There was a time when singer Dayang Nurfaizah doubted her own vocal abilities.

The 34-year-old artiste from Kuching, Sarawak, whose smoky vocals have serenaded listeners since 1999, has always harboured hopes of winning an award that recognised her vocal abilities.

“For me, as a singer, it is important to win an award like that at least once in my career,” Dayang says in a soft, delicate voice, a marked contrast to the dynamite vocals we’re used to hearing on stage.

Since the start of her career, Dayang has racked up a number of prestigious achievements such as the coveted Best Song award for her hit Seandainya Masih Ada Cinta in 2001 and Best Pop Album for the live album Live! in 2009 at the Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM), Malaysia’s equivalent of the Grammys.

And at the annual song competition Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL), Dayang’s Seandainya also won in the show’s ballad category in 2001 while Erti Hidup won the Irama Malaysia and Ethnic Creative category in 2004.

But for 14 years, the Best Vocal recognition proved elusive for Dayang. “Throughout that time I was like, ‘What’s the problem? Do I have the talent? Do people still want me?’,” the songstress opens up during an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

“I felt down. I had all these thoughts in my mind, but still I kept trying and trying.”

Her hard work and persistence finally paid off when she took home Best Vocal Performance In A Song (Female) award at AIM in 2013 for her live performance of Seandainya, taken from her second live album Anuar & Dayang Live At Dewan Filharmonik Petronas.

Dayang Nurfaizah

Dayang Nurfaizah is working on an album driven by ballads and mid-tempo tracks. Photo: The Star/Yap Chee Hong

“It was all worth it. And the best thing about that was I won best vocal for a live performance, not a recording. I was so happy,” she says, beaming.

She has been on a winning streak ever since. At AJL 2016, her vocal prowess was in the spotlight yet again, earning Best Vocal Performance for Di Pintu Syurga (the song also placed third overall) and Tak Pernah Menyerah. 

Not only is she a fierce contender in the vocal department, Dayang is bringing her A-game fashion-wise as well, sporting glamorous, one-of-a-kind outfits during her performances. “When I feel beautiful, I feel confident on stage,” says the singer.

Asked if she is working on a new song that’s another strong entry for competitions like AJL, Dayang brushes off the idea: “No, when we do a song, we don’t go, ‘Let’s make sure there’s a song that can enter AJL’. We just choose the best song to be included in the album. If it gets into AJL, it’s a bonus.”

Dayang has started work on her upcoming eighth studio album, comprising at least eight tracks including Di Pintu Syurga and Tak Pernah Menyerah.

“I’m giving the fans who have followed me for these 17 years what they want, which is more ballads. This is a gift for them.”

Over the years, Dayang has ventured into R&B and pop territory, right up to her last album Sayang & Cahaya in 2011. She assures that her R&B roots will still show in the upcoming album driven by ballads and mid-tempo tracks.

Former Akademi Fantasia champion and award-winning singer Aizat Amdan is penning one of the tracks on the album. “I love all the melodies of his songs. I’ve been waiting a long time for a song from him. Everytime I see him, I’ll ask if he’s written the song already. When I finally got it, I was immediately drawn to the lyrics and melody,” she teases about the new track.

“When we were recording it, it felt different from the other songs I’ve recorded. The feel is different, the delivery is different.”

Dayang shares why releasing an album is important to her: “I come from an era where, without an album, it doesn’t feel complete. It’s like a resume. It’s a personal sense of satisfaction.”

Dayang’s foray into showbiz started when she joined RTM’s Golden Teen Search in 1996. She made it to the finals but didn’t win. She tried her luck again the following year and emerged winner.

“He was one of the judges at the competition,” the singer recalls meeting the late Adnan Abu Hassan who moulded Dayang during her formative years as an artiste. “After I won, he introduced me to my first recording company and was heavily involved in creating my first album. My first single Hakikat Cinta was written by him. I feel so grateful to be able to work with a composer who’s known for his ballads and for discovering talents like Datuk Siti Nurhaliza and Misha Omar. I feel lucky to be one of the talents he discovered.”

At the inaugural Anugerah Pilihan Online 2016 (APO2016) on April 30, Dayang will be honouring the renowned composer – he passed away last month – with a special performance featuring a medley of hits crafted by Adnan including her own Hakikat Cinta and songs sung by other artistes.

Asked if she feels pressured having to sing songs originally performed by other singers, Dayang responds: “When you sing songs by others, people might go, ‘Oh you’ve changed the song’. The most important thing is I respect the song and then I know how to perform it. In terms of melody and arrangement, what doesn’t need to be changed won’t be changed. I want my own unique sound to come through, I don’t want to just sing them plainly. But I want a balance between respecting the existing melody and arrangement and at the same time, include my own feel.”

The singer, who is also nominated for Best Female Singer at APO2016, says she will feel emotional during the performance but will try not to get too carried away.

“He was the one who recognised my talent, he played a big part during the start of my career, and I will feel his loss. I can’t be too emotional, as I won’t be able to sing properly. I have to control my emotions. I have to deliver and make sure I perform my best for him.”

Dayang reveals she still gets butterflies in her stomach every time she gets up on stage to perform. “I still feel nervous and it’s important to feel nervous. If I don’t feel nervous, then I’m worried.”

Ultimately, it is her love for performing that has kept the singer going for 17 years and counting. She says: “I love performing on stage for my fans. I don’t care if it’s just two people or five people. As long as I’m happy and there are people who still want to hear me sing, I’ll sing.”

APO2016 will be broadcast live on April 30 at 9pm, on TV2.