Obituary

Singapore indie film-maker played in early indie bands

Musician and film-maker Abdul Nizam was diagnosed with cancer just last week.
Musician and film-maker Abdul Nizam was diagnosed with cancer just last week.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

Abdul Nizam, an award-winning Singapore indie film-maker and musician, died of liver, lung and pancreatic cancer on Tuesday. He was 50.

His wife, Madam Siti Nafisah Bee Sayna Abdul Kadir, 51, tells The Straits Times the cancer was diagnosed just last week.

A month ago, Nizam had suffered from severe constipation and went to see a specialist in Kuala Lumpur. He and his wife, his 75-year-old mother and sister-in-law - all Singaporeans - have been living there for the last four years, although he often travels back to Singapore. He and Madam Nafisah, who married in 2001, have no children.

She says over the telephone from Kuala Lumpur: "When we got the results of a CT scan last week, the doctor said the cancer had spread and was already at stage 4."

Nizam and his family came to Singapore in an ambulance on Tuesday morning and reached Singapore General Hospital at 10am. He was pronounced dead at 5.41pm and was buried the next day at the Muslim cemetery in Lim Chu Kang.

His contemporaries and friends remember the man, whose full name is Abdul Nizam Abdul Hamid, as someone who was highly talented and passionate about films and music. He had played in pioneering home-grown indie bands The NoNames and The Oddfellows.

Singapore International Film Festival's programme director, Mr Zhang Wenjie, says Nizam always had many ideas about films he wanted to make.

"The remarkable thing about Nizam is that he was always documenting. He would go to performance art events and concerts and shoot a lot of footage. He never stopped working, he was always writing a script or refining his ideas.

"He had a little apartment in Bedok. Once in a while, we would go over there to hang out and talk, and the place was full of film books and scripts. He was one of the most well-read and knowledgeable people I know."

Mr Zhang and Nizam were former classmates who enrolled in Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Film, Sound and Video Department in 1995.

Nizam's final-year project at the school, arthouse short film Datura, picked up the Best Short Film prize at the 1999 Singapore International Film Festival. The film, which explores Malay-Muslim identity, also came in third at Poland's 6th International Film and TV Schools' Festival in the same year.

His other films screened at the Singapore International Film Festival include Breaking The Ice (2014), a documentary on Singapore performance artist Jeremy Hiah; and Keronchong For Pak Bakar (2008), a tribute to veteran cinematographer Abu Bakar Ali, who worked with Malay film and music icon P. Ramlee.

The Oddfellows frontman Patrick Chng says Nizam influenced the way he played music. "He always exuded good vibes, was great to be around, was a very humble guy and had a great sense of humour."

The band's guitarist Kelvin Tan adds that Nizam's drumming gave the band an extra edge. "He was a very undemanding and easy-going person to play with, and also someone who had great integrity in what he did."

Nizam played drums and the harmonica on the band's 1991 debut album, Teenage Head, a landmark release in the Singapore indie music scene. He also played drums on Carnival, released the following year.

Prior to playing for The Oddfellows, he was the co-founder, singer and drummer of The NoNames, which formed in 1986.

His Anglo-Chinese School schoolmate Vincent Lee, who played bass with Nizam in both The Oddfellows and The NoNames, says he was someone who was always "sincere, honest and charitable" as a friend, and a musician who was "very lyrical and full of infectious chops".

One of the last film projects Nizam worked on was an SG50 music documentary, (re)Surfacing: 50 Years Of Alternative Music In Singapore, which was screened last year as part of the Singapore Memory Project.

Madam Nafisah says that up until his illness, her husband, the youngest of three brothers, had been working on a script for a feature film inspired by the life of P. Ramlee. "He had planned to shoot the film in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore indie film-maker played in early indie bands'. Print Edition | Subscribe