Concert review: Don't Call Him Mr Mari Kita a moving tribute to Zubir Said

Don’t Call Him Mr Mari Kita, a Wild Rice production that celebrates the music of Majulah Singapura composer Zubir Said. PHOTO: WILD RICE

Don't Call Him Mr Mari Kita

Wild Rice

Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ Wild Rice, July 21

Done in the style of a 1960s television variety show, Don't Call Him Mr Mari Kita was a loving tribute to the music of the late Zubir Said, also known as Pak Zubir.

Best known for composing Singapore's national anthem Majulah Singapura, he died in 1987.

Written by music director Julian Wong, who also narrated, sang and played the piano, the performance was directed by Wild Rice artistic director Ivan Heng.

Wong was accompanied by singers Hannah Nordin, Malcolm Lim and Rohaniah Sa'id, as well as a four-piece band including percussionist and National Arts Council Young Artist Award recipient Riduan Zalani.

Here are three highlights from the show:

1. A choice selection from an extensive oeuvre

The splendid setlist, performed with heart by Wong and his fellow singers and musicians, showed how Pak Zubir's body of work, which dates back to the late 1940s, went far beyond Majulah Singapura.

It included film soundtracks such as Pulang Merantau (Homecoming), popular songs such as keroncong classic Sayang Disayang (Lover Is Loved) and Children's Day school staple Semoga Bahagia (May You Achieve Happiness).

Wong and his musicians did a moving, instrumental version of Majulah Singapura and even brought to life some of Pak Zubir's rare, previously unheard gems. Though the prolific composer is said to have written 1,500 songs, most of his compositions were lost.

Many times, Wong delved into Pak Zubir's emotionally resonant lyrics, which often celebrated hopefulness, harmony with nature and the resilient human spirit.

2. Zubir Said's life story, warts and all

The telling of Pak Zubir's colourful life story - he was an immigrant from Bukittinggi, Indonesia, who moved to Singapore against his father's wishes - was interspersed with various songs from different periods of his music career.

Kudos also to the production for tackling prickly issues, such as the period when Pak Zubir's nation-building songs were pulled off the air when Singapore was in the process of separating from Malaysia, effectively erasing most of them from public consciousness, as well as more recent controversial calls to change the national anthem.

3. Witty banter and lively performances

The heavy use of narration could have easily turned the performance into a didactic music history lecture, but Wong's natural charisma, humorous delivery and rapport with his musicians and the audience ensured that it was a delightful and entertaining show.

Wong was mentored by the late musician Iskandar Ismail, who was trained by Pak Zubir.

Paying tribute to both his teacher and his teacher's teacher, Wong deftly wove his own life experiences and musical journey into the narrative.

Book It/ Don't Call Him Mr Mari Kita

Where: The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ Wild Rice, 04-08 Funan Mall, 107 North Bridge Road
When: Only tickets to July 24, 2.30pm, and July 26, 7 and 9pm, are available
Admission: $25 to $60 (go to Sistic or call 6348-5555)
Info: Wild Rice's website

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