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Kassim Slamat & The Swallows

Kassim Slamat & The Swallows
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Bars, Bans & Censorship :

According to a newspaper article published by The Singapore Standard on the 13th of June, 1959, The Singapore Government ran a Police operation to crack down on pin-table parlours and to silence jukeboxes in bars and coffee shops across Singapore. They were warned that any breach of the ban would lead to a fine. As a result of the immediate closing down of such establishments, the workers were put in a quandary and they we unable to find other jobs because it had been so sudden. The operation was a step taken by the Singapore government as a campaign to get rid of the "yellow culture" on the island. The campaign also included an order to cinema exhibitors to withdraw from screening about 30 films and to send some for re-examination by the censor. Also, The Minister for Culture at that time, Mr S. Rajaratnam had announced that rock 'n' roll and sentimental music would be drastically reduced in Radio Singapore broadcasts. 

The Swallows, however, were unscathed by these campaigns since the secondary income which supports the band's activities came mostly from Nelson's bar - a short stretch of hangout joint that was strategically located far out in the Northern-most portion of Singapore. Its patrons were mostly commonwealth servicemen, interned around the former British Naval Base, Sembawang. Its location was probably well guarded by tipsy servicemen, getting their pint served at the bar - too isolated for the over-stretched government officials to visit. It was a sanctuary, situated near a military base which was once known as the Gibraltar of the East; Churchill's impregnated fortress as I would put it. Despite the mass unemployment in Singapore at that time, The Swallows were financially self-sufficient, mainly because its members held full-time day jobs and were able to divide time for the passionate moonlighting. Blessed with the presence of Commonwealth forces stationed at the Naval Base, nightly activities to entertain a readily available audience was just a stone's throw away from their village in Sembawang. "Live" instrumental music too unwind was in demand and these "Happy Hour" activities were all once held at the opposite pole of the busy nightlife in downtown Singapore.

The Swallows performing on Singapore TV during the mid 60s along other popular bands .

Transcripts from an interview that was conducted with 3/5 members of The Swallows on the 14th of May 2010 had suggests that they were banned from getting air-play on Singapore radio - due to a disagreement with the organisers of a televised concert. The concert, which was slated for a live television broadcast was attended by government officials. Before the commencement of the concert, The Swallows were formally advised to refrain from donning an “all white” outfit due to a certain reason.And on top of that, they were told not to turn their backs on camera. According to the late Haji Affandi (Band Leader) who was also the percussionist for that particular concert, "... It was unfair to see a foreign band, a Filipino band to perform on the same stage, dressed in an all-white outfit - a double standard that applies only to local bands ...". He added that the Filipino band was seen facing their backs on camera during the performance.** A disagreement with the organisers erupted and a few months of ban were imposed on all their songs that were by then, getting regular air-play on Singapore radio. However, with some lobbying engaged by The Baweanese Association of Singapore (PBS), The Swallows were put back on air.

* The late Haji Affandi (Band Leader) had requested for the scene, pertaining the People's Action Party (PAP) to be edited out.

I find it rather bizarre to find yet another interviewee who would enthusiastically discuss matters concerning the PAP government - only to request for the scene to be omitted from the entire interview. My reaction to this particular interview is synonymous to an encounter with a reoccurring ghost scene from a Pontianak film! These interviews were conducted at a different time and location and the interviewees were relating to unrelated events that happened in Singapore during the 60s.
** I suspect there could be an explanation to why The Swallows were instructed not to face their back in front of the camera. Unlike today's televised stage performances that includes steadicam operators, camera on jibs, Dollies and remote controlled cameras that can capture any imaginable angles on stage, yesteryears television camera set-up were rather primitive. Perhaps they had a simple guideline to follow when it comes to Live televised performances.  Even an animated rock star like Jim Morrison had to face the front throughout his performance on The Ed Sullivan show! Probably, only a crazy Jim Morrison fan wouldn't mind watching his behind throughout a live concert.
If only The Swallows were given an explanation and the rationale behind the instruction. I can imagine the amount of ego and pride, just by looking at todays rockstar.

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