I am fascinated with Bamboo. It is Nature’s gift to mankind because it is versatile and durable. Dr.Kamsiah and I plant bamboo in our home, no. 26, Jalan SS22/39, Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya to enrich our environment and attract the birds.
Have a good weekend.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican
The country singer Glen Campbell passed away on Tuesday afternoon (August 8), following a difficult six-year bout with Alzheimer’s disease. He was eighty-one, and is survived by his wife and eight children. Campbell is probably best known for “Rhinestone Cowboy,” a song he recorded in 1975, though he released sixty full-length studio albums over the course of a fifty-year career, sending some eighty-two singles up the Billboard charts, which makes it feel foolish to reduce his discography now, to divine some quintessential text. He sang in a clear, slightly pinched voice that was particularly well-suited to songs of compromise—anything that betrayed all the strange negotiations we allow in order to move deeper into the lives we want: “There’s been a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon, but I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me.”
Campbell was born in 1936, near Billstown, Arkansas, the seventh son of a sharecropper. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958, when he was twenty-two, and found work as a session guitarist—that’s Campbell doing those soft little strums on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” and playing the charged, galloping riff that opens the Monkees’ “Mary, Mary.” He briefly joined the instrumental rock group the Champs, who’d had some success, in 1958, with “Tequila,” still one of the best encapsulations of the portentous elation brought on by ice-cold margaritas. But Campbell wanted to lead his own band. In the early nineteen-sixties, he fell in step with the drummer Hal Blaine and the keyboardist Leon Russell; they assumed some outlaw bluster and called themselves the Wrecking Crew. Campbell signed a deal with Capitol Records in 1962, though it wasn’t until 1967, when he, Blaine, and Russell recorded a cover of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” that he had his first hit single. It’s a wistful song about freedom, memory, and the (perhaps dubious) idea that if you truly love something, you shouldn’t ask anything of it—especially not monogamy. (In 1980, after Campbell’s third divorce, he told an interviewer, “Perhaps I’ve found the secret for an unhappy private life. Every three years I go and marry a girl who doesn’t love me, and then she proceeds to take all my money.”)
Campbell had an easy air about him, though. He appeared courteous in an old-fashioned way, yet still vaguely mischievous, as if he might call you ma’am but would wink at you as you left the room. At the end of the sixties, Campbell starred in two films based on novels by Charles Portis: “True Grit,” in 1969, and “Norwood,” in 1970. He’s a sweet, beguiling presence onscreen—demure and Southern, even when he’s casually plonking his spurs down on the dinner table or calling one of his companions “a squirrel-headed bastard.” More musical hits followed: “Wichita Lineman,” in 1968, “Galveston,” in 1969, “Southern Nights,” in 1977. He hosted his own variety show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” which débuted on CBS in January, 1969. Surveying his successes, one gets the sense that careers like this don’t happen anymore, or at least not in the same way. To trust a singer to carry you through several decades—stretches as musically and politically diverse as the sixties into the seventies into the eighties and nineties—requires a particular kind of allegiance. Campbell may not have demanded it, but he received it.
Campbell continued recording even after his diagnosis. There is a dark humor to the later work—he titled his final album, released this past June, “Adios” (it was preceded by a so-called “Goodbye Tour”). His dexterity with a guitar—he is an agile, artful picker—never seemed to wane. Nor did his voice. His cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin,” which he recorded in late 2012, is remarkably nimble.
I met Campbell once, at the Nashville airport. All of my belongings (including my laptop, which contained an early and otherwise unsaved draft of a magazine feature I’d spent months reporting) had recently been stolen from my rental car. It was parked in a garage downtown; one of its rear windows had been smashed in with a rock. During the ensuing hubbub—phoning the cops, explaining the compromised state of my Kia Sephia to the rental-car agency—my flight back to New York City had departed without me. I was consoling myself by drinking a great deal of beer at an outpost of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the famed Broadway honky-tonk. This must have been in 2009. I looked up and saw Campbell wandering around with his wife, Kim Woolen. (They’d met on a blind date—he took her to dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, with his parents, and then to a James Taylor concert.) Campbell hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s yet, not in any official capacity, but it was clear, even then, that he wasn’t quite himself—that certain ideas or bits of language were receding, drifting out of reach, like paper boats fluttering across a pond.
I approached and brazenly asked for a photograph—I suppose I felt like I had little left to lose in Nashville that afternoon. They were so gracious. You know, it wasn’t that bad, losing my stuff and missing my flight. There would be more stuff, more flights. He threw a big arm around me and we grinned.
This hotel pianist once wrote songs for Sudirman and toured with P. Ramlee. Jon Chew tells his extraordinary story.
At three o’clock, Tuesdays to Sundays, underneath the gold-leaf dome roof of the grand five-star Hotel Majestic in Kuala Lumpur, a man hunches over a black Yamaha piano. He wears a bow tie, a white jacket, and a hearing aid on his left ear. Slowly, he takes out a small turquoise clock, and leaves it on the left-hand ledge. He places a file of loose sheet music next to him. He takes a pause. Then, he begins to play.
He doesn’t smile. His fingers dance on a white ivory floor, born again like a young ballerina’s joy at touching the ground with the tip of her toes. He starts with “Moon River”, segues into “Top of the World”, then flows into the classic “As Time Goes By”. He is 75 years old.
For 45 minutes, history’s greatest pop songs are seamlessly twisted in the pianist’s hands. Still, no smile.
The Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Hotel Majestic —which first opened its doors in 1932, and relaunched in December, 2012 to much fanfare—is a building that doubles as a treasure trove of Malaysian history. Former patrons claim the Allied forces of World War II conspired within the walls of this hotel; the inaugural meeting of the Independence of the Malaya Party, held by Datuk Onn Jaafar, took place here in 1951.
Dato’ Ooi with Tan Sri P. Ramlee, both are from Penang
Today, as every day, guests are spending a cloudy afternoon basking in the Majestic’s colonial luxury. A group of girls eat scones on embroidered sofas. Some aunties chatter while sipping the house-blended Boh Cameronian tea. Waiters decked in white jackets walk around in brisk fashion. The only constant is the sound of music that floats in the air, the last thing anyone would remember.
Yet, unbeknownst to everyone present in this room, the old man hunched over the piano is Ooi Eow Jin. 38 years ago, Ooi Eow Jin (known to hotel staff as Uncle Ooi) was one of the music industry’s most sought-after composers.
It was Ooi who once toured with P. Ramlee, who conducted the most lauded orchestra in the land, and who wrote the first song ever recorded in a studio by a revered Malaysian singer: Sudirman.
Ooi will always have a love affair with hotels. In 1960, he became one of the first resident pianists at the E&O Hotel in Penang, and entertained guests every night in their lounges for three years. On one of these nights, Alfonso Soliano, a jazz hero, music arranger and the founder of the seminal RTM Orchestra, came to the hotel for drinks.
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang
“It was at that place when he first heard me,” says Ooi as we sit at a corner of the Majestic before his session. His voice is brittle, strung-out. His thoughts jump between past and present. Sometimes he stops, and leans forwards to ask you to repeat your question. He wonders why we’re sitting here in conversation.
Well, you have an interesting life.
“I don’t know what is there to write about me,” he says, words rattling gently inside a soft, time-worn box. “I’ve been doing this for too long.”
But of the details on the night that changed his life, his memory is still as clear as a full moon. “I was playing that night, and he heard me,” he recalls. “He got interested, started asking questions about me with his friends. After I played, he got a hold of me personally and asked, ‘Why don’t you come to KL and play with the Orchestra?”
“Those days, the RTM Orchestra was the biggest thing to happen to music.”
This was a big deal. Soliano had moved from his part-time job playing keyboards at nightclubs to starting an orchestra at then-Radio Malaya in 1957. When television broadcasting was introduced in 1963, the RTM Orchestra became one of the most widely-watched music acts in the country.
It was a fork-in-the-road moment for the then-24 year old Ooi, and he left his day job as a government clerk and took the risk of moving to the capital. “Imagine people saying, ‘You are crazy. You’ve got a full-time salaried government job, and you’re leaving it for a contract job.’” He wags his finger, reminding you that one generation will always admonish another for choosing uncertainty over certainty. “But that was my calling. I couldn’t be a clerk if there was something like this in front of you. Those days, the Orchestra was the biggest thing to happen to music.”
Radio Malaya Band with Alfonso Soliano in the early 1960s
Ooi would spend the next 17 years in the RTM Orchestra. “It was a great experience playing all kinds of music. To have the orchestra there, that’s something, you know? That… that really took my heart away.” Soliano would groom Ooi to become the orchestra’s senior arranger, giving him opportunities to conduct concerts, and teaching him how to compose a piece of music. “He guided me. He wanted me to depend on my ears. ‘What you hear, you play’, he would tell me.’”
Ooi’s career would soon intersect with another artiste looking for his own break in life. In 1976, a young singer with a songbird’s voice by the name of Sudirman Arshad took part in a nascent reality show called Bintang RTM. In the final round, Ooi arranged a Broadway medley that would help Sudirman win the competition. “I used two songs. One of them was ‘Cabaret’, and the other was ‘Big Spender’. I arranged those two songs for him, and he got first prize because of that.”
The two became friends, and Ooi wrote the first song Sudirman ever recorded inside a studio, a soulful number titled “Teriring Doa”. History tells us that Sudirman would become an Asian phenomenon, pulling in 100,000 people in a Chow Kit Road open air concert, tabbed as “Malaysia’s Number One Entertainer”.
The Legend –Sudirman Haji Arshad
Ooi wrote the first song Sudirman ever recorded inside a studio, a soulful number titled “Teriring Doa”.
“One thing I know of Sudirman is that he is a very, very humble man, a very nice person to know,” Ooi says. “Every time he meets me, when he was famous, he would say, “Mister Eow Jin, I can never forget you for what you’ve done for me. Imagine someone like that saying like that about you.” He looks down, humbled by the power of a sincere compliment. “It makes your heart melt.”
Ooi gets up from his seat, and returns soon after with a CD in his hand. It is a compilation of twenty compositions, a greatest-hits collection he gives out to friends. It’s part of a personal canon that encompasses over 60 Malay pop songs, a nostalgic walk-through of the local music industry’s heyday.
Singing Sensation Dahlan Zainuddin
He penned the weepy hit “Masa Berlalu” for singer Salamiah Hassan, the mother of current jazz singer Atilia; other singles include Dahlan Zainuddin’s “Lagu Untukmu”and Yunizar Hoessein’s “Kisah Gadis Sepi”. He wrote the entire soundscape for Yassin Salleh’s blockbuster film Dia Ibukuin 1981, along with the theme song sung by the popular M. Nasir. He would rub shoulders with industry luminaries that spanned the entire region; names like Gigi Villa, the Alleycats and Frances Yip all sought out Ooi’s ability to twist an American ballad sound around a Malaysian tongue.
“I have something that will knock you down.” He takes out a photograph, and lays it on the table. It is a black-and-white snapshot of a boyish, bespectacled Ooi wearing an army uniform. He is standing next to P. Ramlee on the shores of Sebatik Island off Tawau.
Industry luminaries sought out Ooi’s ability to twist an American ballad sound around a Malaysian tongue.
Ooi played for the Malaysian legend during a tour of 21 army barracks in Borneo in 1965, bringing A-class entertainment to the armed forces. “We were quite near the Indonesian camps, and we could hear gunfire sometimes, at a distance… A few of us would fly in on helicopters into these camps, and we would do on-the-spot performances for the soldiers.”
By any generation’s estimation, this is unquantified success. But as Ooi deep-dives through his past, something escapes his grasp like grains of sand. For all the credits, his name rarely comes up in any historical tome of Malaysian music.
When asked about his success, Ooi pinches the skin of his wrist. “I am the only one amongst so many Malay composers. I was the first non-Malay composer to write Malay songs for films,” he says. “There is something, when I tell you, you’ll feel a bit sad. You know FINAS [National Film Development Corporation Malaysia]? I won the prize for best theme music for one movie, you know? After they announced the prize for best theme song for the movie, you what came out in the papers the next day? Nothing came out.”
His voice becomes unsteady. “You devote so much to this, and you get nothing out of it. Just because of…” And he pinches his skin again.
Older guests who come to the Majestic Hotel—some fans of the RTM Orchestra, or simply those who listen to artistes like Sudirman and are homesick for a piece of history—still remember Ooi. “Some will come up and say, ‘Hey, you formerly from RTM Orchestra ah?’ Ya lah, I’m now doing a new job.” By a twist of fate, the Filipino quartet who plays in the evenings after Ooi’s session are the Solianos, a family ensemble who are all children of the late Alfonso Soliano, Ooi’s mentor.
Many years later, Ooi still plays because it is a calling that he cannot quiet. “How do you retire? Unless you are too sick to play? I will play until I cannot play. Because there is nothing else to do.” Ooi has also seen his only two sons through tragedy; the eldest had a brain tumour in his twenties that has resulted in two serious operations, and his youngest son died of leukaemia as a youth. “These are just the sad things of my life I put away. I store it away somewhere, and try to pretend it didn’t happen.”
He comes to us after his first session. He sits on our table, and a waitress brings him a cup of coffee. Instead of drinking one of the hotel’s hinterland imports, this cup is made from a three-in-one instant coffee mix from Malacca, a sachet he gives to the kitchen to specially brew for him every day. He grabs her hand, and pats it like a grandfather.
“Thank you.” He looks up and smiles at her, paying forward the kindness once shown to him a long time ago. “You are a very nice lady.”
“No problem, Uncle.”
He leans forward, eyes tainted in fading black. “Did you hear me?” He looks back at us for an answer.
We could hear you.
“I’m always not sure whether people can hear me from back here.”
Soon, he returns for his second 45-minute session. The medleys will fill the room. But all around him, the music stays silent.
UPDATE: As of 30th June 2015, Mr Ooi has retired as a pianist, aged 77. However, friends rallied around by organising a fund raising concert to help the pianist through his family difficulties.
On 7th September 2015, Mr Ooi was conferred a Datukship by the state of Penang. Poskod.MY is honoured to have played a small role in bringing wider attention to this music man.
Malaysia stops airing Despacito but goes easy on a Corrupt Prime Minister –The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all
Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) will cease broadcasting the global hit song, Despacito, at all its radio and television stations immediately, said Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak.
He said the RTM evaluation panel decided to withdraw the approval to play the song after a re-evaluation.
“As such, RTM is ceasing the broadcast of the song at its radio and TV stations with immediate effect,” he said to Bernama after attending an Aidilfitri ‘open house’ of the ministry in Putrajaya today.
Several quarters have called for the broadcast of the song to be stopped, alleging obscene lyrics
Despacito: classic summer hit or the new Mambo No 5?
Two Puerto Rican musicians (and Justin Bieber) have overtaken none other than Justin Bieber, to have the most-streamed song of all time
Despacito: classic summer hit or the new Mambo No 5?
Two Puerto Rican musicians (and Justin Bieber) have overtaken none other than Justin Bieber, to have the most-streamed song of all time
Wednesday 19 July 2017 08.26 EDT Last modified on Wednesday 19 July 2017 09.24 EDT
I’ve never heard this song. You are in the minority. Despacito has been No 1 in the UK and Australia for nine weeks, and No 1 in the US for 10 weeks.
Despacito becomes most streamed song of all time, with 4.6bn plays
ButI’ve been abroad. Well, it’s also been No 1 in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, the Philippines, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay and Venezuela.
But I don’t pay attention to the charts. It has been played 4.6bn times across all streaming services.
But I don’t use streaming services. Its videos have been viewed more than 3bn times on YouTube alone.
But I am an elitist snob who hates all popular things. Right! OK! Why didn’t you just say that?
Tell me more about the song. It’s a Reggaeton-pop number performed by a 39-year-old Puerto Rican man called Luis Fonsi, aided by a 40-year-old Puerto Rican rapper called Daddy Yankee. But the song’s international success is down to a remix featuring Justin Bieber.
And what does “Despacito” mean? It means “Slowly” and concerns Fonsi and Yankee’s favoured seduction style.
But couldn’t you say that this is a false record, since new subscribers are increasing the market base of streaming services every day? Look, it’s a nice, fun, summery song that lots of people heard on holiday. Isn’t that enough?
I miss real music. You mean summer songs from years gone by?
Your Weekend with The Three Degrees, Bee Gees, Abba,etc
To All my Buddies, Semper Fi, Orang Malaya, LaMoy , Isa Manteqi, Tok Cik Ipoh Mari, Conrad, C L Familiaries, Veritas, Kllau, Dr. Phua, Abnizar, et.al.
Enjoy yourself while you can. It is difficult to relax these days, given what is happening around the world as DJT tries to insult everybody he meets including The Pope. We in Malaysia too have a bunch of jokers in power who take themselves seriously when no body else gives them a hoot. As the Bee Gees say, we are living a world of fools.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican