Menjadi Kawan

Generally speaking, people who are fond of pop-rock music do not pay much attention to what is made outside of America and/or their own countries, and people interested in “world music” do not pay much attention to musicians outside the Western world writing music inspired by Western pop-rock styles.

As a student in foreign languages, on the Internet I have come across much interesting material from abroad unknown by my fellow countrymen and fellow Westerners, although to my ears it proves equal to the indie music I used to listen to in my younger days and which received significant coverage.

I have chosen to present the following song on this blog, with my translation of the lyrics. (I know that one normally loses in feeling and imagination when one grasps the lyrics, and this is true even for the English-speaking listeners of English bands, but as I hope you will see there is something interesting in the lyrics of this song as well.)

The song Nak Tak Nak is performed by the Malaysian artist Nadia – real name Zarina Mohd (Mohammed) Ali – and is taken from her 1999 album Unggul (meaning Superior). According to her communication, she has written both the music and the lyrics of this song.

The name Nadia, comparing to her clearly Muslim real name, seems to indicate the will to address a Westernized or Westernization-leaning Malaysian audience, or simply young people bored by their families (because Nadia is both known in Muslim and Western cultures, it is more open to interpretation. However, it is far from being unmistakably Western, I must admit). The rather sober album jacket (see below) depicts her in what seems to me a post (decreasing) high trip condition, whatever the substance may have been, soft or otherwise, and so is hinting at the pusher culture so common in Western pop-rock music – remember the Beatles were the greatest pushers of all times (W.B. Key). It could also turn out that she is only recovering from a performance. In any case, to my knowledge, the drugs theme is absent from the lyrics I shall discuss. Nadia has reached celebrity status in Malaysia in the nineties.

Her voice in this song conveys a delightful boyish exuberance that accords finely with the story of adolescent uncertainties and self-affirmation which the lyrics, according to my understanding of it, is picturing.

The song, however fine, has not attracted much attention on YouTube, contrary to her famous hit Salam Untuk Kekasih, whose video has been viewed more than 2.6 million times. Please take a few minutes to listen:

Nadia Nak Tak Nak

 Now the lyrics.

……….

Nak Tak Nak

1

Nak tak nak kalau tak nak sudah ! (Nak tak nak !)

Menjadi kawan !

……….

2

Sungguh aku tak peduli apa orang kata

Tentang kita atau sesiapa (-a !)

Aku tak peduli kerna aku tak bersalah

Tak bersalah, tak bersalah.

………..

3

Sungguh aku tak peduli bila orang kata

Tentang kita atau sesiapa (-a !)

Aku tak peduli kerna aku lebih rela

Lebih rela

Menjadi kawan.

………..

2

………..

4

Sungguh aku tak peduli bila orang kata

Aku gila, aku gila (-a !)

Aku tak peduli kerna bukan gila

Bukan gila, bukan gila ( ya, ya, ya … )

………..

1(×3) – 2 – 3 – 1(×3)

………………..

Translation

Child No Child

……….

Stop thinking I’m a child,

And let’s be friends!

……….

Really I don’t care what people say

About us or anyone;

I don’t care because I’m doing no wrong,

Doing no wrong, doing no wrong.

………..

Really I don’t care what people say

About us or anyone;

I don’t care because above all I want,

Above all I want

To make friends with you.

……….

Really I don’t care when people say

I’m crazy, I’m crazy.

I don’t care because I ain’t crazy,

Ain’t crazy, ain’t crazy.

…………………

A few words on the translation.

As to the title of the song, and its first line, I am deliberately choosing a meaning that is not the obvious one a Malaysian speaker would understand first. As a matter of fact, the phrase Nak tak nak, kalau tak nak sudah, colloquially means: “Do you want or not: if not, then farewell,” and it would be understood as the careless, carefree invitation of a modern young woman to make “friends” with a man. It would be the customary rock’n’roll attitude everyone expects, and the conventions of informal language make it implicit that such is the meaning one has to retain. However, the word nak is a contraction of either one of two words, the first being to “want” (hendak), the second a “child” (anak). So the meaning I suggest reads as: The child is not a child; as there’s no child, farewell the child. Which means: The person you say is a child has grown up and her feelings are not those of a child anymore, so don’t call her a child. Which, again, means : Stop thinking I’m a child (because I love you).

With this meaning the lyrics is consistent and the story beautiful. With the other, more obvious meaning, the content is a slight. With this other one, “I can live with or without you,” for example – a slight to a woman, which is even worse –, one can’t help expecting the reply “A**hole.” The reply never comes, however, because broadcasting is one-sided.

The careless and offending meaning in Nadia’s lyrics derives from the fear of being a dupe of love. It is this fear that often makes double meaning compulsory in the language of passion, as a possible escape door. If I have been a dupe, then remember I told you I did not care! This is saving face. Besides, carelessness is supposed to be cool, whereas being in love is uncool: it is old-fashioned. (And, indeed, lack of passion must be cool if passion is of the nature of fire.)

I can’t live without you. No one would say such words these days. Yet everybody feels that this means love and that no other words could convey the feeling.

Some people, analyzing the lyrics of many love songs and finding them wanting in verisimilitude or analogy with real-life situations, have concluded that the singers are in fact addressing… their mothers, that they belong to a “maternally starved generation” (W.B. Key). That males in the Western world would be maternally deprived may indeed make sense, and yet love has always been crazy, so it is no surprise either when love songs do not seem to deal with the real world. But craziness is as real as rationality. Besides, there may exist fine natures that crave for the sufferings of passion and long for the martyrdom of love. These are the heroic natures, repressed in our times. Those people that feel a call to being heroes may experience the realm of love is the last possible ground of their endeavors. Some others might also sing the sufferings of love in order to be admired as heroes.

To conclude, the lyrics, as you have noted, is not particularly original. However, the song is moving. Because when someone says she doesn’t care what people say, the chances are she suffers from what people say. She wishes they would shut up. Admittedly, it can be a nuisance rather than suffering proper, but then the idea conveyed still is that of strength of character. In both cases, the story inspires reverence toward the young woman (almost a child) who dares endure being called crazy for the sake of her love or of going her way. If bombast underlies her words, and we ought to be scornful, then there aren’t many pieces of art that stand the test.

March 2015

Nadia Ali

2 comments

  1. florentboucharel

    Some people may object to my proposing “I’m not a child” as a translation for “tak nak,” on grammatical grounds, because tak/tidak is, in correct language, the so-called “verbal negation,” whereas the correct negation of nak/anak is bukan (negation of the nominal group). I call their attention on the expression, used in the content of the song, “bukan gila,” for “I’m not crazy.” Here, as far as I know, we have an incorrect use of the negative, and it’s as if an incorrect use of bukan would hint at an incorrect use also in the case of tak/tidak. On the web you can find such sentences as “Aku tidak anak kecil lagi,” which means “I’m not a little chid anymore,” intended as a gentle taunt about self-assertive behavior on the part of kids who are not mature enough to speak grammatically (i.e. to handle correctly the words tidak and bukan). In this context, and sticking to my interpretation, I deem the lyrics of the song to be very fine indeed.

  2. florentboucharel

    “With this other one, “I can live with or without you,” for example – a slight to a woman, which is even worse –, one can’t help expecting the reply “A**hole”.”
    I am told the line actually is: “I can’t live with or without you.” I stand corrected.

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