Categorised | Found in Malaysia

“Do not insult our intelligence”

(All pics below courtesy of Sheila Majid)

ONE of Malaysia’s most beloved singers, Datuk Sheila Majid has been wowing fans with her jazzy and R&B-flavoured brand of contemporary pop since the 1980s. From the release of her debut album Dimensi Baru in 1988 to the bestselling Legenda in honour of the late Tan Sri P Ramlee, she has continued to break records through the years.

She was the first Malaysian artiste to have success in Japan, and perform a sold-out concert at the Royal Theatre in London’s West End in 1996. She was also the first local artiste to perform at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas.

She tells The Nut Graph about her childhood, and her thoughts about Malaysia past and present, in this interview in February 2010.

TNG: When and where were you born?

Sheila Majid: I was born in Kuala Lumpur, 45 years ago. I’m a born and bred KL city girl. I remember less traffic jams back then, and life being much [safer]. I could wake up in the morning, go out cycling and meet friends, go to the bookstores and read comics.

What are some of the childhood memories you hold dear?

My childhood was a lot of fun. My father worked in the forestry department, with the government. So we lived in a government house behind Bank Negara, near Swettenham Road. There was a lot of space to play for us eight siblings. Thank God we were in the hutan — we found many things to do.

I was the youngest, so had my fair share of being bullied! But it was a house full of laughter. We didn’t have to buy stuff. Nowadays kids want Toys”R”Us, but I remember my mother would come with this huge grocery box, and as soon as the things were taken out, we would tear that box apart. We’d sit on it and slide down the hill. I really miss those days. Somehow I feel my children don’t get to do that.

We were also in an area where there were many JKR (Public Works Department) people, so we played with the neighbourhood kids a lot, most of them Indian [Malaysians].

Sheila (right) with her sister

When I was young and in school, we never looked at other races as different. We felt that we were the same. Perhaps we had different colours, but we grew up with the same values: to do good, to be good to others.

Can you trace your ancestry? Where are your grandparents or ancestors from?

My father was Javanese, and my mother has always been from Kuala Lumpur. My mother’s great-great grandfather was actually a friend of Yap Ah Loy‘s. His name was Sutan Puasa, and is from the Mandailing clan, who are originally from Sumatera. The Mandailing are still around today; most of them are in Kajang. Sutan Puasa was the first of their settlers in KL, and most of the land was owned by him at the time. Later, he was involved in a clash with the Bugis. But the Mandailing lost because the British were behind the Bugis, and so they lost KL to Selangor.

The history books never highlighted this because, well, they obviously write more about the Bugis family. I know why Bukit Nenas is named as such, for example. At the time the Mandailing wanted to keep the Bugis out, so they built many pineapple trees as a foil against the enemies.

If my family meets any others from the Mandailing clan today, we say “Horas!”, which is like “Aloha” in the dialect, though we don’t know or speak it anymore lah.

On my father’s side, my great-grandfather was Javanese, who travelled to Mecca from Indonesia. They lived in Mecca for 10 years and were very religious. On his way back, my great-grandfather’s ship was shipwrecked, and he ended up on the shores of Peninsular Malaysia. He set up home here, and changed his Javanese name to Haji Salleh. Then there was my grandfather Haji Shahid, and later my father Haji Majid.

My father actually has a family tree that goes right up to the Majapahit warriors. My father’s lineage comes from Raden Hussein, who is the brother of Raden Hasan, the first Muslim sultan of Demak in Indonesia. Both were the sons of Probowo Wijoyo the Fifth of Majapahit, who was Hindu.

Sheila’s parents

Did that rich ancestry feature in or influence your upbringing?

Well, my father studied in Oxford University, England, so he is very English oriented. When we grew up he emphasised education, being an academic person. Therefore when I wanted to become a singer, he freaked. My parents encouraged us to listen to all kinds of music and sent me for classical piano lessons, but he never thought I was going to be a singer. He thought it was fine as a hobby, but not as a career.

I’m glad to say, however, that before he passed away in 1996, he saw that I could make a living out of this, and that I was not in it for the wrong reasons. I love singing, I’m passionate about music, and am very much into my art. So I think when he passed away, he was quite assured that I’d be okay.

Our parents were very religious, and we had our spiritual foundation, but they also brought us up in a very open-minded kind of way. When we were young, we could wear shorts and things like that, they never asked us to cover up. It was a very balanced upbringing.

How do these stories affect you when it comes to your identity as a Malaysian? Especially in the current landscape of controversial racial and religious issues?

Performing in the 80s.

Sheila’s dress says “Central Market KL”
It’s all petty. None of us originated from here! I’m sure your ancestors came from China and they were probably merchants who came here. Same with the Indian [Malaysians]. Everybody was travelling the world to conduct business, and they decided to stay put in a certain area.

I think all the issues today are very petty because 30 years ago, we were doing very good together. Why is it all coming up today? It is all political. I’d say leave the people alone. If you want to play your politics, don’t get us involved. We were fine and well before, and we lived together in harmony. It’s all about power and money. I think so many have forgotten the fundamentals of life — being nice to each other.

The Malaysia then was more open and tolerant. From a musician’s perspective, for example, you have concerts and foreign artists coming in today, but people want to make a fuss over little things. We have a TV in our living room, and at the touch of a button our children can already see all those skimpy clothes if they want to. We are making an issue over little things, when there are other more important issues to be addressed.

Come on, do not insult our intelligence. Do you think they will go to a concert and suddenly want to be exactly like that? I may want to have a body like Beyonce (laughs), but, come on, I’m not going to be like her. I go and watch, learn and take what’s positive, and will not do whatever I feel is against my religion or culture. My parents brought us up in an environment which was very open-minded, and we could discuss a lot of things, and yet they made sure we had our religious values, too. We grew up okay!

And not less Malay.

I was brought up and exposed to Western culture, but it does not make me less Malay. I speak English because my father was an academic man, and he wanted us to speak the language well. Today I can converse in both Malay and English.

Why was the generation before more confident than the generation today? What happened along the way? For my children, we speak Malay and English at home, but I also send them to Chinese school. My eldest is 19 and speaks Mandarin, English and Malay. They will all know Mandarin. I think it’s an asset, and I think China is going to be a big economic powerhouse.

And say what you want, but English is an international language today. Malay [Malaysians] are beginning to have an inferiority complex because they cannot converse in English fluently. We are talking about, “Oh you must make sure you are Malay, and know your language.” Well, of course we will know the Malay language, it is our mother tongue! At the end of the day, we are just going to be katak bawah tempurung and jaguh kampung lah.

With husband Hasridz Murshim Hashim, better known as Acis, and her children

What are your hopes for Malaysia? What gives you hope?

Keep politics out of our music, keep it out of sports. When everyone wants to put their two cents’ worth when they don’t even know the subject, it is worrying.

Let us put it this way: there are two houses. One has a beautiful exterior, but the other is sturdy. If you ask a lay[person], of course he [or she] would pick the beautiful one; but ask an architect, and he [or she] would tell you that it does not have the right foundation or structure. Today people with no expertise whatsoever are giving opinions in whatever fields they like. Leave it to the experts!

I am not saying everything is negative in this country, but compared to 30 years ago, people’s priorities are so different. Today people are more into self gain, rather than what is good for the community, society and country. But my children give me hope. They are global in their outlook.

I always say you must not forget your roots, however modern you are. Hopefully they will grow up to be people who are compassionate and caring. I think it is important for it to start with parents and the schools, to bring all of this back. To not look at each other as Indian, Chinese or Malay. We are Malaysians, kan? 

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30 Responses to ““Do not insult our intelligence””

  1. SM says:

    I’ve always loved Sheila’s music.

    “To not look at each other as Indian, Chinese or Malay. We are Malaysians, kan?”…Now at least I know she has a brain to match her talent and she isn’t a racist!

  2. bengaun says:

    Well said Shelia! You’re a truly Malaysian girl that I really adore! Salam and all the very best to you and family… The Nut Graph is to be commended for this piece….regards.

  3. sunny bunny says:

    It is heartwarming to read stories of Malaysians from all walks of life. I enjoy Sheila’s music and wish her all the best in her endeavours.

  4. M.K. says:

    Stories like this never fail to inspire you but leave you in a state of nostalgia. 1Malaysia was practised by one and all when we were very young, probably in the 60’s and 70’s without any sloganeering. The present administration has contributed to its decline..

  5. dreameridiot says:

    This interview is really good. Sheila Majid reminds me of the time when many of us so- called ‘pendatangs’ embraced Malay music and Malay culture with our hearts, but most of us now feel a deep estrangement, because of the politicisation of the Malay language and culture. Now, it’s only the ‘You-Bukan-Saya’ thinking that [has] seeped into our communities, our schools, our relationships, etc, so much so that it has affected our own economic competitiveness. There is no longer the camaraderie and mutual muhibbah spirit that we shared unreservedly. Now, there is always some lingering fear or suspicion. It’s just so sad.

    Thanks for this interview, and thank you Sheila Majid.

  6. Antony Gasper says:

    Sheila, you are as lovely as your music. I still remember the days my brothers and I slid down some grassy slope on some discarded carton used for delivering provisions to our house in Benta Estate. Sometimes Hamid would join us. I wonder where he is. His father was a driver with the estate.

  7. CJ says:

    Tun Mahathir should read this piece. I am sure he will get angry with you.

  8. watchdog says:

    More folks like Sheila need to speak their mind. Well said. I can relate to much of what she says as her brother and I went to school together and he was one of the better footballers around (not residential but multiracial school).

  9. Kiitii says:

    I think not only Mahathir should read this, all the Umno guys especially the top ones should also read this, Sheila rocks!

    If Sheila should decide to be a candidate for elections, she will sure sapu all the votes! Think about it Sheila!

  10. MiNGHOCK Chai says:

    Well said. Bila akan ada album baru?

  11. Patrick says:

    Wow, that is quite an illustrious history. All the way to Majapahit?

  12. SM says:

    CJ, not just Tun Mahatir but the ALL those in Umno should read this too! I repeat: “To not look at each other as Indian, Chinese or Malay. We are Malaysians, kan?”

  13. Keruah says:

    Sheila Majid has a beautiful voice and a great sense of timing. Both are evident in her heartfelt, thoughtful words. Many Malaysians remember growing up with friends of different colours, before the brainwashing of bangsa, agama dan negara set in. We are all human beings first and foremost, no matter what Muhyiddin Yassin might say. Thank you, The Nut Graph, and Sheila Majid, for this inspiring piece.

  14. dominik says:

    Beautifully said. How I wish all Malaysians would think and behave like her. To be open-minded and able to discuss without getting emotional. She has taught her children well and definitely will be an asset to our country Malaysia.

  15. Malaysiaku says:

    Well said. This should be in the hearts and minds of all Malaysians. Politicians talk too much these days to gain political mileage and mislead the people.

  16. Sheela Martin says:

    Thank you, Sheila, for what you are and [I am] wishing most Malaysians could think and act [like] her, a true Malaysian. We are going to put a STOP to those people who are using race politics for their own gain and wealth. We have yet to see real politicians (regardless his/her race) who could really lay down their lives for our country, rather than filling their pockets with $$$$.

  17. NutzeyWagen says:

    Sheila, you’re a true blue Malaysian. A Malaysian first and foremost, through and through, and proud of it.

    Malaysians have loved you and will definitely continue loving you (except for a few, but they are a minority).

    All the best to you and your loved ones.

  18. YJ says:

    Lovely Sheila … she’s the real Malaysian, not like those racist supremacists here and there.

  19. Yusop Daud says:

    Spot on Sheila. For being truthful with what you are. Truly Malaysian. Allah bless you and your family always. The politicians of the last 25 years have put us all in BAD SHAPE. Aren’t they scared of the Almighty? Being Muslim, they should now bertaubat. May Allah forgive them.

  20. Steve says:

    1Malaysia. We are 3 in 1 and now it may be 5 in 1 – other foreigners are coming in to be Malaysians. Sheila you have done a good favour for all Malaysians, not like some leaders – they are still very racist, and disrupt the racial harmony our forefathers had built and given to us as our precious heritage. May the Almighty God bless Malaysia with a clean and united government.

  21. Kris says:

    Have always loved your music. And now I know where it’s coming from… you have a heart that’s bigger then most…

  22. daviddass says:

    And that was exactly how it was for many of us. Her father was from Oxford — wow ! Yes, Sheila, to being Malaysian, and yes to having friends of all races, and yes to being passionate about what one does, and yes to being educated and being able to express one’s opinions, and yes to learning English, and yes to learning other languages, and yes to going to Chinese schools, and yes to being moderate in one’s views, and yes to us all being confident about ourselves and our culture and at the same time being exposed to the culture of others, and yes to our being open to all positive experiences, and no to the narrow-minded bigots who teach racism and parochialism. Thank you, Sheila Majid.

  23. ben says:

    “We are 3 in 1 and now it may be 5 in..” – Steve

    @Steve: I am a Sarawakian and I think your 3 in 1 is not really correct. As you know we in Sarawak we are like 40 in 1 (approximately). We maybe collectively called the Pribumis but we are different and we embrace each other’s differences. And Sabah, there are like 32++ ethnics. And the 18 suku kaum Orang Asli. It is not just 3 or 5 in 1.

  24. Sze H Lai says:

    Thank you Sheila Majid for the article.

    I was born in KL during the same era as Sheila M. Now I reside in Texas, USA. Her passage took me down memory lane, and her assessment is accurate. Those were different times with generational gaps. More importantly so we must and should have an obligation to be ‘Ambassadors’. I’ve read blogs from Malaysia and almost any topic or issue that Malaysians, regardless of race, do not wish to solve always seems to [be about] race.

    I grew up with Malays, Indians, Eurasians, and my own Chinese during my years in MBS, KL, and in the community. We all had our biases, prejudices, assessments but we all sang the same national anthem…’Negara ku, tanah tempat darah ku…’

    Educate, Respect, Courage…Leaders of Malaysia…Unite us!

  25. CINA says:

    Learning to speak mandarin will not make your son any less of a Malay. He probably will make Malaysia proud one day as the PM. It will be even better if he can speak Tamil so then we don’t need Barisan having MCA and MIC. One PM that represents all Malaysians.

  26. kimyeong says:

    Sheila Majid Rocks!

  27. Philip says:

    I love your music which is colourless, and Malaysians should continue to be colourless like your music. I share your sentiment as I come from your era and really miss those days. I miss the Malaysia that I knew.

  28. M.O.T.U says:

    Interesting… never knew that little snippet of history behind Bukit Nenas. It is sad that our government does not seem very interested in preserving our history.

  29. cilipadi says:

    THANK YOU – to TNG and Sheila M for this TRULY inspiring piece. I’ve read through each and every one of your comments and there seems to be a similar underlying theme here; we ALL miss the good ol days. I say we screw the politics, screw the idiots running the country now. We have the choice to reclaim what was once unity by changing the way we treat each other, the way we think about each other and removing the prejudices that have been injected into our young (and some of us for that matter, over the years).

    You have inspired me to at least try (in any small way that i can) to make a difference to those around me.

    So thank you

  30. Jenny Ee says:

    Yes, thank you, Sheila for sharing your story. You are not alone. We Malaysians are the same. Regardless what race. We are Malaysian. We are the people behind Malaysia. We are born and bred in Malaysia. Most of our ancestors came to the shores of Malaysia to settle in and we are either 2nd generation Malaysian or more. So, the government should look at US the PEOPLE of Malaysia to run this country well. We are multiracial and we love Malaysia. Don’t spoil it for personal gains. You, the government should look back at your roots and run the country as a Malaysian. True Malaysians do not hit back at each other. We love and unite as ONE MALAYSIAN…..ONE COUNTRY MEN [& WOMEN] …..ONE HEART…..ONE LOVE….ONE BANGSA….MUHIBBAH…….A COUNTRY OF MULTIRACIAL [CITIZENS]……We live with each other in the same country….same soil…..same land we were born in……Cintai Malaysia….Cintai warga Malaysia…….

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