It is nearly 25 years since the passing of Malaysian entertainer Sudirman, but his music still lives on.
Who doesn’t have memories of singing Tanggal 31 during Merdeka Day celebrations? And no hometown trip during Hari Raya would be complete without at least one refrain of Balik Kampung. Sudirman’s catalogue of Malaysian pop classics remains unsurpassed.
The late Sudirman was truly a performer like no other, managing to unite Malaysians with his songs, which were often filled with social commentary. On Nov 3 and 5, you can relive the pop star’s best at One Thousand Million Smiles, a musical tribute to Sudirman, which plays at Pentas 1, KLPac. The show is directed by Datuk Faridah Merican, The Actors Studio Malaysia co-founder.
“Sudirman had the charm. His songs are classics and they are so memorable that when you hear them, you can’t help sing them over and over again,” says Faridah, before adding, “The man had so much to share with us. He was known as a singer for all Malaysians … when he performed at a concert in Chow Kit in 1986, over 100,000 people came to watch him!”
Sudirman died aged 37 on Feb 22, 1992.
He started his career after winning the Bintang RTM (song competition) in 1976. His early albums like Aku Penghiburmu (1978), Perasaan (1979)
Anak Muda (1980), Lagu Anak Desa (1980) and Lagu Dari Kota (1981) laid the foundations for his illustrious career that took him beyond Malaysia.
In 1989, he won the Asian Popular Music Awards competition at Royal Albert Hall in London.
His upcoming KLPac tribute show One Thousand Million Smiles will feature many of his best loved songs, performed by a cast of Malaysian singers.
For a dash of pop glitter, there is Dasha Logan, who is known for her empowering and energetic soul pop. Elsewhere, reality TV show Audition winner Tria Aziz, and Atai, Sudirman’s own nephew, who often appeared with him on stage, are also set to perform.
The cast is completed by Aaron Teoh, Amir Hazril Harith, Ian Chow and Joel Wong.
In revisiting the extravagant musical shows in the 1980s, the singers will be backed by a full orchestra, conducted by Lee Kok Leong. A five-piece band, led by Loh Ui Li, is also part of the show. The tribute show is presented by the Actor’s Studio Seni Theatre Rakyat.
According to Faridah, this Sudirman tribute is something that she and her husband Joe Hasham (fellow Actor’s Studio co-founder) had thought of doing for a long time.
“In Malaysia, we do not always take the opportunity to remember our artistes who have passed away, or who are still alive … it is unfair to think that an artiste who gives so much of himself or herself to the country gets forgotten here,” says Faridah.
“We want Sudirman to be remembered. Let’s put him back on the map, especially for young Malaysians who never grew up with Sudirman.”
For the One Thousand Million Smiles show, fans can expect tunes like the concert title song, Punchcard, Balik Kampung, Milik Siapakah Gadis Ini, Salam Terakhir and Hujan, which is Faridah’s personal favourite song.
As a endearing touch, a version of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile will also be on the 16-song setlist.
“He performed that song when he was at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a combination of Smile and Send In The Clowns. And that really got the attention of the audience there, because it was not a Malaysian song, but they loved how he treated it,” she said.
The concert on Nov 5 will also see the launching of the Sudirman Scholarship fund, a scholarship for the performing arts set up in the late performer’s name.
Faridah, who knew Sudirman back in the day, still has very fond memories of him.
“When I was younger, I used to be a master of ceremonies at many events. Invariably, Sudirman would be the entertainer there. I would sit there, and listen and watch him perform. And no matter how many times I saw him. I was mesmerised by him,” says Faridah.
“He had this quality, where he would just pull you into his world, with his songs, charm and cuteness. All the elements to touch your heart.”
One Thousand Million Smiles is on at Pentas 1, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh in KL on Nov 3 and Nov 5 (Nov 4 is a private show). For more info, call 03-4047 9000 or visit klpac.org. An exhibition on Sudirman is also being set up at KLPac. Those who wish to contribute their stories or memorabilia of the singer can e-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.