Singer Nora Ariffin knows it’s impossible to shield children from every negative influence they might come across but she is determined to do her best anyway.
And she is having a positive effect thanks to Ummi... Ceritalah Pada Kami (UCPK), a musical, 3D animated televsion series that tries to teach good, Islamic values.
The animated series, produced by family-owned Hud Hud Media Sdn Bhd, is also beginning to find a market in other countries. Twenty seven countries including Brunei, Singapore, Ghana, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Italy, Canada, Kazakhstan and Ukrainian have agreed to screen it soon.
Indonesia’s Global TV station will be the first foreign station to screen UPCK this month, after which it will be released in Italy and Kazakhstan.
“This means a lot to us because the idea was rejected earlier. We challenged ourselves to prove critics wrong. They felt an animated series with Islamic values would not be successful, “ said Nora, the founder and director of Hud Hud Media at the Ummi Xport event to announce the programme’s foray into foreign markets recently.
Her husband, renowned Malaysian composer Johan Nawawi, is the CEO of Hud Hud Media and the creator of UCPK.
UCPK, which first aired on TV3 two years ago and then on TV9’s Bananana slot since Jan 18 this year, appears to have got the formula right. The series features entertaining and inspiring songs for children sung by the main character Ummi and five other characters — Putri, Alif, Hana, Aiman and Atan — who spend time at a centre for children called Pondok Ummi.
All the songs are composed, produced and scored by Johan and sung by Nora and members of the Voices of Ummi group. One of their songs, Pedoman, recently bagged an award at the AIM music industry awards.
“I created Ummi because there is a lack of children’s programmes that educate and entertain. Ummi is the right platform for children to watch and appreciate stories taken from the Quran. Muslim children should be exposed to Islamic content like this,” said Nora, an award-winning singer many times over.
Hud Hud Media, which operates from its office in Section 14, Petaling Jaya, will soon produce the second season of UCPK, which will be ready next year.
When the couple introduced Ummi four years ago, they were groping in the dark trying to survive in the unfamiliar territory of TV animation.
“Animation was not our field of expertise. We initially thought it was going to be like the music industry. Our 25 years in the music industry coupled with a unique story concept like UCPK helped us a lot,” Nora said, adding that she sought advice from friends and advisers in the animation industry before she went ahead with Ummi.
“We managed to get a creative development grant from the Multimedia Development Corporation in mid-2010.
“We also approached the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry in 2009. After waiting six months and several meetings with MDeC, we finally got the go ahead,” said Nora.
During those trying times, Nora said they had to endure heartaches and were almost on the verge of giving up. But their passion, faith in God and the will to see Ummi becoming a reality, overcame the obstacles.
“Being a musician and singer in a family with little experience in animation, we strongly believed we have a good show in hand and we had to make it through somehow. So we attended crash courses.
Johan joined an animation master class and I signed up the scriptwriting master class, run by the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (Finas) in 2010.
”We learned to finalise scripts, dialogue, storyboard, the image of each character, select the right voice talent and train them,” said the 42-year-old singer who used her past theatre experience to guide and record the voice talent while Johan worked on the music for the theme and TV show.
“Initially, we were working with an experienced animation team but we couldn’t agree on certain areas so we parted ways, which cost us a lot of lost momentum. Then we got the late Jefri Sani, Berklee College Music graduate turned animator and CGI guru, to help us.
“We owe a lot to him. He made Ummi come to life and trained our animation team until we won the NEF Awani awards in 2010. He even taught us the ‘magic’ formula of how to make Ummi sell. His work is our reference until today,” said Nora.
But other hiccups such as insufficient resources and funds cropped up later. Thankfully, with help from friends, they managed to pull through.
Getting all 13 episodes off the ground was worth all the effort. Their first client was Media Prima Bhd.
The series then went on to receive high ratings from AC Nielsen in the Local Islamic Animation Content for Children category.
The company eventually managed to secure a Cradle Investment Programme grant to market and commercialise Ummi internationally. With help from Matrade, Finas, Futurist Foundation, the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (MyNEF), Creative Content Association of Malaysia (CCAM) and Farid Khaleeque of TV production house Nafalia Corporation Sdn Bhd, it was easier to market Ummi to the world.
“The idea of creating Ummi came to me after I donned the hijab and started attending Islamic classes. I created a doll called Ummi to epitomise a true Muslim woman who is wise, beautiful, calm, patient, knowledgeable, with motherly values who also sings very well,” said Nora, who will soon release another programme called Tales Of Wisdom, a three-minute, pop-up-book-styled animated series with English narration in October.
Nora chose the name Ummi because she was inspired by the name Umaira, an orphan who inherited the transit home Pondok Ummi. Ummi also means mother in Arabic.
Hud Hud Media’s long-term vision is to explore possibilities within the scope of Islamic compliant children’s content, entertainment and hopes to manage an Islamic TV channel for children one day.
“Ummi has the potential to be a successful global brand through merchandising, provided it is managed and marketed properly. This could happen if we get investors who understand the bigger picture and help bring us to the next level. We are still searching for the right partner and investor to work with us to develop more products related to Ummi brand; from food, drinks, clothing, games, toys and even services,” said Johan, who is also keen to produce animated movies one day.
Soon after Hari Raya, the Ummi character will be turned into a children’s magazine.
“We have finalised a few things with an established publisher and book distributor. We welcome publishers of Islamic or educational books interested to license our characters.
“Our inspiration comes from my beloved father, the late Nawawi Mahmood, former head of the Islamic Centre of Malaysia in the 1980s and former-rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia who made us understand that Islam as the way of life relevant to daily life,” said Johan.
The couple’s four children are following in their footsteps in terms of talent.
“Our children were born when we were in the music industry. As we get older, we realise that we should make them understand all material things are not permanent, so we created Ummi. It’s our gift to them. Thankfully, our children are gifted with musical talent without us teaching them.
“The eldest Mosyi is pursuing business studies at Inti College, Alif is in Form Three and Puteri Dahlia is 10 and she plays the piano and already making singing as her second career. Our youngest, Puteri Fatehah is only one-and-half year-old and she’s Ummi’s number one fan,” said Nora.