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Aku hanya pendatang

FRANCISSCA PETER has been a mainstay in the local music scene for more than a quarter of a century, having released more than 20 albums, including compilations.

Initially part of the twosome, Roy & Fran, the Ipoh gal went solo in 1984 with Komputer Muzik. But it was 1986’s Sekadar Di Pinggiran, with its Juara Lagu-winning title track, that truly made her a household name. She also scored a first by performing the patriotic anthem, Setia, from the rooftop of the Dayabumi building in 1989. Her other hits include Aku Hanya Pendatang and Kerna Terpaksa.

Despite moving overseas (first to the US, then UK, Guangzhou and Hong Kong) in the 1990s after her marriage, Fran continued to produce hit singles and albums. She even performed in the musical The King and I in Hong Kong in 2000, before relocating back here a year later.

Promotional picture for Francissca Peter (following pics provided by Francissca Peter)

The 47 year-old is also World Vision Ambassador for the 4th year running, and it is a role she cherishes. She released two compilation albums and two new singles in 2008, including the theme song, Tomorrow, for the 30 Hour Famine project at

Fran’s father, who had drinking and gambling problems, abandoned the family in 1978. Her mother was forced to wash clothes for others to support the family. Fran admits that without the help from relatives and The Sisters of the Poor, her mother would have been unable to support all four children.

The future singer left school after Form Three, took up a typing course, and started working as a salesgirl in a batik factory to help support her family. A year later, with money being tight, Fran took the decision to go into singing. She has not looked back since.

In an interview with The Nut Graph, Fran talks frankly about her life and the importance of preserving our history — pendatangs and all.

TNG: Where were you born? Where’s your family from?

[I’ve] always considered Ipoh my hometown, but funnily enough I am a Klang Hospital child. My childhood was in Ipoh. We used to live near the Menteri Besar’s house, near where the fountain used to be on Jalan Gopeng.

My parents were Perak people. I think we go back three or four generations here. My dad’s side was originally from Sri Lanka, and my mom’s from Hainan. One of my aunts, Sharmini Tiruchelvam — (the Mona Lisa of the East) [once] painted by Picasso — who is now living in Ipoh, has been tracing the family tree. [She] says we are somewhere down the line related to Charles Brooke —  the White Rajah.

I hope that in future [we] do not erase the history of all the people who came and settled here. I think all Malaysians are pendatang, basically, and the only true people here are the Orang Asli.

So, you come from a mixed race background.

Yes. My parents married in 1957. My mom, Alice, who was 20 when she got married, was discriminated against for marrying an Indian. My (now estranged) father, Lucian Peter, was the youngest of four sons. He was a brilliant journalist who was one of the pioneers at Straits Echo. He wrote the most romantic letters to my mom, who was the youngest of four girls in her family. After my dad left, my mom was very broken but kept us all together. It was very hard, but my paternal grandma was very supportive. She sayang my mother very much and stayed with us until she left for the UK. She died in the late 70s or early 80s.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Francissca Peter with mother (front row, centre) and siblings

My father’s family were from Sri Lanka. Both my great grandfather and grandfather came to Malaya before the war. They mostly worked in the courts, [the] clerical (side) and as surgeons. My uncle was one of the first surgeons in Malaya. My mom’s side were from Hainan, where they owned a pepper farm. But when the communists took over, they fled here.

But it is hard to trace back…I hope [the Malaysian authorities] do not erase records as I find it a little upsetting that they are erasing history here slowly in our education system. How can you do such a thing? These are people’s lives, you know. We have a history you know; we are not aliens … we have lived here for many years (said with some frustration).

What was your childhood like?

I was the second of four siblings — I have an older brother, and after me came another brother and sister, Bibiana, who is my manager. I attended Main Convent Ipoh and then Tarcisian Convent Ipoh, where all the teachers adored me (laughs). I am one of those people who have to focus all the time, otherwise I will end up dreaming.

Francissca Peter with her sister, Bibiana, and mother

My family moved around a lot, but when we finally moved to Petaling Jaya permanently in 1982, I was enrolled at a co-ed school in Selayang. I didn’t like it; I’m a convent girl at heart.

Convent schools are great. And it is very sad that you don’t have this anymore. I think they had the best discipline, the education was richer. [I feel] our [present] education system has failed us dramatically. You have segregation in schools, and you have some teachers who prod little minds to not associate with children of other races. I’m sorry. In the old days, in the convent schools, we were not like that. We were never forced to attend Bible classes, for instance.

And it is so horrifying listening to the young people now who cannot speak English [or even] Malay well. But then again, such is life because we are a blended community. It’s like a party, celebrating [our diversity]. I myself speak English and Cantonese (fluently), Bahasa Malaysia, also some Mandarin. And German, badly. I am also learning a bit of Tamil now.

What aspects of your identity do you struggle with the most as a Malaysian?

Francissca Peter with her album covers

You know what’s the hardest thing I find, about my identity? When doing corporate shows, it is much harder being mixed race. You are not white enough to do Chinese shows — they won’t call. And I am not dark enough to be in one of those Indian shows either. And so far I have survived thanks to those who are English-educated, and also due to the Malay shows. My Malay fan base has been absolutely wonderful, as have my fans of other races. They have been very supportive.

What is your hope for the future?

My hope for the future, for the country, is for integration. Preferably that we don’t have Tamil and Chinese schools in the future, because this has divided us as a nation without any strong integration whatsoever. Preferably, we should [go] back to what it was before, when all the subjects were taught in English, and BM was a subject on its own. You can have extra classes in Tamil or Mandarin.

Francissca Peter with Chinese Malaysian singer-songwriter Michael Wong at World Vision's 30 Hour Famine project

Being an ambassador with the international aid organisation World Vision in Malaysia has opened many doors, because a lot of people see me as a great fundraiser. So I get a lot of calls to do shows now. And through me, I hope World Vision has had a bit more recognition and awareness here in Malaysia. So I think I am doing something good and will continue to do so for as long as I am able to.

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10 Responses to “Aku hanya pendatang”

  1. Kama says:

    How time flies! Seems like not-so-long ago that we enjoyed Roy & Fran at the KL Merlin, nearly 30 years ago. Been her fan ever since.

    But her remarks here are remarkable, and reflect maturity and independence of spirit.

    Thank you, Fran, for showing the way for other artists and youths. Lovely way to go!

  2. choovs says:

    Nice pictures of Francissca.

    I didn’t know she is the daughter of Lucian Peter. Heard of him when I entered journalism in the late 60s.

  3. Jasmeen says:

    Bravo Fran. Your courage of conviction is an example for us all.

  4. Lainie says:

    Watched her perform for a Christmas function in Sunway recently — wonderful singer. Sang in quite a few languages, too.

  5. Nurazah says:

    My older brother was a big fan of Fran, and I too became a fan thanks to the non-stop playing of her songs in the school bus. I was inspired by her powerful vocals. My brother and I would put on skits at home during the school holidays, and I would use my father’s tripod as a mike stand and belt out Sekadar di Pinggiran and Aku Kehilangan Mu with all the feeling a nine year-old could muster. I’ve bought many of her albums and yet, I had no idea what her life was like before she found stardom. Thanks for letting Fran speak about her life. We need more passionate artists like her in the country. At a time when Malaysian artists are too concerned about not rocking the boat, Fran is not afraid to create waves.

  6. Ken Laitinen says:

    If one believes in angels, Francissca is one of the angels that walks among us, she not only sings like one but also has the heart of a angel.

    Francissca does more to help the poor starving children of the world in a week than most people do in a lifetime.

    If everyone would look deep into their hearts along with their pocket books and sponsor at least one starving child through Worldvision they would soon learn that the gift of giving has the greatest rewards in life. The costs are very small and the rewards are large!

    God Bless Francissca for all the great work she has done throughout her career.

  7. sans says:

    Definitely too much history is being erased, and a lot of things are going unrecognised. For example a lot of archaelogical work in Kedah is not being followed through because it does not fit in with the interest or the political narratives of the ruling groups.

    There is just one very sparse and highly edited historical narrative that school children are taught from Standard Five to Form Five. And that has killed and failed to show the richness and the linkages between everyone.

    Our education should be freed from politics!

  8. Bernard says:

    I enjoy your music!

    OK… admittedly we do butcher them a bit at the karaoke sessions, but we still love them 🙂

    Seriously, I also believe that we should have ONE education system and offer Chinese and Tamil language subjects to ALL.

    Happy Lunar New Year!

  9. elfin says:

    Hello Fran,

    We have never met, nor perhaps, ever will. Your family history does not differ too much from that of mine, nor that of many, many others in Malaysia. I was born in Kota Tinggi, Johor. With a mixed race lineage. Mom was born in Mersing, and Dad was from abroad.

    Left Malaysia in 1979, having given up hope of ever being recognized, accepted or treated as an equal citizen. Europe, UK, took me on as an equal, and gave me the opportunity to be someone and earn a good living. And there are many thousands of Malaysians who have done well on foreign shores. A “brain drain” brought about by the countless, thoughtless and tactless attitudes of those in power.

    I have returned to Malaysia on a number of occasions, for it is, and will never be far away from my heart. And Penang is one of my favorite cities.

    I am more than saddened by the way the history of Malaysia and Malaysians has been “altered” by spurious and small-minded individuals. A nation whose “identity” has been corroded and corrupted by self-serving individuals for their personal agenda and political expediency. I went to school during the era when English was the main mode of education, and Bahasa was an inclusive subject. And I will agree that ALL the languages spoken in Malaysia be a part of the curriculum and a matter of choice.

    Malaysia was built on the blood, sweat and tears of ALL its peoples’, and no one people or faith, can ever be deemed “superior”. The nation’s people, traditions, culture, art and languages are a coming together of, and should be a priceless and beautiful basis for a strong and united country.

    I am well aware that a number of archeological digs have either been quietly brushed aside, ignored or abandoned. There is a clear and concise history of a Hindu civilisation and temples going back centuries that are being kept very quiet or ignored. It’s amazing to think that the Malaysian authorities seem rather embarrassed and ashamed to want to accept the nation’s true and proud heritage, whatever its origin.

    I wish you well, Fran, and applaud your successes, stance and vision for the future. I will one day return, and perhaps retire in Penang. I have earned enough to get by quite comfortably, and hope to very much invest in the rich tapestry of what is Malaysia, my homeland. And it’s the likes of you, who tug harder than most, that make me want to make that happen.

  10. Crew Fathi says:

    Jalan-jalan kat sini…

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