Zubir Said: His Songs

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Everyone loves the romance of discovering a long-lost person or item but I’ve always felt that we should be proactive in our documentation and archiving initiatives. Do it! before too much is forgotten or lost.

There were on-going efforts to collect and promote popular Singapore songs. This was paralleled by our earnestness to trace and publish the music of notable Singaporean composers. Eventually, we managed to publish a book about our national anthem composer, Zubir Said but did not succeed in publishing the music of the late Charles Lazaroo and Tsao Chieh.

With support from the Singapore Cultural Foundation, we approached Berita Harian to sponsor the Zubir Said book project in 1987. Former Editor, Berita Harian Zainul Abidin Rasheed (who is now Minister of State for Foreign Affairs) who was then a member of the Foundation’s Management Committee, agreed to support the project, setting us on our way. Not only did Berita Harian support the project with cash, they also extended the services of their Deputy Editor Hawazi Daipi and journalist Mardiana Abu Bakar.

Hawazi and I co-chaired the Zubir Said Project Committee and we roped in musicians the late Ahmad Jafaar and Joseph Peters, Mrs Toh-Chua Foo Yong (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) and representatives from the Oral History Department and National Archives.  We each had our respective roles to play– The musicians would research, select and score the songs of the composer while Oral History’s Dr Daniel Chew would write the story of the National Anthem.  Hawazi chaired the Editorial Committee while Puan Sri Datin Dr Rohana Zubir-Hamid, the daughter of Park Zubir would pen a chapter on her father. I had the pleasure of pulling the project together.

Our two-and-a-half year search including appeals to the public for tapes and records, yielded over 118 songs and we selected 45 for publication. Daniel interviewed Dr Toh Chin Chye, Mr Lee Khoon Choy, Mr Paul Abisheganaden and Yap Yan Hong, the former Superintendent of the Victoria Theatre to piece together the story of the National Anthem.

“Zubir Said: His Songs” was launched on 3 March 1990 by Minister of State for Community Development Dr Seet Ai Mee. With the help of Pak Zubir’s prize student Iskander Ismail, we arranged for veteran singer Kartina Dahari to sing his song “Sayang di Sayang” at the launch.  Her rendering of the song together with Rohana’s heartfelt tribute to her father, brought many tears to the eyes of family and friends present.  A Zubir Said Scholarship Fund was also launched during the Ceremony for the benefit of young musicians.

Rohana lived in Kuala Lumpur and I updated her on the project whenever she visited her family.  Upon her father’s demise, Rohana offered to donate her father’s personal effects to our National Museum (his attire, pipe, anklong sets, medals) if there was intent to create a Zubir Said Gallery.   Unfortunately, the National Museum was not ready to give such a commitment but in the hope that this would come to fruition in the near future, I secured funds from the Foundation to purchase a new piano for the family in exchange for Pak Zubir’s piano.  The piano was hoisted out of the window of the second level flat as the stairs were too narrow, and brought to the Museum store. Years later when I was working on the Esplanade, I enquired about the piano hoping to place it in a “Zubir Said Studio”.  I was told that piano was in disrepair.

I sometimes wonder what became of Pak Zubir’s personal belongings.  I hope somehow, they find their way back to our Malay Heritage Museum or National Museum.

25 thoughts on “Zubir Said: His Songs

  1. Great article, thanks. Could you something on Kartina Dahari who was recently honoured by Singapore’s Pressident on 29 Feb 2009 with the Perdana Emas Award. Her songs are great legacies that the young generation should be made aware of.

  2. Thank you for your feedback. I have very warm / fond memories of watching Kartina Dahari on local TV and fully agree with you.
    Let’s hope our National Arts Council, National Heritage Board or other relevant agencies will publish the works of other Singapore composers.

  3. Hi Ms Lim,

    I’m doing some research on old Raya songs and found out that Zubir Said had written a popular song, “Aidilfitri” in the 1950s. Do you mind dropping me an e-mail so I can explain the details? Thank you very much!

  4. Dear Juliana,

    I have been following up on the development of the late Zubir Said, has also given a talk about his song, Majulah Singapura at the National Library.

    Presently, I am working at the National Heritage Board and Esplanade is keen to work out something on all his songs.

    Could you please email me, if possible, Dr Rohana’s latest email or contact no?


  5. Hi Juliana,
    You have a great blog. Very informative and interesting. I read it while searching for articles on Charles Lazaroo. Not much about him. If you do have some, please assist as I’d like to do a longer posting on him.


  6. Hello, Andy, Glad you enjoyed the read. I first got to know Charles Lazaroo when as a student, I went to the ECAC Northumberland Road every Sat to practise with the SYC. Charles chaired the Instrumental Music Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Culture in the earlier 80s when I was responsible for music promotion programmes. He was a jovial man with a practical approach to the challenges we faced. He was fun to work, always smiling and we were all terribly shocked and sad to lose him so soon and so suddenly. Please do keep me informed of how your research is doing and if my former colleagues or I can help, please let us know. All the best!!!- Juliana

  7. Hello Juliana, are you Juliana Chua? Would love to hear from you. I am writing my father’s biography.

  8. Happy Update – Pak Zubir’s 100-year old Strohmenger grand piano is on display at the National Museum’s exhibition “Singapore 1960s” until 22 August 2010. Let’s hope it finds its way eventually to a dedicated Zubir Said exhibition. Some of Pak’s personal effects are also in the collection of the Malay Heritage Centre.

  9. Dear Juliana,
    I am a freelance researcher/writer working on a project about the history of music in Singapore and would like to know where your book on Zubir Said is available for loan/purchase. It sounds like a very strong tribute, and I totally respect your commitment to doing it. I am keen to learn more about Pak Zubir’s life and esp abt the anthem. Thank you and hope to hear from you soon….warm regards.

  10. Hi, Audrey, Glad we connected to find that we’re both Marymounters and “family friends” through our sisters. ” Zubir Said: His Songs” had a small print-run and the book’s no longer on sale. You can find copies in the National Library. I also recall that we presented copies to our schools. Enjoy!

  11. Hi Juliana, I was doing some research about Pak Zubir Said and came to your website. There is a section at the reopened Malay Heritage Centre that features a glimpse into Pak Zubir Said’s life. The said piano is also on display together with some of his musical scores. Cheers!

  12. That’s great news, Johnny! Thanks for sharing. Some things take awhile but are worth waiting for. Btw, the family has confirmed that the piano was donated in the late 80s and not in the 60s as one museum label erroneously indicated. The legs of the piano were dismantled and the piano eased down the stairs of their home at 190A Joo Chiat Terrace. If you’re blogging about your MHC visit, please share it. Thanks again – Juliana

  13. Hi, I’m Mahan from Eyecon Productions. We are doing a documentary about Zubir Said. It’s for Okto’s My Grandfather’s Road series. I’m hoping that you will grant us an interview. Can I call you to discuss the details of the show? Thanks.

  14. Hi Juliana! I’m Jayne from Bell Pottinger. We would like to do a project about Zubir Said. I’m hoping that we can contact you to discuss some things about Zubir Said?

    Thanks! Jayne

  15. Hi Juliana,

    My name is Nadira and I am from a business radio station called BFM 89.9 over here in Malaysia (You can find us here: http://www.bfm.com)

    I was hoping that we could get in touch and maybe have an interview with you regarding Zubir Said, for one of the programs we’ll be doing. If you could just drop me an email, I will further elaborate everything to you.

    Thank you so much. Hope to hear a favourable response from you

    Best regards,

  16. Thank you for writing, Nadira. As emailed, I do not know the story of the Malaysian National Anthem but Dr Rohana Zubir has kindly agreed to speak with you n I wish you two ladies a pleasant conversation of discovery. Best with your project! Juliana

  17. Dear Juliana,

    I am very much elated to have stumbled on your blog! My name is Aloysius, a final year student at NUS doing a thesis on the history of national day songs in Singapore. If possible, I would like very much to speak to you about your involvement in the early 1980s “Songs of Singapore” Committee – an attempt to collect and popularize Singaporean songs together with Dr Bernard Tan Tiong under the auspices of the Ministriy of Culture and the Singapore Cultural Foundation. (newspaper article: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19830112-1.2.25.aspx)

    If I could trouble you to dop me an email, I will be happy to provide more details.

    Thank You and Happy Holidays!

    PS: As a side note, thank you for such a wonderful blog on the history of arts management in Singapore, it is insightful as much as it is informative and i thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  18. Hi Juliana,
    I’m from marshall cavendish education. We wish to use the lyrics in the malay textbook, activity book and teachers’ guide in the primary 4B books. Could you help link me to Dr Rohana pls?
    These books will be used in all govt primary schools in singapore, being co-published with ministry of education.
    Thanks in advance!


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