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Google Doodle pays tribute to Singapore music icon - composer Zubir Said

Published on Jul 22, 2014 10:50 AM
 

Today's Google doodle celebrates a Singaporean musical icon - composer Zubir Said. The musician best known for composing Singapore's national anthem was born on July 22, 1907, 107 years ago, in the town of Bukit Tinggi in Minangkabau, Central Sumatra.

Clicking on the doodle will take browsers to a page with search results relating to the famed musician. 

The Google doodle does not appear for country specific sites such as for Russia and Denmark, but it appears on the global Google.com site. This is not the first time Google has had Singapore-themed doodles. There have been doodles dedicated to Singapore's National Day and the Singapore Arts Festival. You can see more such doodles here

Zubir was asked to compose a song by Mr Ong Eng Guan, Singapore's mayor, for the re-opening of Victoria Theatre in 1958. Singapore achieved self-government in 1959 and the tune Zubir had composed, Majulah Singapura, was chosen as the national anthem.

Writer Muhammad Ariff recalled in an interview with the Straits Times that he helped Zubir tweak the lyrics of the song to reflect the way in which Singapore achieved independence, through peaceful negotiations rather than a bloody battle.

He added: "The original lyrics written by Pak Zubir (who was born in Sumatra) were patriotic, sounding as if we had won independence after a great war, like in Indonesia. We didn't have that. We achieved self-government through roundtable talks.

"I had written two how-to books at the time, Let Us Hold A Meeting and Let Us Make Poems. So for the lyrics, I suggested, 'Let us the people of Singapore progress towards happiness together'.

"You'll notice the lyrics use simple Malay words that many non-Malays then can understand as well. The lyrics are in what I'd call a national language, with words and tone that let us communicate with all Singaporeans. It is not Malay just for Malays.

"For instance, the opening line: Mari kita rakyat Singapura. It is four simple words that most can understand as many Singaporeans were then learning Malay."

Born the eldest in a family of three boys and five girls, Zubir was a self-taught musician who played the flute and the guitar. His conservative father, who was also the village headman, objected to his musical ambitions. So Zubir left home at 21 and headed to Singapore to pursue a musical career.

He started by playing in bangsawan (Malay opera) troupes and job hopped, with a stint as a recording supervisor for British recording company His Master's Voice, and then worked as a band conductor during the Japanese Occupation. He married keroncong singer Tarminah Kario Wikromo in Java in 1938 and returned to his hometown of Bukit Tinggi for a few years.

But Singapore drew him back in 1947, and he landed a gig with Shaw Brothers as a freelance composer in 1948. He became part of the Malay intelligentsia who powered the then-thriving Malay movie industry in Singapore, using popular culture to address political and socio-economic issues relevant to the Malay community at a time of modernisation and cultural change.

In his lengthy career, Zubir wrote soundtracks for film classics such as Bawang Putih Bawang Merah (Shallots And Garlic, 1959) and Jula Juli Bintang Tujoh (Jula Juli Of The Seven Stars, 1962). He also composed about 1,500 songs.

He died on Nov 16. 1987, aged 80. He is survived by four daughters and a son.

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