Ever the dapper showman

Singer Halil Chik performs at the Esplanade tonight.
Singer Halil Chik performs at the Esplanade tonight. PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

For veteran singer Halil Chik's first ticketed show in three decades at the Esplanade tonight, he will not be decked out in his trademark white suits.

"I gave them all away," the single 65-year-old says with a hearty laugh when asked about his old stage get-up from his heyday in 1970s and 1980s.

His musician friends needed the suits for gigs. "So I offered mine. Some of them borrowed the suits and never returned them, but I'm okay with it.

"If they return them to me now, the suits probably won't be white anymore," jokes the singer who is known for evergreen Malay pop hits such as Renungan Matamu (The Gaze Of Your Eyes) and Lenggang Mak Limah (Mak Limah's Swing).

His 70-minute show tonight is part of A Date With Friends, the Esplanade's annual festival for senior citizens that started on Thursday and ends tomorrow.

While he might not have his old white suits anymore, the man will still look dapper at his show.

"I'll probably wear a tuxedo for the first half of the show. And for the second half, I'm thinking of wearing a nice baju Melayu, the kind worn by grooms at Malay weddings."

Halil still performs regularly at corporate events in Malaysia and also gets regular invitations from members of the country's royalty to sing at their events.

Since 1985, the Singapore permanent resident and Malaysian citizen has been based in Kuala Lumpur, where he lives with his two sons, aged 22 and 17, from a previous marriage.

He is an active committee member of the association for veteran Malaysian artists, Yayasan Artis Veteran Malaysia, and also has a business that deals with crude palm oil.

Born in Perak, Halil moved to Singapore at the age of six with his family when his policeman father was stationed here.

With a strong baritone voice that can mimic famous singers ranging from Tom Jones to Louis Armstrong, he got his start in show business singing at weddings in the early 1970s before getting regular gigs at venues such as The Horizon Club at Shangri-La Hotel.

"I never took vocal lessons," he says. "I just listened to the songs and tried to follow them. I discovered that I could impersonate many singers, from Willie Nelson to Elvis Presley."

Scouted by veteran producer and composer S. Atan, he eventually signed with record label EMI and released his debut eponymous album in 1977. It earned him the distinction of being the label's first act to release a full album at a time when the others were releasing shorter EPs.

Halil released five more albums and became one of the more popular Malay male singers in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Initially, my father was against the idea of me being a singer and he even broke a guitar that I bought," he recalls.

"But when I became popular, I remember getting five gunny sacks full of fan mail. I didn't have time to reply to them all, so my father replied them for me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Ever the dapper showman'. Print Edition | Subscribe