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Indonesia’s patriotic song allegedly plagiarized: Exploring the legacy of Ismail Marzuki

Tensions flare as a Malaysian YouTube channel is accused of plagiarizing Indonesia’s beloved anthem, “Halo-Halo Bandung,” with “Hello Kuala Lumpur.”

The song, celebrated for its profound tribute to Bandung’s beauty and cherished memories, rekindles the legacy of composer Ismail Marzuki.



INDONESIA: Malaysia and Indonesia, two neighbouring nations with deep cultural ties, have often found themselves embroiled in disputes over claims to their shared heritage.

These cultural tensions have led to disagreements and finger-pointing among their citizens.

Recent reports from Indonesian national media have highlighted various instances where Malaysia has laid claim to elements of Indonesia’s cultural heritage.

These claims range from traditional art forms to folk traditions such as batik, Reog Ponorogo, angklung, rendang, kuda lumping, Tari Piring, Tari Pendet, lumpia Semarang, Gordang Sambilang, keris, Tari Tor-Tor, and wayang kulit.

The most recent controversy to stir up these tensions revolves around a viral social media video clip featuring a song titled “Hello Kuala Lumpur,” which is suspected to be a copycat version of Indonesia’s iconic song “Halo-Halo Bandung,” composed by Ismail Marzuki.

The uproar surrounding this issue has brought Ismail Marzuki into the spotlight once again.

Ismail Marzuki: Indonesia’s musical maestro and national hero

Born in Jakarta in 1914, Ismail Marzuki was a prominent Indonesian composer and musician.

He displayed a prodigious talent for various musical instruments, including the piano, guitar, violin, saxophone, and harmonium pompa from a young age.

During his adolescence, he joined the Lief Java orchestra, where he not only sang but also wrote lyrics and played instruments.

Ismail also had a brief stint with the Hoso Kanri Kyoku, the Japanese military radio orchestra during the Japanese occupation.

Ismail Marzuki was renowned for his ability to craft memorable lyrics and compose captivating melodies.

Among his many hits, “Halo-Halo Bandung,” “Rayuan Pulau Kelapa,” “Juwita Malam,” “Wanita,” “Melati di Tapal Batas,” “Di Wajah Mu Ku Lihat Bulan,” “Aryati,” “Sampul Surat,” “Gugur Bunga,” “Indonesia Pusaka,” “Gagah Perwira,” and others have left an indelible mark on Indonesia’s cultural landscape.

Marzuki’s distinctive deep voice and melodious songs earned him the nickname “Bing Crosby from Kwitang,” a reference to the popular American singer of the time.

In recognition of his contributions to Indonesian culture, Ismail Marzuki was posthumously declared a National Hero of Indonesia in 2004.

His name is immortalized at the Taman Ismail Marzuki, an arts center in the Cikini area of Jakarta.

The Rasa Sayange controversy in 2017

These cultural disputes are not new, as Malaysia previously used the song “Rasa Sayange” for its tourism promotion campaign titled “Malaysia Truly Asia” in 2017.

This move drew protests from Indonesian citizens who accused Malaysia of appropriating their cultural heritage.

A decade later, in 2017, Malaysia once again stoked tensions when it used “Rasa Sayange” during the opening ceremony of the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, which it hosted.

Rasa Sayange” is originally an Indonesian regional song from Maluku, composed by Paulus Pea.

In response to ongoing claims about the song’s origin, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim firmly asserted that “Rasa Sayange” is indeed of Indonesian origin.

He cited historical evidence and stated, “We know its origins; it’s from Indonesia,” during an event in Jakarta on Saturday (9 Sep).

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