Veteran singer-songwriter Ramli Sarip: 'My role is to make music'

Singer-songwriter Ramli Sarip says he does not plan to retire as music is in his flesh and blood

Ramli Sarip is marking his 45th anniversary making music with gigs and a limited-edition box set. -- ST PHOTO: RUDY WONG
Ramli Sarip is marking his 45th anniversary making music with gigs and a limited-edition box set. -- ST PHOTO: RUDY WONG

This year marks the 45th year that singer-songwriter Ramli Sarip has been singing and making music, and to mark the occasion, he is staging a concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Tuesday.

While he acknowledges that 45 years is a long time for any musician to stay active, any mention of retirement plans is immediately shot down by the 62-year-old Singaporean, one of the most acclaimed names in the Malay music industry here and in Malaysia.

"As an artist, you can never say 'I am tired, I want to retire'. Music is in my flesh and blood. Everyone has a part to play in this world and my role is to make music. That is what I have been doing in the last 45 years."

He adds: "Besides, what am I going to do if I retire? I can still think, write songs, do shows and share my works and experiences."

Ramli's show next week will encompass the highlights of his extensive discography, from the hard-rocking tunes from his early years with rock pioneers Sweet Charity in the 1970s and early 1980s to his later, more contemplative solo work.

The singer, known for his husky voice, is very much aware that fans are expecting to hear their favourite tunes and says the setlist will be carefully curated. He plans to play at least one song from each of his dozen solo albums and the seven Sweet Charity releases he sang on.

"Each of my songs has its own character, so the whole concert will be a trip, with its own highs and lows," he says during the interview conducted in Malay.

He has assembled a mix of musicians for the show, including his oldest collaborators and Sweet Charity bandmates Rosli Mohalim, Rahman Sarbani and Ahmad Jaffar Jawahir.

While the spotlight might be on him, Ramli insists that he does not regard the musicians accompanying him as "sessionists".

"These are people I consider my friends. I give them room to be as creative as they want to be."

He has also roped in guest singers such as fellow local veteran J. Mizan as well as singers and musicians Achmad Albar, Ian Antono and Abadi Soesman from Indonesian rock icons God Bless, whom he is close to.

The Esplanade show follows a series of three concerts, also part of his 45th anniversary celebrations, to be staged at Kuala Lumpur's Istana Budaya from tomorrow to Sunday.

Ramli spends most of his time in Malaysia and holds the honorary title of Datuk, given to him by the state of Malacca last year.

Besides the gigs, the man has also lined up several events to mark the anniversary. A limited-edition box set is in the works and will contain two DVDs of recent live performances as well as a brand new single.

Across the Causeway, a group of Malaysian visual artists have also put together an exhibition of paintings inspired by his lyrics and words. They will be displayed at the Kuala Lumpur concert venue on the days of the shows and, after that, at the National Visual Arts Gallery of Malaysia next door.

While he started singing at local weddings as a teenager, Ramli's music career took off only in 1969 when Sweet Charity was formed. The band rose from playing at clubs and nightspots to playing to packed houses at major venues here such as the now-defunct National Theatre.

Their albums, released from 1979 to 1986, were also hugely popular in Singapore and Malaysia and produced classic Malay rock hits such as Teratai and Kamelia.

Ramli left the band in 1986 to concentrate on an even more successful and longer-lasting solo career, which also saw his transition to a more folk and traditional Malay music inspired sound.

Besides regular gigs in Malaysia, he also gets invitations to talk about his life in music at educational institutions there.

The singer, with greying shoulderlength hair, jokes about a recent talk he gave at a school in Malacca: "When I was in school, the only time one faced that many students during a school assembly was when one was getting a public caning."

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