I was backstage when Faizal Tahir performed his heart out at the prestigious songwriter awards show Anugerah Juara Lagu recently.
He sang his massive hit Assalamualaikum, bravely stripping it down to just guitar and voice, and then a full orchestra, just him alone on a huge stage on the biggest night of Malaysia’s music calendar.
While he sang, a gigantic video wall in the background played heart-wrenching images and
videos of people suffering around the world, giving a deeper meaning to his message urging peace and unity.
When his song ended on a video of a Syrian refugee child, who hadn’t eaten for days and having had to eat grass to survive, there wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium, and judging from the response from the social media, not a dry eye amongst the more than six million viewers either.
I met him backstage after his performance and said, “Faizal. Thank you.”
My eyes swelled as I quickly mustered a smile. “Thank you for reminding us all of the real reason why we are all doing this.”
There were two truths in my head as I said this a-little-too-close-to-bromance statement from one guy to another.
The first truth is that music is a powerful force. No one can deny this fact. Music can entertain us, make us dance, make us happy, make us laugh or cry, sometimes both at the same time.
Music has the power to heal us and to even calm us down. The playwright William Congreve famously phrased, “music hath charms to soothe a savage beast”.
Music is also that final invisible all-important ingredient in a complete movie experience, amping up your emotions at critical times.
A chase or a sad scene with no music would feel empty and without a soul. But, these emotions we feel through songs and movies are just transient. We forget them once a distraction comes our way.
One time we are dancing to Michael Jackson, but once we get to work or school, the power of the music is forgotten. Unless that power is to inspire action.
Music is at its most powerful and unforgettable when it reaches deep into our souls and awakens us to a higher calling to take action to right wrongs, to help those in need, to be the human beings we were all supposed to be.
This isn’t new. We are the World inspired us to help the starving in Africa. Ebony & Ivory made us want to tear down the walls of racism. Give Peace a Chance was an anthem against war.
This first truth, however, led me to the second truth.
Music has the power to wash away our man-made prejudices. I say this because I saw people of different racial and religious backgrounds shed tears at the end of Faizal Tahir’s historic performance.
It didn’t matter that those people featured in the video were from different backgrounds and had different beliefs. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know them.
What mattered was that we all felt the need to help them. We all felt the same pang of despair when that Syrian refugee child said he had to eat grass for days.
The music washed away our differences, pulling at our very human core inside. A human core that for too long, has been brainwashed by society to be prejudiced.
We need to tear away the walls made by our artificial and misguided view of the world, influenced by years of man-made hatred of something or someone that we don’t understand or can’t identify with.
Yes. Man-made. Why do we discriminate those who are not like us? Man-made. Why do we think we are better than those who do not act or think like us? Man-made.
Faizal Tahir said it in his lyrics: “Adakah matamu mengatasi akalmu?”
Are your eyes deceiving your mind? Most times, because of our built-in holier-than-thou attitude, our eyes see what it wants to see, our hearts hardened and unmoved.
Music, when it wields its mightiest power, is able to reach deepest inside you and move your heart. And once your heart is moved, it makes you realise that the most basic of human emotion has nothing to do with the colour of your skin.
Just ask the songwriters of Assalamualaikum — Faizal Tahir, Omar K, Audi Mok, Ezra Kong and Mike Chan.
Ahmad Izham Omar works in the production of TV, film and music content, and gets panicky trying to figure out his next tweet