Ella: A story of the continuum of Malaysian feminism (way before it was hip)

Ella: A story of the continuum of Malaysian feminism (way before it was hip)
Ella celebrates 30 years in the entertainment industry with a stirring performance with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas - Pic courtesy of MPO
KUALA LUMPUR: I'd be lying if I said that we were absolutely thrilled upon receiving the tickets to Ella's concert at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) - at first. She hasn't performed in ages, has recently turned into her sixth decade and, skepticism is my middle name.

But as our designated driver made a wrong turn, circling the Petronas Twin Towers rather than entering its parking lot, the threat of actually missing the first half of the show loomed close and the true thoughts running in my mind reared its ugly head up - I didn't want to miss a single moment of the show.
The very thought of not reliving the childhood memories of singing out loud at the top of one's lungs to Standing In The Eyes of The World (I'm an 80's kid, in early teens in the 90's, so do your math) triggered a state of panic. I realized I want to be there to witness Ella in her corporeal grandeur, albeit aged. But boy oh boy, in the accompaniment of the great philharmonic team, she had aged as fine as the best brandy one can imagine.

Her initial appearance onto the stage in a baggy pant suit and hijab made me feel a little peeved - at first. I felt cheated, for minute; thinking where is my long-haired teenage idol, rocking away with curtain tresses? My epitome girl power? With powerful songs like Puteri Kota, Gemilang and Percaya Diriku, she single-handedly carried the banner that I personally thought the Spice Girls had to share between them. Ella was an example for Malaysian young girls and ladies to look toward in the 80's and 90's. But as she belted out her songs with that signature melodic, husky voice, I am convinced she is still the one that inspired the movement many years back. She is the same voice that empowered other girls to dream big, to strive to achieve the dreams and to say to hell with others who try to break you and drag you down.
Once you get beyond the cognitive dissonance of swaying, singing rock whilst donning a hijab and abaya, you reach the inner sanctum of realization that this, in itself, too is an expression of feminism and female empowerment. Is it not empowerment to allow a woman to dictate for herself the comfort zone between self-expression and right to practice her faith? In fact, the very fact that I was initially taking aback, bordering on being disturbed about the mix probably points to my being anti-feminist. Or was I being a femi-Nazi? When the principles and values of female empowerment is only recognized if it is what is comfortable with the one holding judgement upon others…Is that not curbing a female's rights?

Thankfully, this phase of folly passed quickly, much aided by amazing, orgasmic acoustics that is the combination of Ella and the amazing DFP team under the tutelage of Mr Muriz, the great maestro. As I sat back, relaxed and treated myself to the auricular treacle that is classical, albeit mellowed down, versions of my childhood playlist; I come to terms with the modern and more inclusive version of what femininity is. I'm proud to say that naysayers of hijab and niqab as a version of female empowerment can obtain a ticket, plop their bottoms down in the hall and enjoy the true glory of Malaysian Girl Power - Ella!

Needless to say, we went home after the concert with a warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia and hope for a better future for our girls. This writer for once, can't wait for the next Ella performance at DFP or at least for the grand acoustics to make its way to Spotify. Until then, listen it here.