KUALA LUMNPUR, May 20 ― Tan Sri Syed Mohd Yusof Syed Tahir is perhaps best known in the entertainment circle as the man who brought Michael Jackson to Malaysia 20 years ago.
After tomorrow, however, the entrepreneur, whose pet name is Jojo, will also be recognised as the man who gave an artiste-turned-vagabond a new lease of life.
Ben Nathan’s inspiring story will not be what it is without the courageous people who saw hope when all hope seemed lost.
And it was Syed Yusof who led the charge.
After much coaxing, he recently spoke to Malay Mail about his role in reviving Ben’s fortunes.
He was modest, he said: “I’m more of a behind the scenes man.”
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On a Thursday morning in February, Syed Yusof picked up a copy of Malay Mail that would change his life.
“It was a shocker,” he recalled.
“The story about Ben Nathan and the misfortune that befell him hit me like a thunderbolt that morning. I knew we must do something for this man.”
On the cover of Malay Mail was the picture of a man who looked every bit a vagrant. His long hair, however, hid a familiar face.
Ben, once a popular recording artiste, had been living on the streets for some 20 years.
Wanting to get connected with him, he wrote an email to Malay Mail and soon received a call from Datuk DJ Dave, who had convinced Ben to get medical treatment.
“Dave wanted to see how we could help Ben. It struck me that Dave heads the Yayasan (Artis 1Malaysia) and this was a perfect collaboration.”
Syed Yusof said Ben’s story touched him deeply as he had a soft spot for veteran artistes.
Syed Yusof recollects how in his formative years, he would be captivated with comedian Datuk Aziz Sattar and screen diva, Mariani Mariam Ismail, among others.
“They have passed on but I still remember and I am sure many others do too. These were homegrown talents.
“Likewise with Ben Nathan, we must never forget the veterans. They were entertainers who inspired many listeners with their ballads and romantic tunes.”
Looking back, he realised if he could bring the big names, why not make a Malaysian name bigger.
Although the concert tomorrow is Syed Yusof’s brainchild, everything just seemed to fall into place when the theme "Kasih dan Harapan" (Love and Hope) was proposed by Dave and Malay Mail’s editor emeritus Frankie D’Cruz.
“Leave the past in the past and let’s give Ben a fresh start.”
Syed Yusof got his company, Jojo Events, involved in organising the benefit and he hopes to introduce Ben to a new generation of music lovers.
In preparing for the concert in Saloma Bistro, Jalan Ampang, he said Ben was undergoing a regiment the 90s star had been familiar with.
“His vocals are being worked on and he is being groomed with a new image.
“This is what being given a second chance to make a comeback would mean to an artiste.”
Sharing the stage with Ben are Dave, Datuk M. Nasir, Datuk Nash, Fredo, Aris Ariwatan, Sahara Yaacob, Ramlah Ram and Maisarah Ukulele.
It is hoped the concert would raise RM500,000 to look after Ben’s well-being and help him fulfil his dream of recording a song in Jakarta after Hari Raya next month.
Syed Yusof said a highlight for him in the journey with Ben was at a press conference last week to announce the concert.
He remembered Ben’s face when he presented him with a Fender Stratocaster.
“The look on his face. I just cannot put it into words.
“Ben seemed like a changed man. His confidence was rebuilt and he was hopeful about the future,” said Syed Yusof.
When it was put to him that Ben owed a lot to him, he shrugged it off.
“No, it’s not me. It’s the Malay Mail, and (Datuk) DJ Dave. They made the news or else we wouldn’t know about it.
“Give credit where it’s due. Malay Mail broke a shocking story and see where it brought us today,” he said.
Blast from the past
Suddenly, his mobile phone comes to life with a familiar Michael Jackson tune, Smooth Criminal.
He describes it as “something close to his heart always”, as he takes his phone out from his jacket inner pocket.
“It still remains my tune after all these years, treasured memories I just cannot part with.
“Whenever I am in the United States, I try to visit MJ’s mausoleum. Such a painful ending for such an immense talent.”
For the man, it was a huge achievement being able to bring Michael Jackson to perform in Kuala Lumpur.
Syed Yusof said: “It wasn’t about profits (if there were any and many wouldn't know that).
“It wasn’t about bringing MJ to Malaysia. It was taking Malaysia to the world.
“I remember the thrill knowing that we brought much joy to the hordes of fans during MJ’s two-day sell-out concerts at Stadium Merdeka.”
Since Jackson, Syed Yusof had also brought Malaysia to the world through Kenny G, Ricky Martin, Linkin’ Park, Tony Bennet and the Gypsy Kings to name a few.
Perhaps it was also that same spirit that brought him to Ben.
“I always remind my team that sometimes it’s not about profits but the smiles, cheer and joy,” he said.
* Malay Mail is the official media partner for the benefit concert, tickets are RM5,000, RM3,000, RM2,000 (per table) or RM100 (lunch included) for individuals, available at Hard Rock Shop in Kuala Lumpur.
For details, call 03-2276 3327/2272 1080/018-871 4305