Born to write music

Singers from Singapore and Malaysia will pay tribute to composer S. Atan (above) at a concert celebrating some of his best-known hits.
Singers from Singapore and Malaysia will pay tribute to composer S. Atan (above) at a concert celebrating some of his best-known hits.PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ESPLANADE

One of the Malay music scene's most prolific composers, Malaysian S. Atan does not mess around when he is in the studio.

The 67-year-old has written more than 1,000 songs since 1972 and has a reputation for reducing singers to tears with his strict, no-nonsense approach when working.

But that is all in the past, the Singapore-born lyricist, producer and musician says in a telephone interview with The Straits Times.

"When I was working as a composer for record company EMI, we had to produce one album a month. So I couldn't stand it when artists played around in the studio. But I wasn't out to make enemies, I would scold them during the recording sessions, but outside the studio, we'd be friends again."

Several singers from Singapore and Malaysia, a mix of veterans and fresh faces, will pay tribute to him at Suara Hati S. Atan, a concert celebrating some of his best-known hits.

His long-time collaborators dating back to the 1970s, including Jatt Ali, singer of Black Dog Bone, and singer and composer Jay Jay, as well as younger artists Elfee Ismail and Rudy Djoharnaen, will feature in the concert.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall

    WHEN: Aug 5, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $25, $45 and $65 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

"I am very touched that this concert is taking place, this is the first time that anyone has done a full concert dedicated to my songs," he says.

Born Hashim Said, he grew up in a kampung in Geylang Serai. Unlike most of his Malay peers, his parents enrolled him in a Chinese-language school, Happy Garden.

While he learnt to play instruments such as the accordion and bongos from his uncle, he polished his music skills as a member of the school's music club.

Later, he joined the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now Mediacorp, as the conductor of orchestra Kalungan Nada.

At the same time, he played the piano and accordion in a hotel in Johor Baru.

When he was 22, he joined EMI in Singapore as a full-time composer and was later transferred to its studios in Kuala Lumpur. His ability to converse in Mandarin led to a stint in music studios in Taiwan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Of the many singers he has worked with, he singles out Anita Sarawak and the late Malaysian icon Sudirman Haji Arshad as the most memorable ones.

He says that both of them "could master songs really quickly" and would go into the studio "fully prepared".

These days, the married father of six grooms the next generation of talents in the music industry as an educator. He teaches music at Alpha College of Technology in Seremban, Malaysia.

Asked about his large body of work, he says simply: "I am not trying to brag, but for me, composing comes easy because in music, there are only 12 notes. From these 12 notes, you can compose songs in any genre, whether dangdut, asli or joget."

Eddino Abdul Hadi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Born to write music'. Print Edition | Subscribe