I loved singing. But can you imagine my voice in an opera house?

–Vladimir Horowitz, Russian-born American classical pianist

With no more new novels to read during the long movement control order — and with most if not all bookstores being closed — I ended up tuning up to WaiFM, and was very contented listening to my favourite Iban artistes of the 60s and 70s rendering their popular hits. A few of them are friends that I know or knew, including those appearing with me in the same show or performance.

Throughout the one-hour programme dubbed as “Kelab 45” run by deejay Jimbu, I really stayed elated listening to my late friends Zainal Abidin Ujang (fondly known as ZAU) with his refined Tom Jones’ vibrato as well as the melodious crooning voice of the late Robert Lingga.

In 1973 I contested against ZAU in Sibu while attending Lower Sixth Arts in Methodist Secondary School in both the Iban and English sections. It was a state-level competition held at the Sibu Recreation Hall. I ended up first runner-up in both sections, soundly beaten by ZAU who was already attached to RTM.

We became friends since then. We met again circa 2007. He immediately arranged for me to perform at one of his functions in Petra Jaya and became friends on Facebook. Sadly he passed on many years later. 

It was in 1972 that I came to know the late Robert Lingga, also known as Apai Rose in his longhouse at Bawang Assan, a settlement with seven longhouses in those days. Lingga was playing lead guitar for his band that gave the music accompaniment to a singing contest during that year’s Christmas Eve.

I opted to join just for fun because the song contested was not my favourite genre. Nevertheless, I made many new friends, including all the band boys led by Apai Rose as well as RM100 and a handsome silver cup donated by then area’s rep Datuk Ling Beng Siong for third prize.

In fact, during the WaiFM programme I was hoping for Jimbu to play my eldest brother Edward Jelani’s Anang Ninggal Ka Aku (copied from Elvis’ Don’t Leave Me Now) or any hit from my cousin Roselyn Abunawas but none from these two. I wasn’t disappointed though; he instead played an old hit by my friend Antonio Jawi.

At the same time, it was a real treat to hear the soothing voice of the late Pauline Linang, whose husband was the first “Flying Dayak” Terrence Janting. I met Pauline only once, namely in 1993 in a Kuching pub where she was a jury to a singing contest.

Another Iban singing icon Esther Bayang was a judge too.  They gave me high marks for a comfortable victory.

Jimbu played other interesting songs by the likes of Clement Bayang, Stewart Tinggi and another friend of mine Zamery Amera. For that matter all those songs played by him that evening remained evergreen hits.

Their lyrics are authentic Iban and I’m sure they were well vetted before being recorded as compared to a number of our new artistes whose lyrics are mixed up with “un-Iban” lyrics resulting in a kind of “rojak” with poor taste. It is okay for anyone to use English, Malay, Chinese or any other languages or dialects in order to make the lyrics rhyme as long as it is intentional.

Perhaps the extended MCO could give me more chance to listen to this programme. Apart from Edward and Roselyn, I do hope to hear songs by Datin Senorita Linang, Christopher Kerry Landong (deceased), Christopher Kelly, Oliver Kati Dhobi, Wilfred Vincent Ragam, Reynolds Gregory (deceased), Michael Jemat (deceased) and many more.

I have performed with all of these except for late Christopher Kerry and my good friend Oliver Kati, a retired school principal. 

Despite one or two hindering acts with language confusion, the Iban music industry has seen tremendous development and progress since 2008, the year when Dayak Music Awards made its debut, thanks to the pioneering efforts of late Tan Sri Celestine Ujang Jilan.

Dama, the acronym for Dayak Artistes and Musicians Association was formally launched in 2010 led by its chairman Snowdan Lawan (now Datuk and assistant minister).

“Anugerah Muzik Dayak” (AMD) has been held once every two years since 2010. That has given the boost for active industry players to improve all aspects of the Dayak music, including Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu ethnicities.

In 2012, for example, we brought on our roadshows young artistes such as Leezwita Ripin, Jessica Remaya, Florence Glo, Gabriel Fairuz Louis and many more. Most of these glorious artistes have become recording sensations and have won local and international awards.

This goes to show the Dayak community, especially Iban music industry, has thrived and improved by leaps and bounds.  

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.