Veteran rocks with son in new CD

Young backing band give Malay rock singer Hanafie Warren a new sound

Veteran rock singer Hanafie Warren (middle, foreground) and his bandmates (clockwise from far left) bass player Caspar Francis, guitarists Iliya Zaki and Melvin Cyril, and his son, keyboardist Fifi Leong.
Veteran rock singer Hanafie Warren (middle, foreground) and his bandmates (clockwise from far left) bass player Caspar Francis, guitarists Iliya Zaki and Melvin Cyril, and his son, keyboardist Fifi Leong.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


Rock singer Hanafie Warren, 62, whose career dates back to the mid-1970s, is marking a new milestone with his ninth album, Riwayatku (My History).

Not only is it his first time releasing new music in eight years, but it also marks the first time that the singer of 1980s Malay rock band The Unwanted is collaborating with his son, composer and arranger Fifi Leong, 24, who takes his mother's surname.

For this album, Hanafie, who has gone solo since 1986, is backed by a new band - a quintet made up of Leong and his peers who are in their 20s.

He says: "Like I told Fifi and the band, I don't want the new songs to sound anything like The Unwanted or anything that I had done before. I want it to be totally different."


  • WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Dec 23, 7pm

    ADMISSION: $29 (with CD) and $61 (with goodie bag that includes CD and T-shirt) from Apactix (

The album will be launched with a gig at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Dec 23. It features a heavier sound and more modern sheen compared with the classic rock ballads that the singer, who has sold more than 65,000 albums throughout his career, is known for.

Leong, who plays keyboards on the songs, says the collaboration started with a demo song he wrote and recorded for his father last year. He roped in his friends - bass player Caspar Francis, 24; guitarists Iliya Zaki, 24, and Melvin Cyril, 23; and drummer Lee Joon Lei, 22 - and they came up with more songs.

Leong says: "I think with my father's previous bands, the music was very much trapped in the 1970s and 1980s, so we added a new touch to his music."

Hanafie, who also sang with the late Cultural Medallion recipient Iskandar Mirza Ismail's jazz/rock/ pop band Hangloose in the 1980s, has four other children, aged 20 to 35, with his wife who runs a maid agency.

Though he has not released new material recently, he performs Thursday to Saturday nights at a Seah Street pub, Lot Stock & Barrel, with a trio of musicians under the monicker Warren Inc.

His old band, The Unwanted, also reunite occasionally for gigs and held a double-bill concert with another veteran rock band Rusty Blade at Kallang Theatre in 2012. Hanafie also sings occasionally with Malaysian rock royalties Wings as a guest on their shows here and across the Causeway.

1 Your new music is different from your 1980s tunes. Were you concerned you would alienate your old audience?

I'm not worried about fans being disappointed. I want them to know this is what my music sounds like now. I hope it will bring together both new and old fans.

2 Have you thought about retiring from singing?

I stopped in 1994 and helped my wife run her maid agency business for six years. Then I started jamming again, got hooked and started doing gigs again. Those years that I wasn't performing, I felt like something was missing in my life.

3 You have been performing since the late 1970s. What is the biggest difference you have seen in terms of playing in a band today?

It's very different. There was a lot more fan support for local bands. One of the biggest shows we played was the Police And Friends show held by the Singapore Police Force in the 1980s. More than 50,000 fans came to see bands such as The Unwanted and Sweet Charity. I hope such big crowds will come and support local bands again.

4 What do you remember best about The Unwanted's heyday in the 1980s?

In 1981, we toured peninsula Malaysia with Malaysian band Alleycats. Each band had their own bus and I remember we had a lot of fun on the road.

I remember the gig in Kota Bharu in particular because I had such a craving for durians. I ate so much of it that I lost my voice and couldn't sing well at the show that night.

5 Many of your peers from the local Malay music scene found success after moving to Malaysia. Why did you not do the same?

I always thought that making it on home ground is the best. I did not mind travelling to Malaysia for shows, but I did not see myself being based there because my family is here and I don't want them to have to move with me too.

6 You have not sung with The Unwanted for about two years. Are there plans to reunite?

The band members are still around but we're not active because every- one's busy with his own things. Once a while, we'll meet and jam.

7 What is your advice for young musicians who want a long career like yours?

Whatever you do, sincerity is most important. And don't be arrogant because if you are, you won't last long. You have to stay humble.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

For my character and not as a singer. That's no big deal for me, I just love to sing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2015, with the headline 'Veteran rocks with son in new CD'. Print Edition | Subscribe