KUALA LUMPUR, May 25 — Today holds a profoundly special and deeply meaningful significance not only for the country but also for the local entertainment industry, particularly each time May 25 arrives.

Often, this date passes by quietly and unnoticed, even though it holds immense importance in our nation’s entertainment world and ought to be commemorated. It was on this very date that entertainer extraordinaire, the late Datuk Sudirman Arshad, was born. He was Malaysia’s first singer to be honoured with the prestigious title of ‘Asia’s No 1 Performer’ during the Asian Popular Music Awards competition held at the prestigious London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1989.

This astounding achievement saw him triumph over eight other prominent Asian luminaries, including the late Cantopop legend Leslie Cheung from Hong Kong, the Philippines’ songstress Kuh Ledesma and Singapore’s Best Entertainer, the Las Vegas-based Anita Sarawak.

However, it is bewildering and somewhat disheartening that more than three decades after this legendary singer left us, his monumental struggles and sacrifices still largely go unrecognised, even though his soulful songs continue to resonate deeply with music aficionados across the country.


This is not a recurring lament; countless times the passionate voices and fervent hopes of the nation’s artists have implored the relevant authorities to honour the legacy of this native of Temerloh, Pahang, recognising his invaluable contributions in elevating the nation’s name.

Award-winning lyricist Datuk Habsah Hassan at ther office in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, May 25, 2024. — Bernama pic
Award-winning lyricist Datuk Habsah Hassan at ther office in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, May 25, 2024. — Bernama pic

Yet, the reality remains dishearteningly distant from this ideal. His name, let alone being enshrined in a museum or a dedicated gallery, remains far from this deserved recognition. In fact, the few who earnestly strive to honour Sudirman, also affectionately known as ‘Seniman Rakyat’, are his devoted fans, as noted by award-winning lyricist Datuk Habsah Hassan, 75.


Habsah, who is instrumental in the lyrics of Sudirman’s hit Salam Terakhir, fervently hopes that the contributions and sacrifices of this remarkable artist will be continuously appreciated and properly recognised. She calls for the establishment of a dedicated gallery to honour his legacy as well as to preserve his grave in Kampung Chengal, Temerloh.

Reflecting on her friendship with Sudirman, she said they became closer after she was given the opportunity to write the lyrics for Terasing in 1984, following the late Sudirman’s openness in sharing his hopes, dreams and aspirations, and his willingness to contact her at any time.

“Although Sudirman was known as a positive, cheerful and caring person, he struck me as someone who was lonely, sensitive, and affectionate to those he loved.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I understood from my interactions and conversations with him, along with our openness about everything, including personal matters. There was a time when he called me early one morning to express his sadness, and luckily my husband (Mohamed Jusoh) was very understanding of my friendship with Sudirman,” she said.

This close bond also made Habsah a confidante to whom Sudirman would pour out his heart and frustrations, inspiring her to create poetic and meaningful lyrics for the singer, who was also known as ‘The Singing Lawyer’.

Mohd Shuib Mohamed Taib, 58, a former creative assistant at Sudirman Productions Sdn Bhd in Kuala Lumpur, May 25, 2024. — Bernama pic
Mohd Shuib Mohamed Taib, 58, a former creative assistant at Sudirman Productions Sdn Bhd in Kuala Lumpur, May 25, 2024. — Bernama pic

Meanwhile, Mohd Shuib Mohamed Taib, 58, a former creative assistant at Sudirman Productions Sdn Bhd, felt that there was much to be learned from the great entertainer, known as ‘Mr Mann’ among his staff.

According to Mohd Shuib, Sudirman was strict and serious when it came to work.

“Although he was serious, I enjoyed working with him because he was very straightforward and didn’t sugar-coat things. For example, when I asked him what made him decide to offer me a job, he deadpanned, ‘You are creative but you can be clueless too!,” he said.

“Mr Mann was a generous employer. Every day after work, he would treat us to dinner at his favourite Thai restaurant called ‘Sri Thai’, located in front of the UMMC hospital at the time.

“I miss his no-holds-barred jokes in the office the most; he always kept it real. Hanging out with him was akin to hanging out with your friend next door. After office hours, Mr Mann liked to act silly, throwing himself on the couch and talking about random things,” Mohd Shuib told Bernama, adding that Sudirman often invited his employees to hang out for coffee at his residence in Jalan Setia Kasih, Damansara.

Mohd Shuib, who is now an English news sub-editor at the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama), shared that his good relationship with the renowned singer Anita Sarawak made possible his acquaintance with Sudirman.

“I ran into Sudirman at a restaurant in Bangsar one day and asked him to autograph a magazine I happened to have on me. He gave me his business card, and I would occasionally drop by his office at the UBN Tower, but we hardly talked.

“I first got to know Kak Nita (Anita) while I was studying at Christ College University in Canterbury, United Kingdom. We often chatted on the phone. Kak Nita and Sudirman were very close, and when I mentioned him to her, she in turn talked about me to Sudirman. From there, I believe Sudirman felt safe being friends with me.”

Mohd Shuib felt that he had earned Mr Mann’s trust after one unforgettable incident. “One day, while entertaining his media friends at a coffee house at the Shangri-La Hotel, Mr Mann asked me to join in. Then, he asked me to get some money from his briefcase in the office (located at UBN Tower, next to Shangri-La), which I recall was a wad of cash. When I handed it over to him, he didn’t bother to count it,” he said, expressing his surprise at the late Sudirman’s blasé reaction.

Sudirman passed away on February 22, 1992 at the age of 37, after a seven-month battle with pneumonia. The versatile artiste had recorded 15 studio albums and 52 compilation albums, and had won various local and international awards.

Among Sudirman’s hit songs that still play on the radio and remain popular with listeners are Merisik Khabar, Nilai Cintamu, Milik Siapakah Gadis Ini, Terasing, Anak Gembala, Pelangi Petang, Salam Terakhir and Kau Akan Kembali. — Bernama