Farewell to a music legend

SINGAPORE - As a teenager, he scrimped and saved to buy about 20 of singer Kartina Dahari’s vinyl records. He saw her perform live just once, in the 1970s.

Yesterday, Mr Samad Saimon, 55, a cleaning supervisor, turned up to say goodbye to the Malay music doyenne.

She died on Wednesday from ovarian cancer at the age of 73.

Mr Samad said with tears in his eyes: “She was so beautiful and talented. It’s sad to see her go. I found out about her passing last night and knew it was my last chance to see her.

“Many fans like me didn’t know her personally. But she touched us through her music.”

More than 100 fans, friends and family members turned up to pay their respects yesterday morning. They included former Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed, former Member of Parliament Yatiman Yusof and actor-director S. Sahlan.

Mr Zainul, 67, said: “I remember her as a heart-warming celebrity, sophisticated in appearance and outlook but big-hearted and humble in personality.

“Whenever asked to participate in charity shows, she was always obliging and professional fees were the last thing on her mind. The keroncong enthusiasts and community will miss her the most.”

She rose to popularity in the 1960s, and became the first Malay singer in Singapore to record in English. She was also known as the queen of keroncong, a traditional folk music genre. One of her famous songs was Sayang Di Sayang.

Some family members gathered at her condominium in Braddell as early as 8am. Others turned up at the Ba’alwie Mosque in Bukit Timah, which she frequented, at 10am for a prayer session.

Her body was then sent to a Muslim cemetery in Lim Chu Kang Road, where friends and family – many with shoes caked with mud – bade her farewell.

At 11am, her sons, Shah Reza, 41, and Noor Indera, 50, carried her body to its final resting place. A family member held an umbrella over them, shielding them from the sun. The rest looked on sombrely, some wiping away tears.

When the grave was covered, some placed orchids, chrysanthemum and other flowers on it.

Many of those who turned up shared fond memories of the singer.

Mr Farihin Abdul Fattah, 49, the founder and producer of the five-member group Raihan, said: “In the 1970s and 1980s, she opened up her house to anybody who wanted to visit her on the weekends.

“Kids like us would play among ourselves and she’d cook for us. To us, her house was like a playground.”

Added local singer Rudy Djoharnaen, 34, who performed at a concert which Kartina attended two years ago: “Young singers like me have so much to learn from her, such as her professionalism and humility. She always said that even if you gave a good performance, you can always do better.”

Mr Yusnor Ef, 77, president of Perkamus, the Association of Malay Singers, Composers and Professional Musicians, said: “I wrote the lyrics of six of her songs. When working with her, she was always very disciplined and committed.

“Sometimes, she’d even ask me how to sing a particular word or line. She was that much of a professional.”

In previous interviews, Ms Kartina was tight-lipped about her marriage, saying it was a part of her life that she would rather leave in the past. She leaves behind three children and three grandchildren. Her daughter, Adlin Adnan, did not turn up yesterday as she was not feeling well.

Said her elder son, Mr Noor Indera: “I hope the public can remember her as a great singer and the best mother in the world.

“We are touched by the people who showed up and offered their condolences.”

This article was published on May 2 in The Straits Times.

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