Cover Story: Follow Datuk Syafinaz Selamat's Melodic Journey From A Teen Sensation To Super Stardom
The year was 1980. A young girl, the youngest of 11 siblings, born in the Pontian district of Johor Darul Ta’zim tagged along with her sister to a birthday party. There, the event host loudly asked, “Siapa nak menyanyi? (Who wants to sing?)” A little girl’s tiny, eager hand shot up enthusiastically before she made her way to the stage to sing a children’s song—Papaku Balik Dari Kota—and stunned the audience. That, was the beginning of seven-year-old Syafinaz’s path to eventual stardom.
Growing up in a house filled with a family that was truly in love with music makes it easy to believe that Syafinaz was simply born into it. “We’re either singing or dancing, my parents loved it,” said Syafinaz, before letting us in on the secret that her mother has a karaoke set, four speakers and 10 microphones at home, because she simply loved singing; and would reserve the best microphone for Syafinaz.
We’re either singing or dancing, my parents loved it.
Despite being born into a musically-inclined family, Syafinaz herself was tenacious and vehement since young—as demonstrated by her courageous choice to sing in front of a large audience at just seven years old. When she was in Standard One, she entered a singing competition in school. One of the teachers, who had a daughter of her own, paired them up and turned them into a performing duet. From then on, the two would perform year after year on stage. “Whether it was Teacher’s Day, Children’s Day, Whatever-It-Is Day, you’d have seen us on stage,” Syafinaz recalled with a fond laugh. “We even started singing on television when we were nine and called ourselves Syafinaz & Eliza. Though when I turned 16, Eliza decided to stop singing and I went on my own path and got my first offer for an album.”
They used to give me the songs without lyrics, which I only got on the day itself and had to memorise then and there.
With supportive parents (her father who would take her to KL every weekend to attend radio shows, and his ‘if you want it, just go for it’ attitude) and her own vocal prowess, Syafinaz recalled the experience of singing for her first album as an absolutely ‘chaotic’ time, and despite being fun, wasn’t without its humorous hang-ups. “They used to give me the songs without lyrics, which I only got on the day itself and had to memorise then and there. Plus, there were also times when I sang flawlessly and the producers would inform us that they had forgotten to press the record button, thus, needing me to do it all over again!” Nevertheless, she got the job done, and released her first self-titled album, Syafinaz, at the age of 16.
I don’t see myself doing anything else apart from music. I thought, if it wasn’t music, I don’t know what I’d be doing.
Bent on pursuing a musical career, Syafinaz’s excellent SPM results and a scholarship to do English as a Second Language (ESL) abroad did not deter her in the least. This, however, resulted in a huge altercation with her father, who was her biggest supporter. “My dad said that this was something secure. I’d be going abroad, coming back and getting a stable job with the government,” said Syafinaz. “I said no. I don’t see myself doing anything else apart from music. I thought, if it wasn’t music, I don’t know what I’d be doing.” So, they fought and fought... until she ran away from home.
It was only to her sister’s house, fret not. While she was hiding away and avoiding her father there, her family had prepared all the necessary documents to enrol her in the course. On the day itself, “I kept saying no, I didn’t want to go, over and over until the officer advised my mum by saying ‘Aunty, you know, if she doesn’t want to do it, you can’t force her.’” Yes, everything was ready, but Syafinaz refused to sign. Hell-bent was she on making music work that she did anything she could to have her way and pursue her passion.
After the whirlwind had waned, Syafinaz made her way to becoming one of the most prominent artistes in Malaysia, with no thoughts of a do-over. The lyric colorature soprano even won the Gold Medal in the 1999 World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles.
These days, she wears many hats and juggles between her responsibilities as a lecturer at her alma mater, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and The National Arts Academy (Aswara), plus is the advisor and vocal master for The National Choir of Malaysia and conductor for Permata Seni Choir Group.
I am passionate about my music and singing. It’s an art to me, and its artistic value is important.
Hard work brought her to performing in front of Barack Obama, the King of Brunei and the King of Jordan, as well as regular citizens who perennially tell her that they still listen to her 1999 album, which contains one of her most popular hits, Ingin Bersamamu, which I confess, was playing in my head throughout my conversation with her. “I am passionate about my music and singing. It’s an art to me, and its artistic value is important,” Syafinaz professed. “Despite my music being different, more matured, sophisticated and not mass, I stay true to myself... even if not many people can appreciate it.” Syafinaz admitted that she read comments about her albums, about how some people refuse to buy albums but make an exception for hers because they appreciate the quality. “I don’t have that many albums, but I’m fine with that. I am a believer of quality over quantity, anyway!”
Women are harder on other women. We are always judging others, which is terrible! We should be supporting each other.
We can all admit that Syafinaz still looks absolutely gorgeous as before, which she acknowledged is an occupational hazard. “It’s a job requirement in this industry. However, it is tricky. If you’re overly made up, people will talk. And, if you don’t take care of yourself, people will talk about you too.” As tough as it is to maintain a certain appearance, considering that Syafinaz herself is an asset to her profession, she observed that the harsher critics would always be other women. “Women are harder on other women. We are always judging others, which is terrible! We should be supporting each other.”
Words have never rung truer than that, and we couldn’t help but to ask more about her thoughts on women striving for perfection. To this, she answered with another question that struck everybody in the room: “Is it important that we are perfect?” The room filled with silence. She continued, “It is in the imperfections that we are perfect, don’t you think so? I’m a perfectionist, and trust me, that’s not an easy trait to have!” She elaborated on how she finds herself wanting things to be a certain way, or expecting people to have the same outlook as hers, and how she turned out to be her own toughest critic. “It’s a trap!” she declared and laughed, before adding, “But seriously, if there is such a thing as being perfect, then let it be channelled to kindness, passion and compassion. That’s perfect.”
This year is going to see Syafinaz becoming busier than ever. Just next month there is a concert for three singers called Soul Sisters, for which Syafinaz is the vocal director. Working with Misha Omar, Siti Sarah Raisuddin and Noryn Aziz, she will be helping them coordinate their voices for the entire show. It isn’t an easy feat, Syafinaz mentioned, as it involves three different singers, voices and approaches while coordinating 10 other backing vocals. All that is in the works while Syafinaz still juggles between performing her own shows and helping new singers make a mark in the industry. But we have faith in the artiste, who does not show signs of slowing down. Plus, she did mention that she loved the whole chaos of it all. Credit must be given to the passionate woman who knew what she wanted to do since she was seven.
As we came to the last part of this interview, I asked our Women’s Issue cover star, what message she would like to relay to the readers? As determined and enthusiastic as we imagined she would have seemed during that fateful birthday party many, many years ago, she said the words that every woman should carry within themselves always, “Believe in yourself. Don’t let anybody bring you down. Know who you are, and fight for what you believe in.”
Believe in yourself. Don’t let anybody bring you down. Know who you are, and fight for what you believe in.
— Datuk Syafinaz Selamat
Check out snippets of our photoshoot with Datuk Syafinaz Selamat in the video below:
- Photography Kim Mun/Hopscotch Photography
- Art Direction Lieu Chiaw Ching
- Styling Haida Yusof
- Make-Up Ahma Dani
- Hair VV Chan
- Videography Dean Shaari, assisted by Khairul Imran
- Accessories Omega
- Words Kathlyn D'Souza