Datuk Sharifah Aini showed true dedication to her craft.
LEGENDARY singer Datuk Sharifah Aini Syed Jaafar was only 15 when she competed on Radio Television Singapore (RTS) singing competition back in 1968. Close friend and media veteran Aishah Ali still remembered the moment Sharifah went up on stage to perform Tiga Malam.
“She didn’t win the competition as she came in third. But they (EMI music executives) saw something in her,” said Aishah over a phone interview.
Under EMI Records, Johor-born Sharifah Aini released her debut EP Seri Dewi Malam in 1970. Her second EP Kekasih Pujaan followed and then in 1972, Sharifah won Best Entertainer at Anugerah Seri Angkasa.
She would later earn the distinction of winning the same category for five years in a row.
In 1976, Sharifah Aini made her silver screen debut alongside top Indonesian singer Broery Marantika in drama Hapuslah Airmatamu. Her songs from the film – Hapuslah Airmatamu and Seiring Sejalan, a duet with Broery – became some of her most memorable hits. A year later, she won the Best Actress award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival.
In an interview with The Star in 1999, Sharifah Aini revealed her secret to success.
“Hard work, determination and patience. I’m a person who has a lot of confidence and that’s such a great help,” the singer said.
True, as Sharifah Aini was anything but a wallflower. The singer certainly stood out in her trademark bouffant hairdo, glittery outfits, and then there was her alluring voice.
In the same interview, she also said that she was not afraid to sing in other genres. The singer who started out belting classical Malay music ventured into pop, traditional ethnic genre as well as released English albums.
She also recorded You, a single with local hip hop outfit Too Phat released in 2001.
“I sing all kinds of genre and I guess that gives extra mileage to my career. If I had stuck to one particular genre, I wouldn’t have lasted that long. And I don’t try to be someone else. You know there’s nothing like originality.”
Her love life was also much-talked about. In 1981, Sharifah Aini married concert organiser Ali Bakar. The marriage ended the following year.
Later, she married a businessman simply known as Datuk S. They divorced in 1998. Her only long-term relationship was arguably with EMI Records. In an interview to commemorate her 30th anniversary with EMI in 1999, she joked about this enduring relationship.
“I guess the secret lies in understanding and a lot of compromise. You know, just like marriage. Unfortunately, my own marriages never last. I guess I don’t sleep with EMI, that’s why we’ve lasted this long,” said Kak Pah, as she was affectionately known in the industry.
In a 2001 interview, Sharifah Aini talked about her dedication to her music.
“I listened to each new song with full attention. I’d play it again and again, understand the lyrics and try to visualise the song with humming, music or other accompaniment to enhance the song.”
She stayed true to this practice for decades as a recording artiste, earning a “fussy” reputation among music executives. But the chanteuse knew that good things come to those who wait. Her fans who were loyal knew that they were getting quality music.
“My fans are like my friends. I treasure them. They pay so much for my albums, so naturally they deserve the best and that’s what I strive to do. Selecting songs is like getting the right clothes to suit you. If they don’t fit, they’re not for you.”
The singer announced an unofficial retirement in 2003 – at the age of 50 – citing it was done for the best interest of her only son Aliff Omar Ali (from first marriage).
“Aliff, my only child and light of my life, left KL to attend university in Medina. He will return as a pendakwah, a scholar. As a religious teacher and Islamist, he will be under pressure if I continue singing publicly. I can just see people asking him, how can he be a pendakwah if his mum ‘masih berlompat di atas pentas’ (still jumping around on stage).”
The outspoken singer released her last album Timeless in 2006. In the same year, she was conferred the title Biduanita Negara (National Artiste) for her life-long contribution to the music scene.
On July 5, 61-year-old Sharifah Aini passed away due to complications from lung fibrosis. She was laid to rest at Bukit Kiara Muslim Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur.
Aishah said Sharifah Aini’s passing is truly a loss to the entertainment industry. Who else could lay claim to have recorded over 700 songs, released 93 albums and scored numerous awards? On top of that, the honour of Biduanita Negara.
“But you know what, I’ll always remember her for her humility. Back when I was a rookie journalist chasing big-time Sharifah Aini for quotes, I was surprised that she remembered me as her hometown girl,” Aishah said.