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.
Our intent to trace and publish the music of notable Singaporean composers dates back to 1982 but work did not really start till around 1987. I 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.