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Apr 4, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - People's Variety Show

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew with Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam watching the "Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat" at the City Hall steps from the Padang on 16 August, 1959.

What was the Arts scene like in Singapore in the 1960s?

Among the ordinary people and "man-in-the-street" were struggling to survive for their 'bread and butter' for a livelihood in a "rugged society", the rich and the famous, the "sedikit dan banyak atas" (a little and very above) group of affluent businessmen and professionals had to travel to Paris, London and other European countries to attend and appreciate the theatres, museums and art and culture exhibitions overseas.

Ask anyone who knows remotely anything about the arts about the term "cultural desert" and they'll tell you it was used to describe Singapore's appalling arts scene in the 1980s.

Robert Yeo, who teaches creative writing as adjunct lecturer in The Singapore Management University and also mentors in the National Arts Council programme for nurturing young writers called MAP, wrote a personal essay to remember and chart his experience as a writer in the context of Singapore’s development, during the decade 1970-79, from cultural desert to global city.

"The Seventies: Tranistion from Cultural Desert to Global City" posted here .

The description of the entertainment scene for "People's Variety Show" or "Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat" by Valerie Chew at Singapore Infopedia with excerpts:
From 1959 up till the early 1960s, Singapore's then Ministry of Culture - now known as the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts - organised a series of free, open-air cultural concerts with a strong multi-racial theme. Known as Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat, meaning "People's Variety Show", these concerts were held at various locations across Singapore. The objective of these government-sponsored shows was to help develop a sense of unity among the people by promoting better understanding among the different ethnic groups.


When Singapore became a self-governing state in 1959, the newly-appointed government saw an immediate need to develop a sense of national identity among the people. It realised that to do that, it first had to help the different races develop a better understanding of each other's cultures. So, the Ministry of Culture came up with the idea of Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat.

The first of these concerts was held at the Botanic Gardens on 2 August 1959, on a specially-constructed stage near the lake. Singapore's Prime Minister at the time, Lee Kuan Yew, officially opened the show. An estimated 22,000 people attended the event, which was recorded by Radio Singapore.

Following the success of this first Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat, the Ministry of Culture regularly organised similar shows in other parts of Singapore over the next few years.
The selected old photos of "Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat" are curated on this blog with acknowledgement and thanks from the National Archives of Singapore.

The Great Wong, the magician performing at the "Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat" at the Botanic Gardens c 1960.

With thanks and acknowledgement to Ms Irene Ng, Member of Parliament, Tampines GRC for the additional information related to this blog posted on Facebook. She is the author of "The Singapore Lion: A Biography of S. Rajaratnam". The book is available on Amazon.
By the way, we can find more info on the Anekaragam Rakyat (or the People's Cultural Concerts, which were started by Rajaratnam) in the book The Singapore Lion, and how these multicultural festivals brought together the different cultures together on same stage for the first time. His hope was that such concerts, brought to the masses not only in the town centre but also in rural areas and islands, would promote a sense of unity among the people. Today we take such multicultural concerts for granted, but in those days when the different races lived in their separate enclaves, it was quite a breakthrough.

The regular open-air Anekaragam concerts also served to fulfil Rajaratnam's vision of bringing music and culture to the masses, instead of being confined to the elite English-educated minority at Victoria Theatre.

This was the backdrop to Rajaratnam's next big idea - to build a National Theatre.
The various constituencies' community centres and community clubs of the People's Association (PA) provides various integration-centric programmes and GRO programmes/activities at every constituency to organise community programmes for entertainment and other art, music, dancing and other courses for the young and old.

If the pace of the development and progress of Singapore in the 1960s was found too slow, look at Singapore 2012 on this video clip:

This video with acknowledgement and thanks of Zweizwei, 2012. The courtesy of his reply: "hello. thank you, I don't mind if you write about my videos in your blog. I really liked Singapore, very nice, clean and comfortable, and excellent climate". Zweizwei's Vimeo time-lapse videos available here .



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