Longing for Iban oldies

I listen to both oldies and contemporary stations. I enjoy listening to current stuff because there’s an energy to it that’s inspiring.

– Carole King, American singer-songwriter

Many radio listeners of Iban programmes are urging for more song segments featuring veteran retro singers. They yearn for these soothing, at times inspiring oldies.

While spending about six months in between Sibu, Kanowit and Saratok from May to November 2019, I met a lot of them, aged between 40 and 80.

Later in Kuching and Samarahan last year before and after the various lockdowns, there were unplanned rendezvouses with the same age groups, usually in coffee shops.

We discussed various interesting segments regularly aired by RTM’s Iban section WAIfm. Most of them are fans of the Kelab 45 (Club of 45) which caters for those aged 45 and above.

Most of them said they were longing for and desperately hoping to hear their old favourites who were usually omitted from the lists played by deejays such as Bunyau (Ken Michael), Mujap (Stonton James), Jimbu, Sam and others. Many of those whom I met even suggested that WAIfm should give an extra segment to Iban oldies as an addition to Kelab 45 segment. After all, many of those in that age group are fans of the Iban oldies and programmes broadcasting retro singers would certainly give an adorable conclusive ending to their pre-slumber moments.

“I am wondering whether WAIfm still has songs by the likes of veterans, including late crooners such as Robert Lingga, Robert Tero, Eddy Jemat, Pauline Linang, Daniel Ragam, Brangka Bayang, Joshua Suin, Jerry Linang, Inu Balan, Christopher Kerry Landong and Datuk Mohd Johnny Mustapha,” said a female listener, 68, from Kanowit who preferred anonymity.

Her husband, 72, who is also a regular listener of songs from WAIfm and CATSfm, suggested that both radio channels should look for and air songs by retro crooners such as Datuk Temenggong Samuel Lawen, Oliver Kati Dobi, Penny Lily, Gloria Anding, Esther Bayang, Richmond Alan Morsidi and sole Dayak winner of Bintang RTM (2004) Felicia Gek. He has a special liking for Stella Philip who is from Julau, their immediate neighbour.

During my coffee shop chats with friends in Saratok, they lamented the poor repertoire of Iban oldies by WAIfm. Apart from duplicating the suggestions by the Kanowit couple, they emphasised Saratok’s very own favourite veteran singers like Helena Kayas, Bintang Radio Iban 1967 Roselyn Abunawas and her cousin Edward Jelani should be featured too, especially Roselyn, who is still a sensational figure.

In Sibu, I had a coffee shop chat with my friend and recording artiste Wesley Belaja, an RTM pensioner. He was very much involved (as a technician) when our pre-Gawai Dayak live show was held in RTM Hall, Sibu in 1975 when James Samy, Lucie Linang (now deceased) and I were led by the late Michael Jemat. Wesley first recorded circa 1976 while I was away doing my degree in USM, Penang. Some of his songs became popular hits. We mainly focused on our singing experience in the 70s, including our singing buddies, some of whom had bid adios to this life.

Sibu radio listeners whom I met also wished for radio channels, especially WAIfm Iban to air more songs by their favourite veteran crooners such as Wesley, Antonio Jawi, Michael Jemat, James Samy, Jonathan Jubin, Zainal Abidin Ujang, Angela Lata Jua and Johnny Aman. In Kuching, listeners yearn very much for singers such as Christopher Kelly, Datin Senorita Linang, Gabriel Tambi, Angela Martin and Wilfred Vincent Ragam, apart from those afore-mentioned crooners.

Many are longing for the comforting voices of Clement Ingun, Wilson, Andrewson Ngalai, Hendrew Uka Alo, Elison Ludan, Jeffry Nyaloi, Nai Dinamik, Jeffry Molly, Cecilia Rositee, Nancy Kadir, Jimmy Nyaing, Clement Bayang, Stewart Tinggie, Fiona John, Jennifer Jack and other popular veteran singers of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

Apart from listening to their renditions, songs from them are in authentic and appropriate Iban language and terminologies.

“We are not against intentional usage of English, Malay and other terms in their songs but nowadays, many new singers just rojak the lyrics, with many not really knowing that they are using Malay terms, thinking those are Iban words.

“For example, Iban term for ‘world’ is dunya but some new singers use the Malay term dunia, while serega is the correct Iban term for ‘heavens’ and not syurga as used by some new singers,” said a government pensioner, 82, who preferred anonymity. He proposed a strict censorship. 

As a regular WAIfm listener myself, I have nothing against their usual repertoire; after all, new singers with new sounds and music should be regularly featured. I just hope the wishes of these ‘senior’ listeners cum fans are considered.