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DATUK Zainalabidin is a social activist at heart. He sings of environmentalism, peace and national unity in his hit songs like Hijau, Damai and Satu respectively.

His concerts also raise funds for underprivileged children’s homes and education for the less fortunate. And now, Zainalabidin has come up with his most ambitious project in regional entertainment.

He is one of 50 veteran musicians from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia who have set up a foundation to help budding talents achieve their dreams in singing, songwriting and composing.

The foundation, Seniman Limited, was registered and incorporated in Singapore early this year, and besides Zainalabidin, its co-founders have included his longtime collaborators, musicians Mac Chew and Jenny Chin of the Ikhlas Tapi Jauh concert fame, and Indonesian musicians Erwin Gutawa and Iwan Fals.


“Seniman Limited is dedicated to aiding the musicians and entertainers of the future. It gives out loans to young, promising talents who want to pursue higher education in music, and also organises showcases that specially promotes them,” said Zainalabidin at the launch of his song, Ayuhlah, the theme song of the coming film Suatu Ketika, at Red Box Karaoke in The Gardens, Kuala Lumpur last Aug 2.

“Our emphasis is on talents from low-income backgrounds. There are many of them in Asean countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia who are very deserving of opportunities to soar in music but do not have the resources to do so. Here is where we come in.”

Seniman Limited, he said, has also set up its own record label, Seniman Records, and was in the midst of establishing a music academy called the Seniman Academy in Jakarta, Indonesia, where established musicians would mentor promising newcomers in various music genres.

“If all goes well, the academy will be up and running by the end of next year. Also in the pipeline is a reality talent show to discover new groups and solo singers from all three countries. It is something like GangStarz which was screened a decade ago,” said Zainalabidin.

“This show offers S$1 million (RM3 million) to the winner or winning team, specially for them to further their studies in music and take their talents to the next level. Auditions will be conducted on YouTube as well as on the ground, and it will be produced and broadcast by us for Singapore television.”


When asked about his new song, Zainalabidin said he chose to write it because he was impressed with Suatu Ketika, a film about national unity and the struggle for independence.

“Ayuhlah is an anthem about motivating oneself to soar in life. Suatu Ketika is an inspirational film about multi-racial kampung boys who are coached in football by two dedicated teachers, and they end up playing against an elite boarding school’s team whose members are all British,” he said.

“It is set in the 1950s, in the years before Merdeka, and I’ve always loved films like these which celebrate the spirit of Bangsa Malaysia amongst the common folk.”

He likened Suatu Ketikato the inspirationalOla Bola, which he watched with his family. He also named the late filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad’s masterpieces on national unity and human values such as Sepet and Gubra.

Zainalabidin, who is not a football fan, was impressed by Suatu Ketika director Prakash Murugiah’s script, and roped in an old friend, composer Michael Veerapen, to help him with


“Prakash is a fantastic director, he has a great eye for detail and he loves telling stories of ordinary Malaysians who are our unsung heroes of Merdeka, such as these teachers and students who beat a ‘colonial’ football team and gave Malaysians a strong incentive to fight for independence.”

Zainalabidin, who loves historical films about Malaysia, said it was his first film soundtrack since 1999, when he performed Kau Di Hatiku (the Malay version of Phil Collins’ song You’ll Be In My Heart for the Disney animated film Tarzan).

“It’s the third time I’m singing the theme song for a film, and it’s my first live action film. Before Tarzan, I sang the theme song for another animated film, Silat Lagenda, in 1998.”

Zainalabidin hopes to sing more theme songs for local films, especially those with inspirational storylines. “I recorded Ayuhlah early this year, and it took me a day to wrap things up. It’s a very powerful anthem and I am confident it will be a hit with music lovers since its message of fighting for things we believe in resonates with all Malaysians.”

Did Prakash offer Zainalabidin a cameo role in Suatu Ketika?

“No, I’m just not an actor. My good friend Datuk Afdlin Shauki did invite me to play a minor character in one of his films but I was not confident of myself and turned it down,” he said.

“If a good friend successfully persuades me to change my mind one day, however, it would be great. But then I’m a picky person who imposes several conditions — no topless shots, no creepy villains, and an emphasis on kind-hearted funny men.”


The official soundtrack of Suatu Ketika also has a new single by singer-songwriter Takahara Suiko of The Venopian Solitude fame. As part of her new musical project Viona, Takahara performs her newest composition, Senja, which talks about the determination of youngsters to work hard for their dreams.

Suatu Ketika, which stars Pekin Ibrahim and Nam Ron (Shahili Abdan), opens in cinemas nationwide on Sept 12.

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