Monday, 21 May 2012

Dato' Sudirman Hj Arshad.

There are many legendary artists long gone but remain etched in my fading memories, irregardless of time and period, irrespective of cultural, religious or ethical background. Growing in a country of multi-ethnicity of cultural potpourri is a plus point for me, even though by nature of the complexity of the mix has also shown to be straining at times when "ultras" and selfish small percentage of shites would try to tilt the balance at some one point or another but lets not get into that. Coz this is about one, late, local artist whom was and is still a standard of which, except for a selected few, are to be measured upon. His name? Sudirman (25 May 1954 – 22 February 1992). I am writing this because a free concert is to be held to commemorate his songs on this coming June 3rd at Cheras. When I was still a kid (or am I still one?), Sudirman, a lawyer by practise, was a household name in the music industry. Not much public media was accessible then, except for Radio Television Malaysia or RTM. I think TV3 was not even in existence yet. I first knew of him through his music and then also his 1982 movie "Kami". His popularity soared through his wins at local talent competition, Bintang RTM, later Muzik Muzik TV3 and one of his last few hits, "Balik Kampung" is a favourite though us kids back then used to make fun of it all the time by altering the lyrics. I remember Sudirman as a diminutive person physically, just like another local legend, female jazz, R&B queen, Sheila Majid. But he possessed a vocal range worthy of a titan. And his repertoire of music knowledge and capability to sing it in several languages, energetic stage performances, trend setting dressing styles (yes,yes the heavy padding type which was the vogue of the 80s) won him fans beyond the boundary of the country. Most of his songs consists of love themes and dealing with circumstances of individuals from rural backgrounds coming to work in the bright, city life and coping with urban cultural differences, a  theme widely explored in the late 70s and throughout the 80s when the country embarked on modernisation and industrialisation with private factories sprouting up everywhere, like in Penang island for example. Just like Search, Wings, Lefthanded rock bands of which I called "Rock Kang Kang" hehe, I call these songs "Lagu Kilang". Reminds me of when Uncle Chai and Uncle Teong used to wake up wee hour in the morning with the "bas kilang" waiting to fetch them to work and back. There were times when Sudirman was embroiled in controversy due to his style of performances. Like the threats he received when he was about to hold a concert at local tertiary institution, UTM at Bangi of which he boldly went on to proceed, and of course during the early days when he performed with "the Girls", his backup dancing ladies, plus the circumstances regarding his death. There are detractors of his style and music of course even until today, but far and few in between. Two events made Sudirman forever casted in the stratosphere of local music industry - the free for all, open air concert at then central of KL, Chow Kit Road on 15th April 1986. Chow Kit back then was the KLCC of the city. An estimated 100,000 people watched him performed that Monday night. And the second event was the Asia Music Award held at the Royal Albert Hall in London on March 19, 1989, of which was telecasted live over RTM (or was it TV3?). I remember watching it coz there was another fav artist of mine also representing his home country - the late Leslie Cheung. Leslie was performing one of his greatest hit from that time -  無心睡眠 (Sleepness Night). Can Sudirman top that? Yes, he did and with the eternal song "One Thousand Million Smiles" - and won the "Best Performer" award. By the way, the song was recorded by the 80s pop producing trio - Stock, Aitken and Waterman - yes, the "SAW" pop hit singles producing trio for the likes of Rick Ashley, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan etc. I remembered leaping with joy - though I was equally sad that I thought Leslie didn't win - but oh wow, Sudirman does deserved it with his performance. It was said that Sudirman would not return to the country should he not win the competition. After his win, Sudirman later was to record an album with the SAW team at London but was unfortunately cut short and did not materialise due to an illness which eventually led to his early demise at the age of  37 on 22nd February 1992.         

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