Cover Story: Multilingual Malaysian Singer Shila Amzah On Hitting The Big Time In China
Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Shila Amzah began singing when she was 10 and shot to fame in China when she was in her early 20s. "China will always hold a special place in my heart; it’s the country that helped to launch my career,” shares Shila who emerged victorious in Asian Wave in 2012 before becoming a finalist in the second season of I Am A Singer—which happens to be the same competition that British singer Jessie J took part in, albeit in a different season. “They accepted me for who I am, what I believed in, and didn’t care where I came from... they just wanted to listen to my music and supported me by giving me that boost which I needed,” she explains.
It was mainly because of this deep affinity and connection that Shila, who turns 30 in August, felt with China that we decided to photograph her, where else but, in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. Utilising the scenic setting of Kwai Chai Hong (Little Ghost Lane), and thanks to the generous team behind Four Points by Sheraton KL, Chinatown, the backdrop was a nod to the country which made Shila a household name.
“The fact that I sing Mandarin songs also gave me the opportunity to travel around the world. Wherever there's Chinatown, there are my fans. I’m quite lucky in that sense,” shares Shila, when asked about her international appeal and reach. So far, the singer has toured and performed in Lincoln Centre, New York; The Venetian Theatre, Las Vegas; in Perth, and most recently Sydney, Australia, on top of covering over 50 provinces in China itself.
“Don’t get me wrong though, my fanbase doesn’t solely comprise Chinese people; there are tonnes of others who come to see me perform and enjoy my music,” Shila adds. This was proven when a group of Malay girls chanced upon our shoot, recognised her and began pointing and whispering among themselves excitedly. After all, prior to being recognised in China, she had already won numerous local accolades, and the fact that she can sing in 10 languages clearly shows she caters to a large segment of the international population.
“One of the most profound effects I’ve had would be with my fans. When I started to wear a hijab back in 2012, there were a number of fans who followed suit,” says Shila who aspires to be a positive influence to women and children. “Not only that, back then in China, a lot of the Chinese were sceptical about hijabs. They thought that there was only one way to style your look, among other misconceptions, but while I contested on I Am A Singer, I managed to change perceptions and there were many who became more open to the look and wanted to try it out for themselves. Plus, I even managed to boost the confidence level of some women who were already wearing hijabs.”
See also: 13 Things We Bet You Didn’t Know About Dato’ Sheila Majid
It isn’t just a one-way street for Shila, however. While she does have a certain influence over them, they too have some clout on the singer.
“In a way, you can say that I learnt Mandarin for my fans. Back when I was based in Shanghai, I could get away with not having learnt the intonations perfectly; there’s a large expat community there, so you can get by with English as well. But as I progressed through the stages of the competition, I realised I’d have to travel to other provinces, and not only that, I’d have to give live interviews!” Shila shares.
She decided that it was time to pick up Mandarin. Amazingly, she did so mostly on her own, mainly from singing and via interactions with those around her, supplemented by only two classes which lasted a couple of hours at most. Nevertheless, mastering the language would have come relatively easy to her, as she is naturally a lover of languages.
“I love trying and learning new things. To me, what makes a country is its language. After learning that, you understand the culture, people and even the food better. It’s quite interesting, and I think we’re really blessed to be Malaysian, and being exposed to many cultures,” she says.
To read the full story, click here for your complimentary digital copy of June 2020 issue.
- Photography Kim Mun
- Styling Sarah Saw
- Make-Up Shiyo Joo