When singer Sufian Suhaimi competed at the semifinals of one of the country’s most prestigious song competitions Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL) last November, there was something the audience didn’t know – he had spent the week before coughing blood.
“It started a few weeks before that actually. I was down with fever and was coughing non-stop,” he recounts the ordeal in an interview with StarLifestyle. “When I started coughing blood, I went to the doctor and got myself tested for TB (tuberculosis). The result was negative. I think I was coughing so hard, my throat was bleeding.”
Still, the show must go on and the 26-year-old mustered all the strength he had to deliver his popular ballad, Di Matamu.
“I’m not happy with my performance at the semifinals because of my health condition,” he says candidly. “The doctor told me not to use my vocal cords 100%. It wasn’t bad, it was a safe performance.”
But it was enough. Despite the odds stacked against him, Di Matamu advanced to the finals, slated to take place on Feb 3.
“I’ll be fit for the finals,” he says, determined.
But more than just the physical pain, StarLifestyle learns about the emotionally-taxing year the singer’s had. He looks back on his journey so far and plots the road ahead.
Terakhir was just the beginning
Born and raised in Muar, Johor, Sufian started dabbling with music when he received a guitar as a gift from his parents for scoring straight As in his Form Three exams.
“I didn’t know how to play it. So I looked up YouTube for tutorials and bought ‘guitar for beginners’ books.”
Sufian’s interest in music grew stronger by the day and he began looking into music production. “After saving money for two years, in Form Five, I managed to build a simple studio in my bedroom.”
In university, where Sufian majored in English, he met a few like-minded friends and decided to form a rock band.
“Our band, De’ Mahameru, was influenced by the music of Muse, 30 Seconds To Mars and Coldplay. I had very long rocker hair and wore singlets and skinny jeans,” he describes his early days as a musician, a stark contrast to the singer’s current clean-cut, immaculately-dressed image.
During this period of musical discovery, Sufian and his bandmates came up with Terakhir, a melancholic ballad which showcased the band’s softer side.
He uploaded a rough cut of Terakhir, recorded with the same equipment Sufian bought with his savings, on music sharing platform Soundcloud. A listener then shared it on YouTube, which caught the attention of local record labels.
“A few labels approached me but I was hesitant at first. I was conflicted because I’ve always felt an affinity with rock, and Terakhir was in a different direction.
“Also, I didn’t know if I could do music on a big scale,” he says, adding he always considered music as no more than a “serious hobby.”
Sufian took a leap of faith and signed with Aries Music in 2016, while pursuing his masters in mass communication.
Terakhir was released officially as his debut single and it didn’t take long before it became one of the most popular songs of 2016.
The song, which harks back to the ballads of the 1990s era, came at a time where a revival of the genre was sweeping through the country. Like Sufian, young singers like Aiman Tino and Tajul were experiencing immense success with the same type of music.
Terakhir, which has over 25 million YouTube views to date, made it all the way to the finals of AJL in 2017 – an impressive feat especially for a newcomer.
“I was in shock. AJL was my favourite programme. I watch it every year,” Sufian recalls enthusiastically and calls singing on the AJL stage an “unforgettable experience.”
But the harsh realities of being a singer soon hit him when many felt Sufian’s nerves got the better of him during the performance.
“I need that sometimes, I couldn’t live if there were only compliments. Criticisms and feedbacks help you to be better,” he reflects.
As Sufian’s professional life started gaining more and more attention, so did his personal life.
Love and heartbreak
In October 2017, Sufian and actress Elfira Loy announced their engagement after dating for about seven months. The wedding date was set for March 23 the following year. Unfortunately, about a month before the big day, the engagement was called off and the two went their separate ways, sparking a media storm.
“Everything was perfect in the relationship, it’s just that the marriage didn’t go as planned,” he comments briefly about the relationship.
The healing process took months. “Thankfully, I have a super supportive family and amazing friends. They wouldn’t let me be alone. They stayed with me at my place. We’d talk about it and slowly, I felt better.”
Sufian says he’s on good terms with his ex-fiance. “We’re not arguing or fighting with each other. We moved on quite well. She has her life and I have mine.”
Elfira tied the knot with Muhammad Faris Khairol Anuar, a manager in a telecommunications company, on New Year’s Day.
“The local entertainment industry is small. If we see each other or work together in the future, I think it’s not going to be a problem. In fact, we have crossed paths (after the break-up). It was OK, we’re just like old friends.”
On the day that would’ve been his wedding day, Sufian decided to drop Di Matamu, a searing ballad about a crumbling relationship. Although the wedding fell through, Sufian explains he still wanted the day to be special hence his decision to release the single.
Asked how he felt when some quarters perceived Sufian’s move as opportunistic, he replies: “I can’t stop people from saying what they want to say. I wanted to make that date a significant date in my life.”
Sufian maintains the song has nothing to do with his break-up with Elfira, as it was written even before they got engaged.
Within a day of its release, Di Matamu’s music video hit two million views on YouTube. Last week, it edged out Aiman Tino’s Ku Rela Dibenci to become the most watched Malaysian music video, with over 50 million views.
While it definitely resonates with listeners, Sufian hopes it will hit a chord with the judges at the upcoming AJL finals. “All the finalists are strong, but personally, I think Misha Omar is my biggest competitor. Her song Sampai Bila is really good. It’ll be a good fight,” Sufian says.
He also talks about his penchant for churning out sad songs. “It’s easier to write sad songs compared to happy songs. Sad words tend to sound more poetic.”
After AJL, Sufian is looking at experimenting with a new sound. “My next single is going to sound slightly different from my current songs. It’s a love ballad but without the 1990s vibe. It’s very dreamy, pop and modern.”
As for finding love again, Sufian is embracing singlehood for now. “I feel calm and content,” he offers. “Marriage and starting a family are always on my mind, but I have a lot of other stuff I have to do. I’d like to focus on my music at the moment.”
The finals of Anugerah Juara Lagu will air live at 9pm on Feb 3 on TV3.