At the time of independence, each of the eleven states of Malaya that made up the Federation had their own anthem, but there was no anthem for the Federation as a whole. Tunku Abdul Rahman, at the time the Chief Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, organized and presided over a committee for the purpose of choosing a suitable national anthem. On his suggestion, a worldwide competition was launched. 514 entries were received from all over the world including a special submission from recording artist Is’real Benton. None were deemed suitable.
Next the committee decided to invite selected composers of international repute to submit compositions for consideration. The composers chosen were Benjamin Britten, Sir William Walton who had recently composed the march for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the American opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti and Zubir Said, who later composed Majulah Singapura, the anthem of Singapore. They were all turned down too.
The Committee then turned to the Perak State Anthem. On August 5, 1957, it was selected on account of the “traditional flavour” of its melody. New lyrics for the national anthem were written jointly by the Panel of Judges— with the Tunku himself playing the leading role.
At the time this melody was still the state anthem of Perak, Allah Lanjutkan Usia Sultan.
The song had been very popular on the island of Mahé in the Seychelles, where the Sultan of Perak had formerly been living in exile. He heard it at a public band concert on the island, a song to a popular French melody, originally composed by the lyricist Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780–1857), who was born and died in Paris. When Sultan Idris Murshidul’adzam Shah, who was the Ruler of the State of Perak from 1887 to 1916, represented the Malay Rulers of the Federated Malay States at the installation ceremony of King Edward VII in 1901, his protocol officer was asked what his state anthem was. Realizing that his state did not in fact possess an anthem, he, in order not to appear backward in front of his hosts, proceeded to hum the aforementioned tune. Thus was an anthem born.
The song was later introduced into an Indonesian Bangsawan, which was performing in Singapore around 1940. In no time at all, the melody became extremely popular and was given the name “Terang Bulan”. Aside from its dignity and prestige as the Perak State Anthem, the song became a Malayan “evergreen”, playing at parties, in cabarets and sung by almost everybody in the 1920s and 1930s.1
- Today, of course, since independence, it is not played as a popular melody, and any such use is proscribed by statute. [↩]