Veteran songstress' flawless Singapore debut at age 65

Malaysian singer Salamiah Hassan told the story of her life through song over two hours.
Malaysian singer Salamiah Hassan told the story of her life through song over two hours.PHOTO: JACK YAM/THE ESPLANADE



Esplanade Concert Hall


It has taken 43 years for Malaysian chanteuse Salamiah Hassan to debut in Singapore.

Her sheer vocal prowess continues to stun and transfix music lovers and, at 65, she is also Malaysia's pin-up girl for graceful ageing.

"I am no diva, I am only a singer. But because I was neither up there nor down there, I am still here," she said at the show's start, to resounding applause.

She proceeded to tell the story of her life in 21 songs over two hours.

She burst on to her country's singing scene at the age of 19 in the talentime show Bakat TV in 1971, despite having a father who forbade her from even humming at home.

She placed eighth in that contest, but her inimitable voice, at once soothing and heartbreaking, and her talent got Malaysia's top musical directors, such as Ahmad Nawab, honing her into a hitmaker.

Salamiah, however, struggled to pay the bills as a single mother, singing at almost every nightclub in Kuala Lumpur then.

By the mid-1980s, singing in clubs wore her out and she switched to singing award-winning jingles. She treated the audience to a few bars from Adabi curry powder, Paddle Pop lollies and Hazeline Snow cream.

In 2005, she made her comeback album Tirai Terakhir (The Final Curtain) and has followed that up with another album, Aku (Me), in 2014, whose defiant titular track was her personal anthem, which she sang as the penultimate song in her Singapore show.

She owned the Esplanade with her brittle yet caramelly crooning; her voice had a core of pure steel which she displayed to devastating effect on The Carpenters' Superstar.

She was dressed exquisitely in shimmering black and then gunmetal grey, not a note or nuance out of place as she shimmied and sashayed to a medley of Carole King's I Feel The Earth Move and Diana Ross' Upside Down; her hits from yesteryear, such as Surat Terakhir (The Last Letter) and Menghitung Hari (Counting The Days); and snazzy jazz compositions by her late brother Ahmad Shariff Hassan.

When she paused for a gown change, her daughter Raja Puteri Atilia Haron - a jazz singer who sounds uncannily like her - and singer-comedienne Adibah Noor took the stage with jazzy original tunes.

When Adibah tried to explain what she was doing there, an audience member yelled out: "Filler!" To which she replied, "Thanks... Thanks... Thaaaanks!" as the crowd fell about in sniggers.

After she blew them away with her rendition of Terlalu Istimewa (Too Special), Salamiah came back on, earning two standing ovations.

There was no encore, but no matter - she had given the audience a flawless, moving and triumphant start to 2017.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline 'Veteran songstress' flawless Singapore debut at age 65'. Print Edition | Subscribe