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What is the History of Singapore’s National Anthem?

Every country has its own national anthem to stir a sense of patriotism and unity. In India, it is played at the beginning of a movie screening in a theatre. In China, it is played at specific times on television and radio. And in Singapore, the National Anthem is sung daily in the mornings at every school. National anthems are also performed at sporting events such as the Olympics when an athlete of a particular country wins the gold medal.

The symbolism of National Anthem

The national anthem is a national symbol of a country. It represents the tradition, beliefs, and history of a country. The anthem reminds citizens of their nation’s glory, history, and rich culture. Its intention is to unite a people, despite different ethnicity, people of different races and religions share a nation. The national anthem also stirs up the pride of an athlete and citizens alike when they capture a winning medal at an international sporting event. It gives the feeling of pride and makes the athlete and his fellow citizens proud. Students singing to the national anthem feel a sense of unity amongst themselves for belonging to the same nation.

Creation of Majulah Singapura

Before Singapore attained her independence, our National Anthem was God Save the Queen, as a British-governed colony until 1959. In 1958, the City Council of Singapore, under the direction of its mayor Ong Eng Guan, decided to commission an official song for the council’s functions.

Zubir Said was invited by Yap Yan Hong, then superintendent of the Victoria Theatre, who was directed by Ong to compose a stirring patriotic song based on the theme Majulah Singapura, which means “Onward Singapore” in Malay.

Zubir Said, a self-taught musician who was a score arranger and songwriter for Cathay Keris’ Film productions for Malay Singaporean films set out to work. He had composed up to 1,500 songs for Cathay Keris, but only had 10% of them recorded. He had less than two months to compose the song, which was to be performed on 6 September in 1958 to mark the reopening of the newly renovated Victoria Theatre.

Zubir wrote the song to capture the mood of the political awakening of the people at the time. It also sought to inspire the spirit of the people facing challenges in Singapore. The lyrics were written with advice from Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, a Malay language teacher. Zubir chose simple words so that they could be easily understood and sung by all the races in Singapore. His composition was approved by the city council committee and was performed by the Singapore Chamber Ensemble.

How Majulah Singapura became Singapore’s National Anthem

After Singapore attained self-government in 1959, then Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye was tasked to give the people of Singapore a sense of identity by developing the national anthem, state crest, and state flag. Ong reminded Toh of the song Majulah Singapura even though the City Council of Singapore was dissolved following Singapore’s change of status to a self-governing state. The latter agreed that Majulah Singapura was a suitable song for a national anthem. At the time, not many Singaporeans spoke English and a song with Malay lyrics could be easily understood and remembered. It could also appeal to a multi-racial society.

However, the song was too long and the tempo too slow. Toh wanted some alterations made to the song. Zubir managed to shorten the song to half its original length. A number of musicians and the orchestra were also involved in refining the song.

By October 1959, Majulah Singapura was taught to students in schools as directed by the Ministry of Education. The following month, the anthem was unanimously accepted by the Legislative Assembly as a symbol of the new State of Singapore, together with the two-state symbols - the state crest and the state flag.

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