Memikat Janda (Charming a Divorcee) lyrics

Posted on December 19, 2009


I’ve always been fascinated by Malay folksongs, and the ghazal, a love-poem, is arguably one of the most spirited and uplifting of the various genres of Malay musical traditions. Borrowing from Middle Eastern and Persian influences, the ghazal is an auditory reminder of the strong cultural links between the Malay world and the Middle East forged hundreds of years ago by way of trade and religion.

This song, by the late Fadzil Ahmad, widely regarded as the King of Gambus in the Malaysian music scene, is a cheeky and good-natured song about flirting with a divorcee. I’m currently in the midst of a translation-frenzy, and this is my first attempt at translating Malay folksongs into English. To Western readers some of the lyrics may not make much sense, so I’ll try to explain a little bit about Malay poetic styles.

Malays, like most Asian societies, prefer conversations laced with subtlety, rather than getting straight to the point like their Western counterparts. In the old days direct conversations were considered uncivilized and lacking in grace. This song’s structure follows from the Malay ideal of giving hints before arriving at the subject matter. The first para, i.e. about how to fry peppers, is obviously not directly related to the topic at hand, i.e. charming a divorcee. Rather, it acts as a subtle hint employed by the transmitter to, I guess, give enough time to the receiver to brace himself for the actual subject matter, however benign it may be. One will realise that, in fact, there is a unifying theme between the first two para, i.e. ‘how to do something’. In the first para, the question of how to fry peppers is put forward, with a solution consequently given. Likewise, in the second para, the question of how to charm a divorcee is evoked, and the suggested reply is to dote on her toddler (to give the impression of a reliable future husband perhaps?). Timang is a word which means holding a toddler and raising him or her firmly by the armpits above your own height, and amusing both toddler and yourself by throwing him/her upwards in small, gentle motions. I don’t know if there is an English equivalent for this so I made do with cradle.

Memikat Janda                                Charming a Divorcee

Bagailah mana menggoreng lada       How oh how to fry peppers
Hai sayang, menggoreng lada            O my love, fry peppers
Ambillah minyak tuang-tuangkan      Go get the oil and pour it in
Hai sayang, tuang-tuangkan              O my love, pour it in

Bagailah mana nak memikat janda     How oh how to charm a divorcee
Hai sayang, nak memikat janda         O my love, charm a divorcee
Ambil anaknya timang-timangkan      Go get her toddler and cradle it
Hai sayang, timang-timangkan           O my love, cradle it

Apalah guna menggoreng lada          What’s the use of frying peppers
Hai sayang, menggoreng lada            O my love, frying peppers
Takutlah minyak tumpah ke muka      Afraid of the oil splashing the face
Hai sayang, tumpah ke muka             O my love, splashing the face

Hajat di hati nak memikat dara         The heart intends to charm a maiden
Hai sayang, nak memikat dara          O my love, charm a maiden
Sekali fikir baiklah janda                  On second thoughts better a divorcee
Hai sayang, baiklah janda                 O my love, better a divorcee

Apa seronok menanam lada            Where’s the fun in planting peppers
Hai sayang, menanam lada             O my love, planting peppers
Kerana lada tanam-tanaman           ‘Cause pepper is a plant
Hai sayang, tanam-tanaman            O my love, a plant

Apa seronok memikat janda            Where’s the fun in charming a divorcee
Hai sayang, memikat janda             O my love, charming a divorcee
Kerana janda banyak pengalaman   ‘Cause divorcees have lots of experience
Hai sayang, banyak pengalaman      O my love, lots of experience

Ulang rangkap 1 hingga 4               Refrain para 1 to 4

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