and end the APARTHEID. It is not enough to vote but to run for candidacy so that everyone will have a CHOICE of candidate outside of BN and PR.

    1) Freedom from Apartheid/Fascism

    2) Freedom from Religious-Persecution/Religious-Supremacy.

    3) Equality for all ethnicities and faiths in all aspects of policy, Law and Constitution.

    Even travelers can stop to help those suffering that they meet on the way. 1 Term as MP could change everything Ka Ea, get in there as a candidate and ensure us that mental freedom that you spoke of. I don't know after what happened here if some of us could still get in there, but you certainly are more viable than some of us right now. Concrete action please!

    P.s. Nukes and radiation are indeed time linked aren't they? Let's hope Cthulu steps through time and finds the most wicked and ambivalent among men, the lip-servicers the tastiest.

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