Heartfelt tribute to Kartina Dahari

Review Concert


Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Friday

Kartina Dahari might be known as the queen of keroncong but the tribute concert to celebrate her remarkable contribution to the local Malay music landscape showed that her repertoire transcended that of one genre.

In a two-hour concert, singers ranging from veteran acts such as M. Ismail, Jamilah Samsuri and Mahani Mohd to younger artists such as Didicazli paid tribute to the songs that she made popular during the peak of her career from the 1960s to the early 1980s.

These included English pop tunes such as I Only Know I Love You, taken from her 1968 LP and sung by crooner Robert Fernando, and the baroque, Malay pop with Masa Berganti Masa (Time After Time) from her final 1976 LP, Senandung Lagu Lama (Singing Old Songs), done beautifully by Julie Sudiro and with piano by maestro Kassim Masdor.

The lush musical accompaniment by the 42-member Orkestra Melayu Singapura (Singapore Malay Orchestra), led by Amri Amin, added layers of atmosphere to each song. Different genres notwithstanding, it was clear that each and every one of the singers treated Kartina's songs with reverence and respect.

Julie, one of Kartina's earliest duet partners and a close friend, was chief among them. With her assortment of brightly coloured flowing robes, the Malaysian stalwart was the most at ease on stage, her playful banter leaving the crowd in stitches. Her voice, mellifluous and smooth, did justice to some of Kartina's best-known tunes such as Budi Setahun Segunung Intan (A Year Of Morals, A Mountain Of Diamonds), a duet with Didicazli, and Dari Hati Ke Hati (From Heart To Heart), which she sang with M. Ismail.

All the singers took the stage to share the verses in Sayang Di Sayang, probably Kartina's most famous keroncong tune and written by Majulah Singapura composer Zubir Said. In between, the large screen on stage showed videos of Kartina talking about her life in music, as well as music icons such as lyricist and writer Yusnor Ef and radio stalwart Brian Richmond singing praises of her influential body of work.

Kartina was seated in the audience, a few rows from the stage. And while she did not sing - she is undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer - her presence loomed large. In fact, despite all the musical talents on display, the highlight of the whole concert was when she was helped onstage to give a short but emotional speech at the tail end of the evening. Choking back tears and speaking in a frail voice, she thanked her fellow singers and the Esplanade for the tribute.

"I am honoured, humbled and touched beyond words at the love and respect shown by everyone here," she said.

The audience gave her a standing ovation. It was no less than what a music doyenne deserves.


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