Malaysiakini Assistant Editor Martin Vengadesan has been serving as a journalist since Feb 1996 and has covered a number of stories for PSM over the years, both while at Malaysiakini and in his previous role at the Star.
Earlier in his career Vengadesan met/or interviewed veteran Communist Party Malaya leaders Chin Peng, Abdullah CD and Shamsiah Fakeh as well as Parti Socialis Rakyat Malaysia stalwarts such as Kassim Ahmad, Abdul Razak Ahmad and Syed Husin Ali.
What may not be so well-known is that Vengadesan was also once a long-haired rock musician and that he has recently returned to his roots by recording and releasing three CDs with his band The Stalemate Factor.
His most recent work The Knight’s Flight which came out this month is largely a homage to his psychedelic rock days as a student in Virginia Tech, but his first two albums The Queen’s Gambit and The Bishop’s Sacrifice contain a number of politically-charged songs.
That the latter album is dedicated to his assassinated heroes Leon Trotsky, Che Guevara, Salvador Allende, Patrice Lumumba, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and John Lennon is telling.
1. Affirmative, the opening number on his first CD is a song that examines the frustration of racial politics in Malaysia. Vengadesan is a fourth-generation Malaysian whose great-grandfather came here from India in 1898. Yet most of his generation have migrated as part of the brain drain. For him Malaysia is his only home, no matter what the right-wing ruling party may say. This blues-rocker was also written about the time of the Hindraf and Bersih rallies in late 2007.
2. Written in Water is about Vengadesan’s relationship with other activists who were with him during the Reformasi era when he was a union leader with the National Union of Journalists and the secretary of the youth wing of Parti Rakyat Malaysia.
“You have common causes when you fight alongside each other for a while – and then your paths diverge. Ultimately we each walked alone. I realise this extends to life itself and all relationships but in this song, I was singing about myself, other activists and the long road ahead,” he says of this lilting folk-reggae song.
WRITTEN IN WATER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljfpUx1jiZA
3. Call To Arms is the oldest surviving song Vengadesan has recorded. He first composed in it as a 16-year-old in 1989 and it is as every bit as hard-rocking and intense as its name might suggest.
The images of child labourers and union workers assaulted by their bosses are just some of the examples of exploitation that fired this song. Maybe reform is not enough and revolution is what we need. Musically it is a tribute to bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.
CALL TO ARMS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5LatxkAMcc
4. The Final Hours of Salvador Allende is an acoustic ballad written in memory of the late democratically elected Marxist president of Chile.
The first part of the song is set on Sept 11, 1973 when Allende’s government was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup that installed a brutal regime led by the butcher Augusto Pinochet. Allende died on that day, most likely by his own hand, and thousands of Chilean left-wing activists were murdered in the years that followed.
The second part of the song is set in 2006 when Michelle Bachelet, herself a former torture victim and member of Allende’s Socialist Party, swept to a presidential win.
“This is a very emotional song. Remembering the sacrifice of Salvador and other fallen comrades in the moment of triumph. La lucha continua hasta la victoria siempre!” says Vengadesan.
THE FINAL HOURS OF SALVADOR ALLENDE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5LgeeC-GhI
5. The Peasants’ Revolt is set in 1381 when the farmers and workers of England rebelled against the authority of teenage king Richard II and his oppressive nobility. Led by Wat Tyler and the radical cleric John Ball, the movement swept to London but at a crucial moment in negotiations Tyler was ambushed and slain.
John Ball was notable for attacking the church for the role it played in keeping the peasants subservient and compliant – in other words, centuries before others did, he recognised that religion could be the opiate of the masses. Musically this is another hard rocker.
THE PEASANTS’ REVOLT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh6Cpem6Ums
6. The Revolution Will Devour Its Children is specifically about how the French Revolution fell apart with different factions like the Girdondists and Jacobins taking turns to fall to the guillotine. The same could be applied to USSR under Stalin and China at the height of the Cultural Revolution – even the revolutionaries fall victim to their own zeal.
Musically the song has classical motifs and a duelling electric piano/electric organ solo.
THE REVOLUTION WILL DEVOUR ITS CHILDREN: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bck-TY0KiyM
Featuring a revolving cast of musicians alongside multi-instrumentalist Vengadesan, the core performers on these three albums are:
The Queen’s Gambit – Hisham Zulkilfi (bass), Andrew Sagayam (drums)
The Bishop’s Sacrifice – Joshua Rayan (guitars), Andrew Sagayam (drums)
The Knight’s Flight – NR Lohan (guitars/vocals), Edward Gomez (bass/vocals), Andrew Sagayam (drums) and Ashwin Gobinath (drums).
Ashwin, drummer of fusion band Nadir, is also the producer behind the music.
Vengadesan and Sagayam also co-authored the best selling true crime book Malaysian Murders and Mysteries which was published last year and is available in major book stores.
The band’s music is available on Spotify and YouTube.
The physical copy – for those who still buy CDs – is available at RM20 and can be obtained by getting in touch with Vengadesan at his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Martin-Vengadesan-JournalistMusicianAuthor-635337166957466