MALAYSIA lost one of its greatest music maestros in September last year, when Datuk Suhaimi Mohamad Zain a.k.a. Pak Ngah died at the age of 59 in Indonesia.
Widely mourned by singers of all genres, the musical "cikgu" (teacher), who was known for his creativity and fatherly demeanour, will be honoured with a special concert at Istana Budaya in November.
Pop queen Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza, Pak Ngah’s most famous collaborator, and Malaysia's popular singing duo Ernie Zakri and Syamel Fodzly will give their fans a colourful yet heartfelt musical treat.
The two-hour concert at 8.30pm on Nov 14 and 15 is titled Karya Agung Pak Ngah Datuk Suhaimi Mohamad Zain Bersama Orkes Tradisional Malaysia Dan Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza.
Besides Siti, Ernie and Syamel, it will also feature the celebrated Orkes Tradisional Malaysia which is based at the national theatre on Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur and popular Asli music singers Asmidar Ahmad and Rojer Rozaidy.
The orchestra will be led by its conductor and music director, Yazid Zakaria.
Each of the singers will perform seven songs, including duets and medleys created by the late legend.
Syamel said: "I never got to work with Pak Ngah but I've met him a few times and found him a wonderful person to talk to. Even though he was known to be a perfectionist, he had a good sense of humour and was down to earth."
Syamel met Pak Ngah a decade ago when he was still in college.
"Pak Ngah was one of the judges in a singing contest which I participated in. Even though I didn't win, he met me backstage and told me I had the potential to become a successful singer.
"He gave me some tips on how to improve my performances. The best of these was to 'go all out' and entertain fans. By this, he meant I should sing my heart out and also prepare a good musical presentation on the stage to capture the audience's attention."
As a "true blue Federal Territories kid", Syamel, 26, loves Pak Ngah's version of the Federal Territories state anthem Maju Dan Sejahtera which was launched by the then-Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Raja Nongchik Raja Zainal Abidin in 2011.
"The song pumps up our sense of patriotism. The previous version of Maju Dan Sejahtera by Datuk Wah Idris may be great too but Pak Ngah's was better."
Syamel’s dream was to appear in a fantasy musical produced by Pak Ngah but alas, the composer "left too soon".
"Nevertheless, this concert has several musical sketches from Pak Ngah's best known Istana Budaya musicals and I'll definitely get to sing, dance and act in them," he said, adding that it would be his first time dancing on stage in costume.
Syamel will sing Bidadari Jiwa, Cahaya and Kasih Kita. "These songs are duets with Ernie, Rojer, Siti and Asmidar. Bidadari Jiwa will be my only solo number."
When asked about his coming projects, Syamel said he will release a new pop song titled Curang complete with a “dramatic music video” on the same day as the concert.
"I'll be acting a lot more compared to my first music video Lebih Sempurna three years ago. There's a mystery actress in the video too!”
Ernie, 27, said that she, too, did not have a chance to collaborate with Pak Ngah but "admired him from afar".
"I'm always a fan of Asli songs, like those performed by Tok Ti (Siti) and Noraniza Idris. It's a dream come true to sing Pak Ngah's greatest hits, and it's great that I'll be acting in a few scenes from his musicals with Syamel, Rojer and Asmidar.
She describes the new concert as her "biggest show with Siti" to date and a "reunion" of sorts with Asmidar who was her senior in talent search Bintang RTM.
Asmidar won second prize in Bintang RTM 2001 while Erie won first prize in Bintang RTM 2009.
"Asmidar and I will sing one duet, while Syamel and I will have three," said Ernie, who will soon appear in the Astro Prima drama series Suri Katriana and record a Hari Raya song with Syamel.
When asked about the drama, Ernie said it was the story of a psychotic dancer and singer who suffered from physical and mental abuse and became a "diva from hell".
"It's my most challenging role to date. I've had to laugh and cry in a flash. I've got to be a bit like Batman's nemesis the Joker and Harley Quinn, though not as crazy and colourful," she said, adding that the director Pali Yahaya guided her patiently.
"It's got a stellar cast of A-list stars such as Nadiya Nisaa, Zul Huzaimy, Hasnol Rahmat, and Aishah Azman. It's my first time working with them, and I'm delighted that they're such nice people."
Suri Katriana was filmed over the last month and it will be completed by the end of this week.
Ernie and the rest of the cast spent three days in Phuket two weeks ago for one of the scenes.
CHAMPION ASLI MUSIC
Asmidar, 33, said Pak Ngah had always been her "cikgu" in music and was always a gentleman.
"Yes, he pushed me hard but he never scolded me. I've learnt a lot about singing and performing from him, and I'll miss him."
Rojer, who is a protege of Pak Ngah, said he had to be in the concert since it was the best way to honour his master.
"Pak Ngah lives on in all his songs and musicals. He always told me that we should strive to put Asli music on the map and popularise it around the country and region," he said.
Siti, who is marking her return to Istana Budaya since becoming a mother, said Pak Ngah was her "greatest teacher" whose kindly guidance made her "soar to great heights".
"He taught me how to excel in traditional Malay pop music, and I'll always be grateful to him for that," she said, adding that the late composer encouraged her to "champion Asli music".
Pak Ngah, who hailed from Kampung Baru in Kuala Lumpur, composed and produced dozens of songs for popular singers. Besides Siti, he also worked with Noraniza and Syura.
He produced seven albums for Siti, four albums for Noraniza and one collaborative album featuring Siti and Noraniza titled Seri Balas.
His best known song, which he composed for Siti, was Cindai in 1998. It took home the Best Song award at Anugerah Juara Lagu 13 in 1998.
The concert is produced by his company Pak Ngah Productions with the cooperation of Istana Budaya.
Istana Budaya director-general Datuk Juhari Shaarani said the orchestra will be presenting two instrumental works by Pak Ngah titled Ala Dondeng and Geetha Gangsa which make full use of the gamelan.
"These works were first presented at Malaysia Night in the 50th Asian Film Festival last year," he said.
There will be four medleys from plays staged at Istana Budaya which were composed by Pak Ngah.
The first is a medley of the songs Cahaya, Love Scene and Terbang Bersama from the musicals Rubiah, Cinduo Mato and Aladdin.
The second is Kasih Kita from the musical Teater Hang Li Po.
The third is a medley of Embun Menitik and Laksamana Raja Di Laut from the musical Sirih Bertepuk Pinang Menari.
The fourth is a medley of Di Taman, Ampun Tuanku, Sulam Sembilan and Dikir Puteri from the musicals Teater Siti Zubaidah and Cindai.
Juhari said that Siti will sing Nirmala, Balqis, Bergending Dang Gong, Ya Maulai, Kurik Kundi and Cindai.
"The concert is a tribute to a Malaysian legend. We initially planned to invite as many veteran singers as possible. Unfortunately, some could not make it.
"Nevertheless it is great that Siti is the star of the evening since she is Pak Ngah's best-known protege and the country's No.1 singer," he said, adding that Siti will also share interesting stories about her experiences with Pak Ngah.
The concert was launched at the national theatre on Oct 3 by Juhari. Also present were Siti, Ernie, Syamel, Asmidar, Rojer and Yazid.
Tickets are priced from RM86 to RM446.