BY TINA MELAN
I thought long and hard trying to find the male equivalent to the word “songstress”; alas I failed. Zainal Abidin Mohamad, best known for his iconic Hijau, a song released under his first solo album is, to me, just that. His melodious, broad voice and superb vocal control, enunciation and musical phrasing makes his every rendition a beautiful work of art.
And what better way to appreciate this art form than by listening to him croon his best hits live. Just like his vocal prowess; Zainal has, over the years remain stoic and unrelenting in his pursuit to share his gift of music with his fans. Not surprisingly, he sounds as flawless in person as he does on his albums.
He recently celebrated his 35 years in the music industry with a grand concert at the KL Convention Centre on 25 February. The sold-out concert titled The Musical Journey of Zainal Abidin – 35th Anniversary Concert featuring Headwind, with tickets which ranged from RM158 to RM958 was testament to the 58-year-old singer’s staying power. About a year before, he entertained fans at the prestigious Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, a far-cry from his band days of singing at make-shift concert stages in rural towns of the country.
As the lead singer for Headwind for about 10 years beginning in 1979, Zainal Abidin, had, through the band, established his footing in the local music scene; but it was only after he went solo that the brilliance of this Johore-born singer was exposed. His first solo album bearing his name, released in 1991 put Zainal Abidin at the forefront on various levels. It was arguably the first Malay album which speak of the socio-religious-politics of the day. And of course, the song which rocketed him to solo-artist stardom, Hijau may at first seem to be only talking about the environment, but listen closely and you will hear whispers of corruption and oppression.
It is certainly not misleading to say that the Zainal Abidin album showcased the crème de la crème of the music industry during its time; producer Roslan Aziz, musicians Mac Chew, Mustaffa Ramly, Jenny Chin, Michael Veerapan, Amir Yussof, Fauzi Marzuki and Zahid Ahmad among others. Apart from Zainal Abidin the singer himself, a huge credit must be attributed to the gifted Mukhlis Nor who conceptualised the album. They all happen to be with the right people, at the right time.
In subsequent years, Zainal Abidin went on to release other well-received albums namely Gamal in 1993, Terang … Sang in 1995, and the Bahasa Malaysia version of Walt Disney’s Tarzan soundtrack. Hijau lived on to become one of the most recognisable songs from the 90s. In a previous interview, the singer gladly admitted that to surpass Hijau is impossible. And I think his fans won’t mind.
After 35 years in the music industry, Zainal Abidin deserves to be celebrated. A true artist is hard to come by, and he is, a real gem. His fans are already looking forward to his next concert. In the meantime, I leave you here with some words taken from his song Ikhlas Tapi Jauh, a melodious number about pining in love and friendship.
Ku bawa wajahmu
Walau diriku jauh …