Kassim Masdor, composer of classic P. Ramlee songs, will be remembered for his creative versatility and prolific music output.
VETERAN Malay music composer and musician Kassim Masdor, a prolific artist best known for the music in many classic Malay films, died of pneumonia at Singapore General Hospital on Tuesday night. He was 76.
Starting from the 1950s, Kassim had written more than 400 songs, many of which have become evergreen hits sung by many classic Malay singers such as Saloma, Ahmad Jais, Ahmad Daud, Kartina Dahari, Salamiah Hassan and Sharifah Aini.
About 200 of them were collaborations with Cultural Medallion winner Yusnor Ef, who would write the lyrics to Kassim’s melodies and arrangements.
Speaking at the wake, Yusnor, 76, said that he is saddened by the loss of an “old friend”, whom he first collaborated with in 1959 on Kasih Sepanjang Masa (Love For All Time), sang by Fazidah Joned.
“To me, he is a great composer, second only to P. Ramlee. When he works on a song, he is never concerned about boosting his own popularity or how much money his songs will bring him. It is more important to him that his songs touch the listener’s soul.”
According to Yusnor – president of Perkamus, the Association of Malay Singers, Composers and Professional Musicians – Kassim called him on Monday morning and asked him to “look after” the legacy of his songs. When Yusnor visited him at the hospital later in the afternoon, his friend’s condition had worsened and was unable to speak.
At the wake held at Choa Chu Kang in Singapore, Kassim’s eldest daughter Kamisah Kassim said that his death came as a shock to the family as her father had always been healthy.
Up until the end of last year, the man best known for collaborating with Malay entertainment icon Tan Sri P. Ramlee, was still travelling between Singapore and Malaysia, where he performed at shows and was a frequent guest music lecturer at the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara) in Kuala Lumpur.
In December, he was briefly hospitalised in Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore because of asthma complications.
About two weeks ago, he was hospitalised again at Singapore General Hospital, where his condition took a turn for the worse.
By Monday afternoon, Kamisah said that the doctors had told her to gather his family. According to her, all of his five children, 18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren from his two previous marriages in the 1960s and 1970s were with him when he passed away. She added that her father was “a very independent person” who insisted on living alone in a Toa Payoh flat.
Born in Singapore in 1938, Kassim joined Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Productions as a clerk when he was 14 and subsequently learnt to play instruments including the piano, guitar and xylophone. P. Ramlee took him under his wing and taught him how to compose and arrange music.
After Malay Film Productions closed down, Kassim joined major record label EMI and produced, composed and arranged songs in more than 60 albums.
His last major performance in Singapore was at Sayang Di Sayang, the tribute concert to keroncong queen Kartina Dahari at the Esplanade Concert Hall in September last year, where he played piano.
In his long career, Kassim picked up several awards, including the Anugerah Seri Temasek in 2011, a Meritorious Award from the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) in 1998, a Best Song award at the 1982 Malaysian Film Festival for his work in horror-comedy Setinggan (1981), and the Seniman Tamu Negara (National Guest Artiste) award in Malaysia last year.
Edmund Lam, 54, chief executive and director of Compass, said at the wake that Kassim’s death was a big loss to the local music fraternity.
“He is probably one of the most prolific Malay composers in Singapore. He has written so many evergreen songs that are still regularly broadcast in Singapore and Malaysia. His repertoire will be an important part of our music heritage.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network