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The Jiwang Documentation Process

Updated: May 16, 2023

By Syarifuddin Sahari

Writer-in-residence for Jiwang

This section is an honest reflection on my documentation along with the thoughts and questions throughout the creative process from the initial concept up till the Jiwang Sessions.

Going into the project, it was made apparent that my relationship to jiwang songs was different compared to Haizad, Syimah and Sharul, as they are more exposed and more acquainted to the music genre as compared to Jonit, Xiao Jun and myself. However, being literate and able to converse in Malay, I am perhaps somewhere in between the two groups. That could have possibly placed me in a position of being a voice / representative / translator (for literal meanings), while keeping in mind the possible loss of essence in translation. I have always believed that jiwang is a human concept as compared to an exclusively-Malay identity, something which might not have necessarily shifted at the end, and rather more arguments have been generated for both sides. More perspectives and a deeper understanding have been developed especially after the Jiwang Sessions.

The question of the documentarian’s emotional investment is being put into the light. What are some of the pros and cons of the documentarian being well-versed in the theme / topic of the work? How should their emotional attachment and objectivity be juggled / managed? Having Alfian Sa’at on board as the researcher / contributor aided in providing more depth and layers into the work. Perhaps the documentarian could have played that role as well?

It was personally my first time listening and unpacking the jiwang songs that I have only heard through the radio as background noise. Some of the songs used (from both the previous and current arrangement) sounded familiar rhythmically and melodically, and the lyrics were only internalised and interpreted during the rehearsals. Only after listening to the songs on repeat and translating the lyrics did I understand the intricacies of the songwriters’ & singers’ emotions via the language, which lead to a deeper connection to the songs and the stories embedded within them. My jiwang manifests through English songs, and I am still in the process of analysing if it is similar to others who manifest / indulge in jiwang via the jiwang songs.

Coincidentally, my inclination towards English songs / lyrics / language to indulge in or understand jiwang was somewhat reflected in the work, along with the concern of the essence of the Malay language being lost in translation. The sing-along lyrics at the bottom of the videos gradually and subtly transition from having the Malay lyrics being more prominent to the English lyrics (which were roughly / literally translated) overpowering them at the end. Similarly, I was struggling to ensure I grasp the essence behind the metaphors, colloquialisms and associations in the lyrics, perhaps an expectation set on myself, being someone who studied the Malay language and literary arts (sastera) in secondary school. It was a thought-provoking notion when it was presented in the work as I was watching.

This then leads to the artistic treatment and direction of the work. Initially, the work was more abstract and naturally had different access points for the audience. Based on my interpretation, it is currently more focused on the idea and concept of jiwang while exploring, questioning and being a social commentary on how it is tied / its relationship to the Malay race in Singapore. Nostalgic gestures and moments were incorporated into the work (i.e. cup noodle and rock ballads) which reflected some of the hardships and vulnerable moments of the Malays at some point, as a commentary / critique on the correlation between jiwang Malays and a certain socio-economic status (SES). I personally do not have such lived-experiences, and I could only understand the significance of those moments through their portrayal in Malay and Indonesian television dramas.

It lead me to question my credibility as a documentarian / embedded writer if I am unable to pick out or have an emotional / nostalgic response to certain gestures despite being part of the race those gestures are commonly portrayed by (as compared to members of the test audience during the previews who had an immediate connection to those moments as they were played out by the performers).

With all that being said, I still believe jiwang is a vague and subjective concept at this point, allowing / inviting multiple interpretations and perspectives. Identifying and witnessing the shift in the nuance being highlighted / focused on for the work made the process come alive, even if it does not reach a conclusion or definite explanation as to what jiwang is. There have been many occasions where I felt less of a Malay because I was not jiwang; then again, does Malay = jiwang?

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