The two nightingales of the nation
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Saloma & Sharifah Aini
Today I am highlight a story that appeared in the Merdeka supplement of theSun newspaper in Aug 31, 2012. Here is the story
The two nightingales of the nation
The two nightingales of the nation
Biduanita Negara is the most prestigious title awarded to singers who have contributed immensely to the music industry and to the nation. The first singer to receive this honour was the popular Saloma in 1978. 28 years later, after Saloma’s death, Persatuan Penyanyi, Pemuzik, Penulis Lagu Tanah Air (Papita) honoured this title to the evergreen Sharifah Aini in 2006. Indeed, the two nightingales are our national treasures and this Merdeka, theSun’s BISSME S. pays a special tribute to them.
Saloma’s real name was Salmah Ismail. Born on Jan 23, 1935 in Singapore, Saloma harboured the ambition of becoming a singer from young.
“When we were children, she would always tell me: “I will become a famous singer and you a famous actress.”
“I asked her – ‘Why would you become a singer and I become an actress?’ She told me that I was fair and she was dark,” said Saloma’s elder sister, actress Mariani.
Saloma’s prediction became a reality. Mariani won a beauty pageant and was offered an opportunity to become an actress. Saloma made her mark as a singer. At the age of 13, Saloma was singing at weddings and festive events.At the age of 17, she was singing at the nightclub circuit and dabbled in acting. She also performed in Australia, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
One of her fondest memories with Saloma was when they were working with the Malay Film Productions (MFP). It was a Singaporean film studio, set up by the Shaw Brothers – Run Run Shaw and Run Me Shaw – in 1947, producing Malay films.
The sisters had a great time meeting and mingling with popular Hollywood actors – from sultry actress Eva Gardener to the great thriller director, Alfred Hitchcock, who visited Singapore as well as the MFP.
“I remember we helped Elizabeth Taylor to get dressed in a songket,” she said.
“John Wayne carried us in his arms when he took pictures with us. Marlon Brandon was checking out my sister from top to toe. My sister was then known as Singapore’s Marilyn Monroe.”
Mariani claimed that the sisters had never had any fierce arguments.
“When I was seven and Saloma was five, we had a big argument,” said 79-year-old Mariani.
“Our father was angry at us for quarrelling and tied us to a guava tree for hours. Ants were all over our legs.
“We suffered. Since then, we were so afraid to quarrel because we do not want our father to punish us again. Even as grown-ups with our father no longer around, we carried on with the tradition of not quarrelling with each other.”
In 1961, Saloma got married to the legendary multi-talented P. Ramlee. It was her third marriage.
“P. Ramlee and I were dating,” said Mariani.
“We were supposed to get married. But when I learned that my sister Saloma was in love with him, I sacrificed my love for her.”
P. Ramlee disliked the idea of Mariani becoming an actress. So Mariani went into acting and that was enough for P. Ramlee to end their relationship.
“But I have no regrets of giving him up,” she said.
“You can always find boyfriends and husbands but not sisters.”
She pointed out that P. Ramlee was the love of Saloma’s life and a part of Saloma died when P.Ramlee succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 44 in 1973.
“She (Saloma) always said to me – With him gone, I have no reason to continue living,” said Mariani.
“I had to comfort her and always encourage her to carry on with her life without Ramlee.”
Ten years later, on Apr 25, 1983, at the age 48, Saloma passed away due to liver failure associated with jaundice. She was buried next to P. Ramlee, as she had wished.
“After my sister died, for 20 years, I refused to listen to any of her songs,” said Mariani
“I refused to see any of her movies. I sent all her pictures to my daughter’s house. I did not want anything that reminded me of Saloma. Any memories of her would just bring tears to my eyes.”
Now that she has come to terms with her sister’s death, Mariani expressed sadness and disappointment that her sister’s contribution to the entertainment industry has been overlooked.
“Every year, the authorities will hold prayers (tahlil) for P. Ramlee on his death anniversary,” she said.
“But no one holds any kind of prayers for my sister on her death anniversary. She had contributed a lot to the entertainment industry.
“Till today, her songs are played in the radio. Saloma’s voice is very unique and cannot be imitated. Her voice is a gift from God.”
Mariani is nevertheless grateful to see the set up of Saloma Theatre Restaurant in 2001 to honour her sister’s contribution to the nation. Mariani’s daughter Melissa Saila, who is also an actress cum director, is in the midst of making a docu-drama that depicts the life of Saloma.
Titled ‘Hanya Saloma’, it will have eight episodes, half an hour each, which is likely to be aired in television next year.
“Most people only remember my aunt as the wife to P. Ramlee. But she was a star of her own right. Her life should be documented. She should not fade away,” said Melissa.
She remembers her aunt as an introvert, reserved and shy, unlike her mother who is an extrovert and loud.
Initially, Melissa wanted to make a four-part TV series that focussed on Saloma and her mother as two sisters making a name in the entertainment industry.
“Sorry to say I could not find the budget to make this TV series,” she said.
For Sharifah Aini, the road to success was not an easy one. Her childhood years in Johor Baru were filled with poverty. It was her grandparents who took care of her.
Her grandfather was only a taxi driver. To earn extra income for her household, she began working when she was seven years old.
“There were several jackfruit trees behind the house I lived in. When the trees bore fruits, I would sell them to the village folks. I was the youngest peddler in my village,” recalled Sharifah Aini.
She would also grind chillies into fine paste and earned RM1.50 for every two kilograms of ground chillies produced.
“My fingers suffered from handling too much chillies,” said Sharifah Aini, who will be celebrating her 45 years in the music industry next year. Her other source of income came from stitching Baju Kurung Johor, where she made RM2.50 for every dress.
At the age of seven, she braved herself to sing in front of the crowd at funfairs where her payment ranged between RM5 to RM10 and ten Satay sticks.
“Seven of us would be packed in a car like sardines and travel long distances from Johor Baru to funfairs in places as far as Pahang, Kelantan, Perlis, Kedah and Perak,” she said.
One thing she is truly grateful about her childhood years was that her grandparents had filled her life with love and care.
She remembered one occasion where her grandfather saved every penny so he could buy her a pair of red Bata shoes that she had desired. She also recalled one Hari Raya where her grandmother took three of her best baju kurung and trimmed them to Sharifah Aini’s size.
“They had given me so much love that I felt secured and I didn’t feel poor at all.”
Her big break came in 1967 when she entered a singing contest organized by Radio Television Singapore.
She bagged the second place and at the same time caught the attention of a recording company that offered her a recording contract.
Her first album, ‘Seri Dewi Malam’ released in 1968, became an instant hit. She was hardly 17 when fame came knocking at her door.
“I came to KL with only RM75 in my pocket and with the ambition to be someone successful,” she said.
One of Sharifah Aini’s idols that she really admires and wants to emulate is the popular TV host, Oprah Winfrey.
“Over the years she has helped a lot of people from the less fortunate in undeveloped countries to people in her own backyard,” she said.
Sharifah Aini, who has a son, takes care of over 2, 500 orphans. Over the years she has performed in countless shows where the profits have been chanelled to various charity organizations, especially orphanages.
“One advice I would like to give young artists out there is to be charitable and give back to the society,” she said.
“The peace you will feel is simply indescribable.”
When asked about some of the misconceptions people have about her, she said: “People like to think I am a diva who is difficult to work with. I have two maids who have been working with me for the last 20 years. I have a driver who has been with me for the last 28 years. If I am so difficult to work with, do you think they will stick with me for so long?”
Sharifah Aini, who had had two failed marriages, said that she is still open to finding the right companion.
“I want to grow old with a best friend,” she said.