Why is language still an issue in today’s Malaysian entertainment?
The recent coverage over the separate categories for Bahasa Malaysia and non-BM movies in the upcoming Malaysia Film Festival (FFM) has provoked much debate on social media, but separate categories have long been the norm in the world of music. Heck they even have separate awards shows for Chinese and Indian music!
It might have taken 21 years but when French-Malay rapper Mikael Adam Lozach, better known as SonaOne, won the coveted Song of the Year award in 2014 with an English language tune called No More, it broke down the language barrier at the Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) awards.
But better late than never. The historic win for No More, written and composed by SonaOne, served notice that Malaysian artists, singing in the English language, could now look forward to competing in one of the two major AIM categories.
Since its inception in 1993, the AIM awards, regarded as the Malaysian Grammy awards, had always kept the main awards – Song of the Year and Album of the Year – exclusively for Bahasa Malaysia artistes.
Local Chinese music gets judged at a different awards altogether – AIM Chinese Music Awards, while the Tamil music is judged at the AIM Indian Music Awards!
The “battle” at AIM has thus far been between the BM and English language.
In 2012, the AIM committee opened its doors for local English language acts to compete in the Song of the Year category. The Album of the Year category, though, still maintains a 60-40 quota, favouring BM, for an album to be eligible.
Throughout its history, the AIM awards has seen many English language artistes winning in various categories while frustratingly being shut out from the main prizes. In 1996, singer-songwriter Amir Yussof’s debut album Some Of This Is Real was the first local English album to be recognised by AIM in the newly-introduced best English album category, which also saw alternative bands OAG and Saturnine in the same grouping.
Amir’s album was only limited to one category, not being able to participate in the final list for Album of the Year in 1996.
Despite the baffling AIM rules, Amir will best be remembered for his passionate acceptance speech, calling out, “This is just the beginning (for English language artistes in Malaysia).” Unfortunately, the Album of the Year award remains a protected category.
The Album of the Year award is reserved for the BM categories (Best Pop, Best Rock, Best Ethnic, Best Nasyid albums, among others).
In 1998, R&B group Innuendo swept the AIM awards, winning six categories, with its self-titled album (a largely English language effort). Innuendo also shook up the system when it won the Song of the Year category with Selamanya (one of the two BM tunes on its debut album).
The Album of the Year award went to Raihan’s Puji-Pujian album. Would it have been a different story had Innuendo’s album been allowed to compete in the Album of the Year category that year? It might be a hypothetical question now, yet it is a necessary one to ask.
There has been a catalogue of local English language artistes, most notably hip-hop groups Poetic Ammo and Too Phat, pop duo Juliet The Orange, electronica act Rabbit, soul man Dave Andrews and rock band Disagree, which have all won the Best English album award.
None of them were given the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their BM peers in the Album of the Year sweepstakes.
Maybe, the concept of an all-inclusive Malaysian music awards is still a far-fetched idea. But that SonaOne win in 2014 was a positive start for some much-needed change.