What do you remember about the night that the Bakat TV album was recorded? What was happening backstage? What was the crowd like? What happened after the recording, was there an after-party?
Just like in any talent show, some contestants are very calm and confident while some are very nervous. I fell in the second category, and I still do each time I am about to go on stage.
We have all gone through our preliminary rounds like the auditions, 1st heats, 2nd heats , quarter finals, semi finals that were recorded and telecasted every forth night . Only The Finals was telecast live.
Out of the hundreds of contestants, many good performers were eliminated in the much earlier rounds just because they were â€˜unluckyâ€™ enough to be drawn in a tough group where the majority of the contestants were good.
I for one was a â€˜much watchedâ€™ contestant from the beginning by the tv audience, so I was told and heard in the months and years later. Simply because I was the only non-Malay singer who was singing Malay traditional songs.
Since the competition was quite a tough one, my only wish was just to be able to get into the finals and not to win any prizes.
Tough because the competition was called â€œBAKAT TVâ€™ which means â€˜TV TALENTSâ€™ in English. In this rare competition all categories compete with one another. We have to compete with magicians, quartets, instrumentalist, choirs, comedians, etc.
I was one of the lucky 10 finalists that night in a competition that lasted a few months aired by Radio and TV Malaysia (RTM).
Being a lad of 24 years old coming from a small town was quite an experience for me. We had quite a good number of rehearsals with the 50 piece RTM Orchestra a few days before the final night.
And already rumor was rife as who and who were expected to win the top three places. One very clear favorite was the flutist playing â€œMission Impossible.â€ We, the contestants, and the tv viewers at large thought as much because at that time the tv series â€˜Mission Impossibleâ€™ was playing on the tv weekly. And it was very obvious to us that he was the favorite. Moreover he has the most run-throughs during the rehearsals and was the eyeball of the orchestra leader
As for me I was very grateful that I could reach the finals and there was nothing much to prepare. I was more concerned about my suite, as it was the first suite I ever made in life! And it took away 5 months of my wages. But of course I was a nervous wreck too about my performance for that night.
We all sat silently back stage as the time tick away for a live broadcast. Thanks to the make-up for hiding my pale and worried looks.
Some of us manage to smile at one another but God only knows how we felt inside. I was busy blowing warm breath into my palms to keep me warm and to fight the nervousness.
One by one the contestants render their performance. And then it was my turn. As my name was announced the applause makes me more nervous.
The orchestra goes though the 24 bars intro of Mas Merah . . . I step slowly onto the stage as the applause died down, looking for the red lamp on the old bulky tv camera to sing my first line into the lens (As in those days we were instructed by tv producers to sing to the camera). I got into the first line very well and as I sing along all of a sudden . . . I felt that both of my feet were very cold. I felt as if I am not wearing any socks or shoes. This feeling disturb me so much. So much so that I pretended to look down as if to play along with the sad lyrics of my song, just to make sure that I do really have them on. Till today I will never forget that incident that night. I thought to myself, standing there full suit and tuxedo and barefooted!! I really got the true meaning about having â€˜cold feetâ€™.
I did not win any place that night. I have never been disappointed about it although some people around me made some comments that I should have sang both Malay numbers so on and so forth.
What were most intriguing were the comments I get from my former band boys back home who have been following my progress on tv. They were very surprised as to how I acquire the knowledge of singing Malay traditional songs. When I was with them we use to sing only English songs of the sixties and we perform songs of Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Engelbert, Tom Jones, Garry and the Pacemakers and numbers from all the pop groups of the 60â€™s. Now this, not only Malay pop songs but traditional Malay songs! None of them knows the story behind as to how I have the knowledge of singing Malay traditional songs.
A few months later I met a guy who told me that he travelled from Johor Bahru, a city some 210 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, just to see me singing live that night at the RTM auditorium. The seats were all taken and he has stand on his toes at the back of the auditorium. He told me that he have goose bumps hearing me rendering that song. And he cried softly when my name was not mentioned for the first three places.
Four years after Bakat TV 72â€™ none of the other contestants and winners have any tv shows, recordings, stage shows etc, etc. except me, right up till today. Although I donâ€™t cut any albums anymore, I am constantly invited to perform for shows. And until today I am still waiting for a non-Malay singer to come forward and sing Malay traditional songs like I do.
Of course after the competition there was supper for all of us at the foyer as some government Ministers also attended the function. One thing was obvious was that we were all relieved after a week of hard work. We were the luckiest 10 if not the best.
What are your thoughts on the Mas Merah song itself? Why do you think that song has resonated with people so much?
â€˜Mas Merahâ€™ the song, has brought me a small fame in this small nation, Malaysia, which I have never dreamt of before. Mas Merah which literarily means â€˜Red Goldâ€™ in English is a traditional Malay song. As like any other traditional Malay songs it was written a very long time ago. Perhaps decades or centuries ago. When or by whom . . . no one knows! Itâ€™s a sad thing. Perhaps when this song was first composed and sung, there was no means of keepings records and documentations. Till today we donâ€™t know who the composers were, as they were passed down from parents to their children.
As for me, I would like to convey my utmost sincere thanks to the writers of these traditional songs. For without them I would have been nothing. There is nothing I can give in return except to go on singing their compositions and in a way perhaps help to preserve, promote these dying cultural heritage and identity of my beloved country Malaysia.
As Malaysian youth are getting less and less interested in Malay traditional songs, my concern is that they will one day be extinct. What I fear is if one day in the near future when someone wants to listen to a traditional Malay song, one has to drop a coin into some musical kiosk (something like an ATM machine) just to hear what â€˜Mas Merahâ€™ or any other traditional song sounds like.
The other thing is I pray to God to bestow blessings to the departed souls of all those nameless composers for their priceless contributions to culture and country. They are my mentors.
Do you collect old vinyl records yourself? Do you have all of your old albums and 7″ records in your collection? Any thoughts on people collecting your old records?
I do collect vinyl records but I have stop because I realize that I am getting old and if I suddenly die . . . my son will definitely throw them away into the garbage bins. Yes I have two copies of each of my albums . . . new, virgin and un-played over the turntable. I kept them for souvenirs.
Anything else you would like to say?
There are plenty of stories to tell about my life. As you can see from what I have told you above, is just the tip of the iceberg.
I have been planning to write my memoirs since 2 years ago . . . but stop each time after penning a few pages, as I realize that I am not good at writing. When I chat with my facebook fans and friends about my life and how and what make me sing . . . they told me that it could be turned into a tv drama. I just laugh at them.