KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 18 — When Malaysia was established 57 years ago on September 16, a string of patriotic songs followed suit to commemorate the birth of a new nation.
One of those songs was the happy sing-along folk tune Malaysia Forever, written by the Canadian orchestra leader, trumpeter, and singer-songwriter Bobby Gimby.
The first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman even called the song the unofficial national anthem of Malaysia.
Written to celebrate the union of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, the infectious song was taught to school children days before formation was officiated, instantly becoming a hit when it was played across Malaysia.
The two-minute song was sung by the Choir of the Marymount Vocational School in Singapore and was played nationwide on the radio every Merdeka.
But after two years of immense popularity, the song quickly faded into obscurity when Singapore was expelled from the Federation on August 9, 1965 following political and economic disagreements.
Despite being unknown to younger generations of Malaysians, Gimby’s legacy lives on through his daughter Lynn Gimby-Bougerol and granddaughter Elizabeth Bougerol who manage his website and estate.
Malay Mail got in touch with them to learn more about the celebrated musician’s Malaysian connection.
Born in 1918 in Cabri, Saskatchewan to a musical family, Gimby arrived in Malaysia in the early 1960s.
He was already a musician, playing the trumpet and composing music, married to his wife Grace.
“Bobby was a wonderful person, not only with his family, as he was a member of a large family, but also with his friends and with the people around him,” Lynn told Malay Mail.
The father of one was living in Toronto where he played on television and radio shows.
In 1961, Gimby wanted to expand his horizons and decided to take a chance overseas by moving to London.
“There, one of his friends, Patrick O’Neil Dunne, who was the Rothmans of Pall Mall senior head and knew Bobby’s background convinced him to move to Malaysia and to compose commercials, which he did in late 1962,” Lynn said.
He was then asked to write and perform a song to celebrate Malaysia’s unification.
“I’m elated and very proud to think that my father has composed a song that will be loved and sung by millions of citizens of a foreign country.
“A picture of Tunku and my father was taken together where he was playing Malaysia Forever on a toy piano,” she said.
Tunku even wrote a message on the back cover of the record.
“Malaysia Forever has been written at a time when the peoples of Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo, Brunei and Singapore are about to forge into the Malaysian nation.
“The lyrics of the song aptly identifies the spirit of the peoples of these territories — to work and live together in peace and unity,” wrote Tunku.
Lynn was 21 years old when she moved with her parents to Kuala Lumpur where she lived with them for almost two years.
“Bobby loved the delicious food, the monsoon climate, and of course the people,” the 77-year-old said.
She even remembers their first Christmas in Kuala Lumpur.
“That same friend (Patrick), wanted Bobby and his family to appreciate their new digs and offered them a Christmas tree.
“The tremendous heat did not melt the Christmas tree but almost,” said Lynn.
Affectionately known as the Pied Piper of Canada, Gimby earned the nickname in Malaysia for his parade-style presentation of Malaysia Forever where he led more than 100 schoolchildren down the streets of Singapore, a suggestion courtesy of his daughter.
After penning the patriotic hit for Malaysia, he went on to write Ca-na-da to commemorate the Canadian Centennial in 1967.
The song was regarded as a unity anthem for a deeply divided Canada.
“Maybe the secret is the capacity to feel the heart and the pulse of a nation, and to communicate that feeling to the whole nation, through children,” Lynn said of her father’s magic.
She added that Gimby, who started out his career playing music in hotel ballrooms, had a varied musical style.
He wrote several albums for kids and loved the blues.
On her father’s impact on Malaysia, Lynn said: “In a way, it makes us feel connected to Malaysians, to whom we wish long life and prosperity.”
Lynn works as an artist in New York City while her daughter Elizabeth has followed in her grandfather’s footsteps, leading the jazz band The Hot Sardines.
“They’ve toured around the world playing some of the same songs my father played with his orchestra,” Lynn said.
Gimby died in 1998 in Ontario at the age of 79.
Read more about Bobby Gimby here.