Malay music diva Kartina Dahari dies at home

Malay music doyenne Kartina Dahari, famous in the 1960s, died yesterday. She was in her 70s.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010.

A family friend said she died just after 6pm in her home in Braddell. Her sons, Shah Reza, 41, and Noor Indera, 50, and her daughter, Adlin Adnan, were present.

Her family could not be reached for comment.

One of her close friends, independent producer Norhayati Yusoff, in her 40s, was with Kartina's family yesterday.

She said: ''Kartina has not been well for the last few weeks. Still, her death came as a shock to all of us.''

The former associate producer at The Esplanade had helped organise a tribute concert celebrating Kartina's songs last August. It was the singer's last public appearance.

Says Ms Norhayati: ''Although Kartina did not sing, she went on stage to thank her fans for their support throughout the years.

''She was a very principled, disciplined woman. During the concert preparations, she wanted to give her input about the choice of songs, to present her best work to the audience.''

Kartina was born in a kampung in Geylang into an illustrious musical family.

Her father led a well-known local Malay music group, Orkes Kampung Gelam, while her grandfather was a Malay folk music composer.

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.

In 2010, she received an Artistic Excellence Award at the 15th Compass (Composers and Authors Society of Singapore) Awards.

A year earlier, she received a Perdana Emas (Gold Prime) award at Malay entertainment awards ceremony Pesta Perdana.

Local music historian Joseph Pereira, 60, said: ''If anyone qualified to be called a 'diva', it was her.

''She was an extremely big name in the 1960s.

''The key to her success was that she could sing well not only in Malay, but also in English. That really helped to gain her fans outside the Malay community.''

When she last spoke to Life! last August, she admitted to being a perfectionist and said: ''There is no room for error. When I go on stage, I have to be confident. If you're tired and you want to have a cigarette break, I say 'no'.

''You are paid to do this, you must be professional, you cannot have the 'tidak apa' (Malay for never mind) attitude.''

Kartina will be buried today, said Ms Norhayati.

This article was published on May 1 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.