Sensational Siti

She’s conquered the Nusantara region with her ethnic-flavoured pop songs for 16 years, and even if she’s only 33, Siti Nurhaliza has earned her biography by History.

WHEN Malaysia had one of its numerous disputes over an island’s sovereignty in the South China Sea with Indonesia a few years ago, the verdict was damning from our neighbours. The iconic picture that many a tabloid carried showed a group of Indonesians holding up a placard that read, “Hapuskan Malaysia, selamatkan Siti” (Destroy Malaysia, save Siti).

The animosity between the two nations has always been apparent, but it was nice to know that there are some things both nations can agree on – Datuk Siti Nurhaliza Tarudin’s the bomb!

No single individual has galvanised the local music industry quite like her, not since the late Sudirman Hj Arshad, at least. And like the legendary showman of the 1980s, she also did it while being firmly rooted to her traditional and family values.

Datuk Siti Nurhalizacelebrates her 33thbirthday this comingWednesday, and this year’sevent is going to be thatmuch sweeter becauseHistory channel screensher life story in thebiography, Siti Nurhaliza.

Siti celebrates her 33th birthday this coming Wednesday, but this year’s event is going to be that much more special because television channel History will be screening the Temerloh-born singer’s life story in the biography, Siti Nurhaliza.

The Pahang-ite’s rise to fame in the 1990s is well-documented: She won her first noteworthy award at 16 – RTM’s Bintang Hiburan Minggu Ini in 1995 for the Ruth Sahanaya cover Kaula Segalanya; her debut single Jerat Percintaan, from her eponymous debut, won her the first of many Anugerah Juara Lagu awards (18, to date) beginning 1996, the water-shed year for the then 17-year-old; her performance on a global scale at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and consequently, her all-encompassing sweep of the Nusantara region.

Siti’s star has barely waned through her career, though in society’s eyes, she has made the odd “bad” decision. But to have a biography on her at the relatively young age is acceptance of this singer’s monumental achievements. During the programme’s recent launch, a relatively under-the-weather Siti still turned up for the fanfare ... with that effervescent golden smile in tow.

Struggling with her voice through the Q&A, she still played the genial interviewee by according the press a round of one-on-one interviews later in the afternoon, while sipping on a tall glass of that miracle cure ... air suam.

Having it premiere on her birthday was truly the icing on the cake, but there were a few other things that excited her when she was given a sneak preview of the documentary.

“My make-up artist’s comments were really heart-warming. Obviously I wasn’t with the interviewees when they were queried, so there was no way I was going to know if they were going to praise or ridicule me,” she said with a little laugh, explaining the little surprises she experienced when listening to the comments from people closest to her, such as composers Adnan Abu Hassan and Pak Ngah.

Even at her relatively young age, Siti is a veteran, and though she’s a little gobsmacked at being perhaps the youngest person to have a biog done on her, she should only look back at her illustrious career to remind herself of her ascent to fame.

“I guess I was chosen because of my artistry and my eventual road to success which began when I was 16. I was never well-educated, but I hope my life story will be a source of inspiration for youngsters out there, because ultimately, hard work and determination will pay off,” Siti professed.

Even when she talks about herself, Siti’s demeanour never comes across as righteous – there’s an air of confidence, yet she is also comfortably self-deprecatory when the need calls for it.

Despite all the accolades that have come her way, Siti singles out her performance at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 2005, as a career highlight.

“I’ve done quite a number of solo shows over the years … at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, in Brunei, but nothing beats the opportunity I got to sing at the Royal Albert Hall,” she revealed proudly. Though a large portion of the audience for that show comprised Malaysians living in Britain and ones who had travelled there specifically for the show, having the venue pencilled in her CV did her career no harm at all.

But resting on her laurels has never been a character trait associated with this small town girl, who grew up in a family of musicians. “After the London show, I realised there were more things I wanted to achieve. I think that’s how it is with most people – the more you do, the more you realise how little you’ve done. There’s no full stop to what I want to achieve,” said Siti, whose family band was called pretty much that, Family Group, led by her uncle Abdul Rahim Bachik. Her mother was also a singer while her grandfather played the violin.

Having grown up in a police barracks environment, her ambition was naturally to become a police officer, but fate had its own plans. “Given my family history, I suppose it was in my DNA to become a singer ... it was just a natural thing to do.”

The fourth of eight children in her family, Siti also has a singing brother (Saiful Bahri) and two singing sisters (Siti Norsaida and Siti Saerah). And like her siblings, Siti displayed her musical aptitude at a young age, singing Sirih Pinang, a traditional song, at her year-end kindergarten talent event. Lesser known facts about the singer include her athletics pursuits at Clifford primary and secondary schools in Kuala Lipis, Pahang.

Siti’s own input in the biography was minimal – she provided some interviews and pictures. Ultimately, it’s meant to tell her life story from the perspective of those closest to her, and some candid moments with TV personality and musician Najip Ali – who described her audition for talent search programme Asia Bagus when she was in her mid teens as a heart-warming scene – lend the biog a perspective which really captures Siti’s growth as an artiste.

“The biography reveals my life story, marriage (she is married to businessman Datuk Khalid Mohamad Jiwa), business ... basically the things that have made me the person I am today,” the singer shared. As the quintessential kampung dame and the essence of femininity, it’s staggering that Siti was, in fact, a tomboy as a kid, which she revealed graciously.

Just when it seemed that she’d achieved it all, Siti set herself a new challenge recently – to capture the western market, and Grammy ambitions aren’t far off. To do this though, there was the small problem of capturing the international market. Her ticket for that? An English album.

Like many other decisions in her life, this move has caused her detractors to raise an eyebrow or two, but she has persevered with All Your Love.

“I hope this album takes my career on a different trajectory. I’ve been singing for 16 years and it just seems like the right time to do something different. I wanted to do this three years ago but I guess I’m just glad it’s finally happened, at least.”

The album promotions are all that’s on her mind at the moment, but she’s just as excited as for the Malaysian public to catch her life story on the telly.

Gushed the pop princess: “I don’t really know how the whole thing is going to look like, so I am really excited to see how it’s turned out.”

Siti Nurhaliza premieres on Wednesday at 10pm on History (Astro Ch 555) and History HD (Astro Channel 575).