M.S. Maniam, Singapore's foremost tabla player, dies at 70

Singapore’s tabla maestro, M.S. Maniam, better known by his professional moniker Tablamaniam.
Singapore’s tabla maestro, M.S. Maniam, better known by his professional moniker Tablamaniam.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Percussionist M.S. Maniam, a tabla player popular in the music industry here, died of cancer Friday (Dec 22) morning. He was 70.

While he has performed in many shows in Singapore and overseas, in a career that spans more than four decades, Maniam is perhaps best known, especially among clubbers, as the tabla player who frequently performed at nightclub institution Zouk.

Starting in the 1990s, he would jam with home-grown and world-renowned DJs including English trance veteran Paul Oakenfold who played at Zouk's old location at Jiak Kim Street.

In March, he performed with a 48-piece orchestra at the two-night One More Time - A Tribute To Zouk At Jiak Kim Street concerts at Capitol Theatre.

He has also played with the former SBC's (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) Indian orchestra, local Indian bands like Febra Music Party as well as pop acts such as Dick Lee.

According to Maniam's nephew, singer and songwriter Rai Kannu, he died at Assisi Hospice at about 6am, surrounded by his family.

He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer a year ago. About three weeks ago, he was hospitalised in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and was moved to Assisi Hospice last week.

Rai, one-half of singing duo Jack & Rai, gave his late uncle a mini bongo to play with at the hospice. Up until two days ago, he was still tapping on the instrument, despite his deteriorating health.

Said Rai: "I think more than a musician, I was blessed to know him as my uncle, and aside from our chats about music and the scene, he was always one of the most jovial, generous and spiritual human beings I knew."

They have made music together, and in 1998 performed at the National Day Parade while Rai was serving his national service with the Singapore Armed Forces' Music & Drama Company.

Indian entertainment scene veteran Mohamed Raffee, who has performed with Maniam since the 1970s, said he is as an icon in the percussion scene. "His name is synonymous with the tabla here in Singapore."

Jazz veteran Jeremy Monteiro, who has performed with Maniam many times over the years, said that Maniam's positive attitude was infectious. They last played together in Hong Kong two years ago.

"Rehearsals and performances were always productive and fun. He had much depth and emotion in his playing and playing with him always made me feel a warmth in my solar plexus.

"Picasso said that art is when mind, body and spirit are in alignment. Maniam, with his playing, often allowed me to feel that eclipse when we played together. He was a fun and loving person, but also a very deep soul whom I will miss."

He leaves behind his spouse, a housewife who is in her 60s.