Malaysian jazz-pop queen Sheila Majid’s music from past decades finds Gen Z audience
When Malaysian jazz-pop singer Sheila Majid performed at music festivals in Indonesia recently, she did not recognise many of the other acts on the bill.
But the 58-year-old’s teenage daughters were excited.
“My children said to me, ‘Wow, ma, you’re playing with so-and-so’, and I went, ‘Who are these people?’ That’s when I knew that these are young performers because my children know them,” she says in a Zoom interview.
Sheila’s songs, which include hits dating back to the 1980s, are seeing a resurgence among Gen Z fans.
“I’m from a totally different era, so I was surprised to see 15- and 16-year-olds jumping to Sinaran (Rays),” she says of her hit from her 1986 album Emosi (Emotion). She also discovered that DJs have been playing her songs at dance music festivals attended by young audiences.
Sheila’s fans of all ages in Singapore will get to watch her perform live at The Star Theatre on Oct 20. She last did a show here at the same venue in 2018.
This upcoming gig will be different from her previous concerts in Singapore, she promises, as her songs will be given a big band makeover, focusing more on the jazz elements in her music and less on pop.
The jazz orchestra backing her is made up of more than 20 musicians led by acclaimed Malaysian music director Mac Chew.
In March, she played a similar, big band-style show in Kuala Lumpur, her first major solo concert since the pandemic.
She followed it up with another big band gig in Sabah in August.
It feels good to be performing again after a long break due to the Covid-19 outbreak, she says.
Her calendar these days is packed, as she does regular corporate and private performances besides her large-scale concerts.
“During the pandemic, that was hard on us because the live entertainment industry was the last to open,” she recalls.
Sheila, who holds the title of Datuk in Malaysia, says that it was unfair that entertainment was seen as a non-essential industry when Covid-19 hit.
Many people turned to music and other forms of entertainment to cope, she points out.
“To me, you can’t call us non-essential because we were helping people to get by on a day-to-day basis. My husband and I did an Instagram live-stream performance every night to entertain people during those challenging days.”
She has two teenage daughters with her husband, music director Acis, and another daughter and son in their early 30s and late 20s respectively from a previous marriage to music producer Roslan Abdul Aziz.
The singer made her debut in 1985 when she released her first album Dimensi Baru (New Dimension), and acted as a college student in comedy-drama Ali Setan.
Her music soon became popular not just in Malaysia, but also in the region.
In 1987, she became the first non-Indonesian to win Best Female R&B Artist at Indonesia’s music awards show BASF.
In the 1990s, she became the first Malaysian singer to have her albums sold in Japan and to stage a solo concert at London’s West End in the Royalty Theatre.
Her music even inspired the 2015 movie Sinaran. The college-set musical, featuring a plot based loosely on her hit songs, was filmed in Singapore and starred award-winning Malaysian actress Lisa Surihani and Singaporean actress Nadiah M. Din.
Over the decades, Sheila has built up a dedicated fan base. It was her fans who helped finance the recording of her last album Boneka (Puppet), released in 2017.
“They don’t even want their money back, they don’t even want profits, they just wanted a new album. I have the best fans in the world,” she says.
But there are no plans to record another album for now.
“I have got to a point in my life where I’m not competing with anyone any more. I don’t do albums just because I need to win awards and things like that. Besides, when I do shows, people want to hear the old songs like Sinaran.”
Book it/Sheila Majid Big Band Live In Singapore 2023
Where: The Star Theatre, 04-01 The Star Performing Arts Centre, 1 Vista Exchange Green
When: Oct 20, 8pm
Admission: $68 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)