The Prematures..From Left: Ajis, Mohammad Shah, Ramly. Behind from left: Sahak, Daiman and me at the door.
In the mid sixties, the Malay music industry was at its peak. Malay songs began to transform drastically and new singers suddenly emerged by the numbers each accompanied by their four piece band. If I am not mistaken, it started with two singers from Singapore; A. Ramlee and The Rhythm Boys and Jeffrydin and The Siglap Five. These two singers managed to capture the hearts of many Malays throughout the country and after them came so many other singers. This was the era when the Pop Yeh Yeh phenomenon was first written in the history of the Malay music industry.
It began with A. Ramlee’s O Fatimah and Jeffrydin’s Seruling Bambu. From then on, new singers accompanied with their four piece band sprouted like mushrooms throughout the country. Singapore alone produced countless new singers; Kassim Selamat and The Swallows, A. Romzi and The Hook, Eddie Ahmad and The Antartics, etc. Neighbouring Johor followed suit and we had names of A. Rahman Onn and The Strangers, A. Rahman Hassan and Orkes Nirwana and soon the heat reached Muar town. The most famous singer from Muar was none other than A. Halim and D’Fiction followed by Zainal Omara and The Dreamers and another famous group Les Flingers led by the group leader Yahaya Hj. Kosai. (Yahaya was a relative of mine but sadly died at a young age while serving in the army).
Within our own fraternity were a number of good singers who managed to have their voices heard only in Talent Time shows, weddings and some other stage functions. One of them was Sahak Doktor (Ishak Hamzah).
One evening while having our normal daily conversation at the tembok of my house, Sahak Doktor told me how he wished to have his voice recorded just like A. Halim of the Kesah Dan Tauladan fame. I told him that it could be possible if he had a four piece band to accompany him. I was the bassist for The Dreamers but we had two singers of our own; Shahrin Shah and Zainal Omara and would not be possible for my band to accompany him. The only possibility was for Sahak to approach few bands in existence. Those days we had few bands in Muar town still performing in some social functions; The White Devil, The Blue Jeans and The Hell’s Angels. My earlier band The Kool Kats was disbanded after our leader Ungku Safaian (Ungku Tik) left for Johor Bahru.
I had my sympathy for him because he was so adamant of wanting to release his own record to his name. We all knew that he could sing lending his voice in every function where bands were performing. He was not a fantastic singer but if given the opportunity, he could make it.
My cousin Ajis Mak Enggor was already in Kuala Lumpur schooling at a Boarding school on electronics. However, he came back home often whenever he had the opportunity. In Kuala Lumpur he was a sessional player with few notable bands and was beginning to create a name for himself in the local music industry.
A week after my conversation with Sahak, Ajis returned home and as usual, he looked for me and together we cycled to Taman Selera for our get together session. He would tell me of his stings in some famous KL bands like The Strollers and The Teenage Hunters. He mentioned to me of our childhood friend Daiman ( Daiman Mohd. Nor) who was then beginning to be famous among the Kuala Lumpur band boys.
Daiman came to Muar town in 1961 following his parents. His father was an officer with the Labour Department and the family stayed at one of the bungalows for government servants at Tanjung. He was a very good looking boy whose mother was of an English descent. Everyday he would spend his time with Ajis and they were both very gifted in guitar playing. When I first met him at Ajis’ house, he was playing the guitar to the tune of Walk Don’t Run of America’s leading four piece band The Ventures. He was only twelve years old at that time and seeing a young boy playing such a difficult song truly amazed me. It was from this day that I became very close to him and in later years we both formed a band called The Grim Preachers that became one of the top groups in Kuala Lumpur.
While I was talking to Ajis that evening at Taman Selera, I told him about Sahak’s dream of becoming a true singer and how he wished he could have his own record to his name. I asked Ajis whether was it possible if we could gather some musicians to accompany Sahak to realize his dream. He agreed to my suggestion but we need someone to finance us as the cost was quite high.
Earlier that same year (1966) I had my experience doing the recording at a Singapore studio. I was in Form Four and we did the recording during one school term holidays. We did four songs and one of it was composed by me. (Readers can view this in Youtube…Zainal Omara and The Dreamers ).
After a lengthy discussion with Ajis, we both agreed to form a band just to accompany Sahak for his recording dream but we still need to look for someone who could finance the cost. That night we both met Sahak at my house and told him of our decision. He was so elated and thanked both of us but we told him not to celebrate yet because we still need to look for a financier.
It was on that very same night that the three of us decided to approach our good friend Kadar Shah. He was the eldest son of Dato’ Suleiman Ninam Shah (Tun) and we thought he was about the only candidate that could help realize Sahak’s dream of becoming a recording artist. We met Kadar the next day and to our surprise he agreed without even asking for more details. After the meeting, Ajis and me began to discuss many things on how to make this project a success.
Ajis suggested that Daiman to play the lead guitar, he would play the bass and I was to play the rhythm guitar. As for the drums, he was thinking of his good friend Ramly who was then the drummer for The Strollers, a leading rock band in Kuala Lumpur. Now we need the most important materials; four songs to fit in the EP record.
I composed three songs while Ajis did the balance one song. One of the three songs I composed was called Kusmiaty, named after Kadar’s sweetheart who was from Bandung, Indonesia. The other two song I composed were Janji Setia and Bisikan Rindu while the fourth song composed by Ajis was Dimana Dikau. Except for Kusmiaty, the lyrics were written by Sahak himself. Kadar of course did the lyrics of Kusmiaty.
The song Kusmiaty was a slow number and I thought it would be good if the song could be accompanied with the piano. Kadar’s younger brother Mohammad Shah could play the piano but not too well and so both Ajis and me coached him the chords as both of us could play the piano, in fact far better than him. Since he was to play the piano, we suggested that he might as well play the organ for the other three songs. When everything was settled, Ajis left for Kuala Lumpur to look for Daiman and Ramly.
Three days later Ajis returned home bringing along Daiman and Ramly as they both had agreed to assist in our project. That was my first meeting with Ramly with whom in later years, after leaving The Grim Preachers I formed another band called Mushroom Alice Spice Jam that became one of the leading rock bands in Kuala Lumpur.
We had our first meeting at Kadar’s house and presented to him the four songs both Ajis and me had composed. I played the song on the piano while the rest listened and Kadar liked the tune of Kusmiaty that inspired him to write the lyrics. Next was to name the band and it was Kadar who suggested the name The Prematures. It was disbanded immediately after we did the recording.
Before the meeting ended, Kadar gave strict instruction to Sahak that for the whole duration of the project, he must stopped smoking and liked it or not he had to. That was perhaps the most painful period for him. Every time when we had our practices, he could be seen struggling to remain calm seeing everyone of us puffing away.
In the meantime Kadar went to see the owner of the recording company Encik Musa Hj. Ismail who owned the recording company called MHI. Apparently he was the son of Hj. Ismail Penambang who was once the owner of the company operating the ferry service. A contract between Kadar and him was sealed. In two weeks’ time, we would be leaving for Singapore to do the recording.
The dominance of these Malay songs was most prominent that we sometime overlooked some of the latest western songs. Songs of A. Rahman Onn’s ‘Cincin Emas’, Ahmad Jais’ ‘Gelisah’, Eddie Ahmad’s ‘Aduh Serojah’ and A. Halim’s ‘Kesah Dan Tauladan’ were being aired over the radio almost every hour of the day. Of all the bands that we heard, we were attracted to the style of The Strangers from Johor Bahru. They became very famous with their songs of ‘Cicin Emas’, ‘Peracun Kalbu’ and ‘Aku Nak Pulang’. The lead guitarist of this band was known as Mat Atan. His style of guitar playing was unique for those days and unlike most of the lead guitarists of other bands who played their guitars very common in nature, Mat Atan exhibited his guitar skill very much to the western players. In the song Aku Nak Pulang, he did the lead chorus quite similar to the song Bus Stop of The Hollies. Another band that attracted us was The Antartics from Singapore. They produced their own unique style also with some western blend and not forgetting The Quest whose lead guitarist Reggie Verghese’ lead solo in the song Gelisah sang by Ahmad Jais was superbly plucked.
We wanted to be different from these good bands. Daiman and Ajis worked tirelessly to produce our own style of music. We listened to the style of George Harris of The Beatles as well as some African American guitarists such as B.B. King and Chuck Berry. It was quite sometime when we managed to produce our own style, and by the time we were to leave for Singapore, we were ready. Sahak did most of his singing practices by himself at home as by then he had the grips of the four songs presented to him. In two days’ time, we would be arriving in Johor Bahru.
We arrived at Johor Bahru late in the evening and stayed at the house of Kadar’s brother-in-law, Ahmad Adam, who was then the Johor State Engineer. By now many JB musicians heard of our presence in their town and few wanted to meet us. The first to meet us was the drummer of The Strangers named Razaly. Later we were introduced to Mat Atan the lead guitarist who had our most admiration for his guitar skill. During this meeting, he told us that his band would be performing at the Johor Bahru Civil Service Club tomorrow night and requested that we play two songs as the guest band of which we gladly obliged. It was during this night that Mat Atan was so attracted to Daiman’s style of guitar playing and admitted that he had never heard of a lead guitarist who could play the guitar as good as Daiman. To us that was a compliment because we admired his style as well. As for Razaly the drummer, he was so thrilled at seeing the way our drummer Ramly beat his drums that he told us after our performance that Ramly’s way was very much that of Tony Meehan of The Shadows.
Before leaving for Singapore the next day, Mat Atan suggested that we used his Fender guitar which he had done some adjustments for better sound production. Indeed it was, when Daiman tried the guitar in the studio, it produced a unique sound and we all liked it. The recording started with us the musicians playing our piece of the four songs while Sahak was to sing alone later. We finished ours quite fast as we had done our homework regularly. When it came to Sahak’s turn to sing, he could not make it. It took him hours to complete one song and the worst was the song Kusmiaty. When the time was up for the studio to close, Sahak still could not make it. Maybe this was his first experience in a studio for his voice recording and he felt very scared As a result he lost control of his own self. Kadar had a serious discussion with the studio manager and after some time, they suggested that Sahak had to come again to fit in his voice recording. As we all could not stay for too long, we left Singapore that evening and heading back home to Muar town the next day. Sahak had to stay in Singapore to complete his voice recording.
One week later Sahak returned home and assured us that he had done his best. It was only after about three weeks later that our record was out and when we eagerly played it on the record player, all of us were extremely disappointed with Sahak’s vocal performance. By then it was too late and nothing much could be done. Nevertheless, the songs of Sahak were frequently aired over the radio and he seemed very excited whenever his voice was in the air. For me, I did my part to assist him in his dream and I felt truly glad.
However, our music arrangements were greatly admired by many musicians. All of them were of the opinion that we had a wrong singer while the music produced by us were of high standard. Kadar even received a call from an Indonesian agent suggesting that we do a back up arrangement for a leading Indonesian singer Ernie Djohan. We had to decline the offer as the band we formed was only to help our close friend to realize his dream of becoming a recording artist. Kadar was absolutely right when he suggested the name of our band The Prematures.
This story is a very small part of my life as a musician. However, after realizing that taking music seriously could not guarantee me a good future, I decided to quit from the music industry for good. Ajis continued his career in music and made it successfully. Contemporary musicians of my time will surely remember a great guitarist by the name of “Ajis Mak Enggor” and this name stick with him until today.
Both Ajis and me were transported into the music industry at a wrong era but that’s what destiny is all about.
As for Sahak, that was his one and only recording and I made his dream into a reality.