Singer Hael Husaini remembers the first time he met powerhouse vocalist Dayang Nurfaizah more than a decade ago. A teenage Hael was sitting on a staircase at the now-defunct Planet Hollywood in Kuala Lumpur, waiting to catch Dayang’s live performance.

He recalls the moment like it was yesterday. “As she walked past me, she looked to me and said, ‘Hey, why are you seated at the staircase?’ I thought to myself, ‘I was a nobody and she’s such a popular singer, yet she acknowledged me. She’s really humble’.”

Hael says he was so starstruck, he was shaking. Fast forward to 2017 and it has all come full circle: Hael has finally sung with his “first celebrity crush”, after he “courted” her to be his duet partner on the recording of a stirring ballad called Haram.

Hael, who won Best Song at Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL) 2018 for the hit Jampi, recounted the start of their collaboration at a press conference for the project.

“I finally met Dayang when we were doing a show at a mall. I asked her how she felt about doing a duet with me. She said she believed Jampi has a big chance of winning AJL. She told me not to think about the duet first and concentrate on AJL.”

Hael Husaini

Hael Husaini’s ‘Jampi’ won Best Song at Anugerah Juara Lagu 2018.

Shortly after his award in February, the 30-year-old wasted no time and composed the song. Meanwhile, Dayang says she agreed to the duet – despite the fact she seldom does duets – because she was drawn to Hael’s voice.

“When you’re singing on stage alone, the responsibility can feel too big for one person at times. But when you’re sharing the stage with someone else, it’s a lot of fun,” says the 36-year-old Sarawakian artiste. “You share that energy with each other. I haven’t experienced that in a while.”

And despite both entertainers having strong voices, no one tried to out-sing each other. Dayang says, “The point of a duet is for two voices to compliment each other. It’s not about showing who’s better. If you treat it like a vocal battle, it won’t work.”

Hael, who was the other half of pop duo Azhael for four years, says having experience at performing duets helps. He also likens his vocal chops to a “chameleon” because he can adapt and change his style to suit his singing partner.

He says one lesson he did learn from his idol is how and when to hold back. “Dayang would do all these adlibs and runs during rehearsal, but she didn’t use them in the recording. She wanted to keep the song simple and make it easier for listeners to grasp the melody.”

“But during her live performance, she unleashes them and gives it her all,” says Hael.

Dayang has another ballad, Dia, out now. The songstress isn’t worried the release of Haram will take the attention away from Dia. “A solo ballad is a solo ballad. A duet brings about a different atmosphere.”

Dayang also won Best Song at AJL last year for Lelaki Teragung. With two AJL Best Song awards between the two of them, expectations are high for Haram to be a strong contender at next year’s edition of the song competition.

The song, written and composed by Hael and Ezra Kong, seems poised to be the next big thing, with its music video already fetching more than half a million views within just four days of its release.

“I told Dayang’s team not to expect something big,” Hael says. “We’re doing this duet sincerely. It’s my dream to duet with her. And it’s a gift for our fans who want to see us sing together.”