Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.— Plato, Athenian philosopher
‘Diva Ernie, M’sian Elvis give dazzling show’, reads The Borneo Bulletin’s inside page on its July 16 issue of 2000.
As music endears one to enthusiasts and fans, it was the very phenomenon that helped to privilege yours truly to perform with Indonesian diva Ernie Djohan for the Brunei ruler’s 54th birthday on July 15 that year.
Ernie, then aged 49, was my teen idol in the late 1960s with her popular number ‘Teluk Bayu’. I was in my prime at 46 but only could afford to use a black suit with red scarf as that day I was only able to leave my workplace Brunei Press at 9pm and was in a haste to make it to the central padang of BSB, the show venue. But I had already met the international star a day earlier for our practice session with the band at the Crowne Princess Hotel in town, where I appeared every Saturday night for a special performance.
Earlier in the same year on March 4, I also performed at Radio Television Brunei’s (RTB’s) variety show. An Indonesian lady (married to a Brunei minister) hosted the show as our main performer was her homeland’s well-known composer and artiste Tito Somarsoena, whose iconic song ‘Pergilah’ was a hit among Bruneians and Malaysians.
I declined the Elvis of Malaysia tag but agreed her use of Elvis from Malaysia.
It was also music that brought me to three palaces in the sultanate. The deputy chairman of QAF, the parent company of my employer Brunei Press, Prince Abdul Qawi knew about my musical background and genre. So, on his birthday in the year 2000, he threw a party at his father Prince Mohamad’s palace Balai Kayangan, inviting me to perform using ‘minus one’.
An accomplished guitarist himself, the prince also idolised Elvis music.
Music also brought me to two other palaces, namely Istana Nurul Izzah, the palace housing the Sultan’s then second wife Pengiran Anak Mariam and thirdly Palace De Chateau, belonging to Princess Rokiyah, the sultan’s younger sister who was about my age — she was the owner of the Crowne Princess Hotel where I met her earlier and joined her group for a small party.
At Nurul Izzah, I had the honour to perform in front of Mariam who hosted a luncheon for special children. For me, I also combined journalism and music there as it was an opportune moment to get my materials for a special feature on those kids.
At Palace De Chateau, we made our entry late, namely around 30 minutes before midnight for the princess’ birthday.
Entertainers from Crowne Princess Hotel who were invited to perform were Indon jazz specialist Fitriana, keyboardist Zulfikar and my humble self.
The party lasted until 4am but it was an enjoyable moment and thanks to the generous princess, I drove back home B$4k richer.
Another guy whom I befriended during my appearances at the hotel was an established statesman Pehin Datuk Seri Utama Abas Datu Harun, then aged around 72.
An ardent keyboardist, the son of Brunei’s first chief minister, was also former advisor to the late Seri Begawan Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien.
I was invited once — alone — to his palatial home in Beribi and was served coffee by his beautiful spinster daughter. He shared one of his concerns with me.
“People here are a funny lot; they are not fond on seeing me and other aristocrats sit at open stalls and ordinary cafes, thereby mixing with the commoners.
“But when my father, the chief minister passed on, did the aristocrats help to carry his coffin and help with the burial? No, none of them; only the commoners were there to help.”
In 2001, I was invited to a wedding to perform Elvis. Then Minister of Development Dato Pengiran Dr Damit — I met him many times before during meetings, attending as Commercial and Publishing editor of Borneo Bulletin — was not only impressed with my show but ended up asking me to play Russian Poker (Samchung) for him with B$1k capital. We won B$4k. He let me take home B$3k.
There was a crazy lady, also a Pengiran, who insisted that I sing ‘Angin Malam’ by Broery Marantika, with B$2,850 sponsorship, asking that I write about the event. I happily obliged but only took B$2k, giving the balance to the newly-weds.
Through a Filipino colleague and housemate, I became a close friend of Ambassador Enrique Zaldivar and spouse, becoming a regular entertainer for a lot of Pinoy functions at Zaldivar’s home and elsewhere.
When I interviewed and wrote an article on then Philippine President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada in 1999, the embassy presented me a black ‘barong’ that is still in good condition now.
Such was the power of music, especially when combined with writing skill.