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Of Moral Panic and 30 Hours of Non-Stop Rock: The Malaysian Woodstock of July 1972 (via The Wknd)

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Malaysian Woodstock
Illustration by Szwan Asri

1969’s Woodstock is probably one of the most iconic and influential music festivals to ever take place, with its 32 acts and 400,000 attendees making it not just the zenith of the whole counterculture movement that was such a big part of 1960s America, but also one of the most iconic events in the history of popular music. Never mind that the dream arguably died barely four months later on an ugly day in Altamont, California; the peace-and-love waves of the hippie movement and of Woodstock 1969 in particular reverberated across the whole planet, making their mark on Malaysia as well, and in a much bigger way than simply inspiring a generation of twenty-somethings to start growing their hair long and smoking weed.

Malaysia, like presumably many other countries all across the world, had its own Woodstock in the early 70s. In fact, there were apparently multiple Woodstock-alikes organised across the country during the first few years of the decade, but the most prominent, and certainly most mythologised one, was the event organised at Camp Semangat, Cheras, in July 1972, organised by the Scouts. It’s an event that has become something of an urban legend, with numerous tales of drug-fuelled debauchery and rock and roll excess being associated with the event. But what really happened during that weekend at the end of July 1972?

Joe Rozario of Joe’s MAC fame was around back then, and went to Camp Semangat that weekend. We met up with him to talk about those heady days, and to try and find out more about the event itself. He recalls that “there were a lot of young people by the roadside hitchhiking, dressed in the big long American hats, torn overalls and all. There were a lot of young people by the roadside going to Woodstock, in Cheras. It was a very nice feeling; people were coming from Singapore, Johor, Malacca, Penang, Ipoh and all the surrounding small towns.”

He continued, “it was a new generation of people, you know, who refused to wear ties and follow the normal generation of the time, the older generation. So I hitchhiked down from Pangkor Island with my friend Raj, and we came to Cheras. We had to stop at the 9th Mile and walk about two kilometres into the jungle. And there was this large group of people, of hippies, [at an event] organised by the Scouts! Imagine that!”

It’s unclear how many people showed up at Camp Semangat for the festival; newspaper reports range from 500 (The Straits Times) to 700 (The Malay Mail), while Rozario claims that there were closer to 3000 people, and the small reported number was just an attempt to play things down. We’ve not been able to ascertain the veracity of Rozario’s claim, but the idea of the media purposely under-reporting the number of people at a countercultural or possibly subversive popular gathering isn’t exactly unheard of.

 

Read Azzief Khaliq’s complete article on The Wknd.

ArtsEquator Radar features articles and posts drawn from local and regional websites and publications – aggregated content from outside sources, so we are exposed to a multitude of voices in the region.

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