Monday, June 23, 2008

Freddie Mercury, Sudirman & Roman Tam - Three Kings From The Orient

Many thanks to the New Straits Times and Wikipedia.

Freddie Mercury, Sudirman Arshad and Roman Tam Pak Sin were icons of pop music in Britain, Malaysia and Hong Kong (China) respectively.

All three were Kings of Pop with extraordinary talents and showmanship. And all three died tragically young, yet lived life to the fullest.

Here’s a brief peek into their lives.

Sudirman Arshad (May 12, 1954-February 22, 1992)

Sudirman Arshad will forever be Malaysia’s King of Pop.

He was best known for winning the Voice Of Asia 1989 singing contest in London, Britain, defeating Hong Kong’s late, great pop king Leslie Cheung Kok Wing.

He was also known as The People’s Entertainer for he always sang about the common folk, their dreams and aspirations.

A diminutive man, Sudirman was affectionately called Abang Sudir (Brother Sudir) to fans and friends.

Of Johor ancestry, Sudirman was born in Temerloh, Pahang’s second largest town after Kuantan. His parents were Arshad Hassan and Romlah Dahalan.

Romlah was a politician with the United Malay National Organisation (Umno), the dominant political party in Malaysia. She was also a Pahang State Assemblywoman representing a State Assembly seat in her hometown Temerloh.

Romlah died of cancer at 32 when Sudirman was five.

Arshad, also an Umno leader, was a manager of the Temerloh Bus Company. He died in 1978.

Sudirman was the youngest of 5 siblings.

Active in music and drama during his schooldays in the Sultan Abu Bakar Secondary School, Temerloh and Sultan Abu Bakar Secondary School, Kuantan, Sudirman later studied law at University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, graduating in 1980.

In 1976, he won the Stars of RTM annual singing contest organised by Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), the national TV station of Malaysia.

A year later, he launched his first album. 13 albums followed in his illustrious career, two of which were in English.

Among his hit songs were Apa Khabar Orang Kampung? (How Do You Do, Village People?), Balik Kampung (Home To The Village), Dari Jauh Ku Pohon Maaf (From A Distance, I Seek Forgiveness), Pelangi Petang (Evening Rainbow), Salam Terakhir (The Last Goodbye), Merisik Khabar (Searching For You), One Thousand Million Smiles, To Know Malaysia Is To Love Malaysia, Kulit (Skin), Chow Kit Road, Basikal Tua (My Old Bicycle), Penyu Menangis (A Turtle’s Cry) and Punch Card.

His songs carried messages of universal human values and care for the environment, multi-racialism and national unity. He was a staunch admirer of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister and founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.

Tunku Abdul Rahman greatly admired him and so did Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Deputy Prime Minister the late Tun Ghafar Baba (tenure 1986-1993).

In 1986, Sudirman won the South East Asian Music Festival performing his song Pesta Dunia (World Feast), a critique of how rich nations waste resources and allow poor nations to starve.

In the same year, he performed in a live street concert at Chow Kit Road, Kuala Lumpur. It was the largest street concert ever held in Malaysia. Some 100,000 people attended it.

He chose to perform in a street concert because he wanted to bring live entertainment to the common people.

Sudirman’s humanitarian song for world peace, One Thousand Million Smiles, earned him the Voice of Asia 1989 award. He won the contest held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, Britain.

He also recorded the song at Abbey Road, London.

Sudirman was capable of singing in four languages namely Bahasa Malaysia, English, Chinese (Mandarin or Beijing Chinese) and Tamil.

Sudirman frequently collaborated with acclaimed composers Datuk Ahmad Nawab, Ooi Eow Jin, S. Atan, Manan Ngah, Osman Ghani and Kassim Masdor and acclaimed lyricist Habsah Hassan.

He was also a lifelong friend of Malaysia’s Queen of Entertainment Anita Sarawak (Anita Taib) and her younger half-sister (their father, veteran actor Datuk Taib Salleh alias Datuk S. Roomai Noor was from Temerloh, Pahang and distantly related to Sudirman), model, actress, singer and businesswoman Noor Kumalasari.

Sudirman married Kamariah Jamaluddin in 1981. However, they were divorced three years later.

In 1992, Sudirman died of a mysterious illness which had afflicted him for a year. He was buried next to his parents in his hometown, Temerloh, Pahang.

Sudirman won several national entertainment awards during his lifetime including Best Performance in the 1987 TV3 Music Awards (Anugerah Juara Lagu) and Popular Male Artiste in the New Straits Times & Berita Harian Popular Stars Awards 1989 (Anugerah Bintang Popular Berita Harian).

He was also honoured with medals by the Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah (the seventh King of Malaysia), the eighth King of Malaysia, Sultan Iskandar of Johor and the ninth King of Malaysia, Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak.

Sudirman was also a talented cartoonist, novelist, journalist and businessman. He managed his own boutique and launched his own range of soft drinks called Sudi (Please).

He acted in a critically acclaimed film in 1982 about street kids titled Kami (We).

Tribute concerts to Sudirman have been organised almost annually by RTM since his death.

Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946-November 24, 1991)

Farrokh Bulsara alias Freddie Mercury was a British musician of Indian Iranian ancestry, best known as the lead singer of the rock band Queen (inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001).

He was noted for his vocal abilities and for his live performances.

As a songwriter, he composed many international hits including Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody To Love, Don't Stop Me Now, We Are The Champions and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

In addition to his work with Queen, he produced several minor hits as a solo artist.

Mercury, who was gay and was hailed as Britain’s first Asian rock star, died of AIDS in 1991, a day after admitting that he had the illness.

Mercury was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, were Parsis from the province of Gujarat in India.

The family surname is derived from the town of Bulsar (also known as Valsad) in southern Gujarat.

The family had moved to Zanzibar because his father was posted there as a cashier at the British Colonial Office.

He had one younger sister, Kashmira.

Mercury spent his early education in Mumbai, India.

Being left handed, he excelled in boxing, with a strong 'left hook'.

At school, he formed his very own band and was its keyboardist.

When he was 17, Mercury’s family moved to London. He then studied art at Thames Valley University.

Following graduation, Mercury joined a series of bands and sold second-hand clothes in the Kensington Market in London.

He also held a job at Heathrow Airport.

In 1970, Mercury joined guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in forming a band which he named Queen. Bassist John Deacon became its fourth member.

As a child, Mercury listened to a considerable amount of Indian music, and one of his early influences was the Bollywood playback singer Lata Mangeshkar, whom he had the opportunity to see live in India.

After moving to Britain, Mercury became a fan of The Who, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, The Beatles and The Jackson 5.

Another favourite performer of his was singer and actress Liza Minnelli.

Regarded as one of the greatest singers in rock music, Freddie Mercury possessed a very distinctive voice, including a recorded range of four octaves.

Over the course of his career, Mercury performed an estimated 700 concerts in countries around the world with Queen.

The British band was the first ever to play in a South American stadium. It performed in a hugely successful concert at Sao Paulo’s Morumbi Stadium in Brazil in 1981.

In 1986, Queen also played behind the Iron Curtain in Budapest, Hungary.

Mercury's final live performance with Queen took place on August 9, 1986 at Knebworth Park in London.

Mercury played the piano in many of Queen's most popular songs.

In addition to his work with Queen, Mercury put out two solo albums and several singles.

Although his solo work was not as commercially successful as most Queen albums, the two albums and several of the solo songs debuted in the top 10 of the UK Album Charts.

In addition to the two solo albums, Mercury released several additional singles, including his own version of the hit The Great Pretender by The Platters.

In the 1970s, Mercury almost married Mary Austin, whom he lived with for many years. However, their relationship went to the rocks because of his homosexuality.

Nevertheless they remained lifelong friends. He also became the godfather of Austin’s son Richard.

The Queen hit song Love Of My Life was dedicated to Austin.

After his death, Mercury left most of his wealth, including his home and recording royalties, to Mary Austin and the remainder to his parents and sister.

He also left money to his chef, personal assistant and driver.

In 2002, Mercury was honoured as one of the BBC’s 100 Greatest Britons.

Queen has now spent more collective weeks on the UK Album Charts than any other musical act (including The Beatles).

Queen's Greatest Hits is the highest selling album of all time in the UK.

Estimates of the band's total worldwide record sales to date have been set as high as 300 million.

Two of Mercury's songs, We Are The Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody, have been voted as the greatest song of all time in major polls by Sony Ericsson and Guinness World Records, respectively.

A statue in Montreux, Switzerland (by sculptor Irena Sedlecka of the Czech Republic) has been erected as a tribute to Mercury.

Since 2003, fans from around the world have gathered in Switzerland annually to pay tribute to the singer as part of the Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day on the first weekend of September.

The statue itself stands 3 metres high overlooking Lake Geneva and was unveiled on November 25, 1996 by Freddie's father and Montserrat Caballe, his Spanish duet partner in the 1992 Olympics theme song Barcelona.

A Royal Mail stamp was issued in honour of Mercury as part of the Millennium Stamp series of the UK.

A plaque was also erected at the site of the family home in Feltham where Mercury and his family moved upon arriving in Britain in 1964.

In 1992, the remaining members of Queen founded The Mercury Phoenix Trust and organised The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness.

The Mercury Phoenix Trust has since raised millions of pounds for various AIDS charities.

Roman Tam Pak Sin (February 16, 1950-October 18, 2002)

Roman Tam Pak Sin is regarded as the Godfather of Cantopop. He is also called the Frank Sinatra and Freddie Mercury of Hong Kong.

Born in Guangxi, China, he was a cultural icon to Chinese communities around the world (including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China).

He had a string of hits in a career spanning 30 years and was admired for his superb showmanship and powerful voice.

He was also the first major Hong Kong singer to pose in drag and nude.

Tam migrated to Hong Kong in 1962 when he was only 12.

After forming a short-lived band known as Roman And The Four Steps, he became a singer in leading TV station Hong Kong Television Broadcasts.

During the 1990s he accepted many budding singers as his students.

Two of them who later became famous were Joey Yung and Matt Cheng Ekin.

Tam also frequently performed duets with Hong Kong pop queen Jenny Tseng.

His hit songs included Below The Lion Rock and The Flying Swordsman, both title songs for popular TV series.

Tam, who never married, died of cancer in 2002.