DUA DIVA - AISHAH AND LIZA HANIM
Esplanade Concert Hall
It might have been decades since she last conquered Malay radio, but veteran Malaysian singer Aishah has not lost any of her mojo.
And while she shared equal billing with fellow Malaysian singer Liza Hanim at the Dua Diva (Two Divas) concert, her solo segment was clearly the highlight of the two-hour-plus show, part of the Esplanade's annual Malay arts festival Pesta Raya.
Aishah's songs, while mostly from the late 1980s and the 1990s, hardly sounded dated. With a judicious blend of symphonic ballads, traditional Malay genres like joget and Indonesian dangdut, the 53-year-old commanded the stage and the packed Esplanade Concert Hall with ease.
Early jitters aside - the opening duet between the two hijab-wearing headliners felt a little flat - Aishah had stellar control over her voice, deftly manoeuvring the winding melodies and hitting the high notes flawlessly in her setlist of radio hits that included Janji Manismu (Your Sweet Promises, 1990) and Fatwa Pujangga (Poet's Decree, 1991).
Like many popular Malay pop songs of that era, the default theme was heartbreak. Yet, the overall mood was never dour as she handled the material with a lighthearted touch.
Not one to take herself seriously, she poked fun at how much weight she had gained since the 1990s, about how many in the audience were way younger than her earliest hits - they must be here for 38-year-old Liza, she quipped - and slipped in jokes about leaving the show early to shop at Mustafa Centre and watch World Cup matches.
During her lively rendition of the late Sharifah Aini's dangdut hit Kau Pergi Tanpa Pesan (You Left Without A Word), she walked among the audience, causing a stir among the fans who quickly surrounded her and clamoured for selfies.
She touched on her early years as a singer for New Zealand pop band Fan Club, singing a medley of their 1980s English pop hits.
Liza, who made her debut in the mid-1990s and amassed a string of hits in the following decade, put on a valiant attempt during her solo set.
Like Aishah, her setlist comprised mostly heartache ballads, most of which seemed to be vehicles for her wide vocal range.
Both singers have been seeing a resurgence in their music career in the past year, thanks to their participation in Malaysian reality television singing show Gegar Vaganza 4, which saw Aishah emerge as champion, with Liza the runner-up.
It was apt that the concert's music director was the Singapore-born, Malaysia-based music veteran, Datuk Ramli MS, who was also the main judge at Gegar Vaganza.
His ensemble of seven musicians and three backing singers adroitly juggled the various genres, laying a solid foundation for the two singers to shine.
Both women sang recently released new material as well, Aishah with Malar (Constant) and Liza with Mimpi (Dream). But as the zealous response to their old tunes would attest, it was the classics that the crowd came for.