With a lot of push and sacrifices not to mention undergoing through the lows and highs, a person might achieve some degree of success in his or her chosen pursuit, career and fields of interest.
Many achieve success beyond their dreams and are amazed that they have come to such a stage. I, for one, am part of this group, though being one of Malaysia’s top Elvis Presley impressionists, there is nothing to shout about – after all I am just a small dot among the big ones. Actually I never aimed to go beyond the school’s acts and whatever happened to me pertaining to the arts (including music) later just happened without any party really authoring or planning for it. Perhaps, the Almighty has a plan or plans for anyone of us and see to it that we achieve some degree of success in what we do.
We have a number of popular singers whose offspring try to match their parents’ success or achievement. But most of them could not do so and many failed miserably despite having famous parents. In singing, the glaring example is Lisa Marie Presley whose albums are all flops as so are Sean Lennon, Nancy Sinatra and many more. The same goes to the film industry’s greats such as the small degree of success by the children of P Ramlee, Hussain Abu Hassan, Aziz Jaafar and others in Malaysia. In the US, Henry Fonda’s children Peter and Jane were just incomparible or did not measure to their famous father as are the children of Donald Sutherland (only Kiefer makes a bit of impression act actor, director and producer) whereas Michael Douglas is still struggling to match the mighty deed of his legendary ‘Spartacus’ father Kirk. Even the children of Bruce Lee, namely the late Brandon and his sister Shannon trailed miserably behind the kungfu legend. These are just a few examples.
The point here is that parents do play a great influence in their children pursuing a career in the arts but not necessarily ensuring their solid or great success, if any. Most artistes and artists are the real reasons of their own success and without any attribution to their parents.
Our local Elvis Tribute Artistes’ (ETAs’) backgrounds reveal that most of us come to the stage where we are almost entirely due to our own efforts and talent. None of our top ETAs are from singing family. Most of our parents are or were farmers, civil servants, company employees, merchants or others with no musical background. Most of us are self-made artistes.
For that matter, my parents were illiterate and without any musical background – mom (indai) only knew how to mark X (to fulfill her democratic obligations) after months of practice using charcoal on an old plank attached to our decaying walls whereas dad (apai) only knew how to write 0 and 1 with whatever device he could lay his hands on – but they were certainly intelligent, especially apai who went on to become lead bard and a renowned Iban customs and oral literature key personnel while indai was good in the Iban ‘tusut’ (genealogy) and was a skillful weaver too. Except for their ordinary skill in Iban traditional beat of gongs, there was nothing musical about any of my parents.
My elder brother Edward Jelani, 75, who was on a holiday from Seria Trade School in 1958 used to sing one or two verses of the song ‘Please Help Me I am Falling’ (by Hank Locklin) though according to my ignorant four-year-old ears it sounded like ‘Plis hep Miam Polling’ but I got the tune right. That probably became the starting point for my interest in singing or music for that matter and the rest is history. ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars’ was my first song on stage, performed in 1962 for the inaugural Nanga Assam Primary School Concert to raise funds. It was the only singing performance during the concert.
Later I was told Edward recorded two Iban songs for RTM in Kuching (RTM inhouse studio) in 1963 while studying as one of the pioneers of the Kuching Trade School. This became a great influence for my musical involvement.
When entering Form 1 as a 14-year-old in 1968, I was mesmerised by the guitars – I never came across one prior to this – but they were out of my reach as they belonged to strangers. So when three other Form One boys namely Daniel, John Timban and Kenneth Sang mulled about forming a band I was a bit disappointed as there was no part for me. Before this Sang and I used to do impromptu sketches on stage with little success. They needed a drummer so I practised using rulers to hit our desks making useful beats. I was taken in as their member and given the role as a drummer of or band ‘The Playboys’. During our first stage show in July 1968 we used an‘impromptu’ assembled drum set of two pails, an empty tin and a tin plate courtesy of Danish Endawie Eta of Ulu Krian who later on obtained an engineering degree and served SESCo and recently retired as Chief Operation Officer (COO) of Sarawak Energy Berhad. It was a humble assemblage of the said items but nevertheless served the purpose if the thunderous applause accorded to our performance was anything to go by.
As the year and the subsequent ones journeyed by I picked up a note or two on the guitar as by then I had access to one or two of the stringed instruments in our hostels. All you had to do was to make friends with the owners. As we went along I improved and put more effort in my singing and let the drumming job be given to others. That might be part of the early history readers want to know.
It was in 1969 at age 15 that I first belted Elvis song ‘It’s Now or Never’ on stage with little success. Many more songs and performances were to follow later but I was overshadowed by our seniors who sang numbers by Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves and others. It was only in 1971 while being in Form 4 that I was more or less unrivaled. They called me ‘Saratok Elvis’ especially after instrumental in our school getting the Second Division School Drama Champion in a contest hosted by SMK Simanggang in Sri Aman the same year. I performed ‘Just Call Me Lonesome’ at the Simanggang Theatre and the score was added to the Drama act our school presented separately at the SMK Simanggang school hall. This was a further expansion of the earlier history.
Now 46 years I have performed Elvis in almost every corner of the state alien to other world’s Elvis impressionists. These include Bau, Kuching, Siburan, Serian, Tebakang, Melugu, Sri Aman, Betong, Engkilili, Skrang, Pusa, Debak, Saratok, Roban, Daro, Belawai, Bawang Assan, Sarikei, Bintangor, Sibu, Kanowit, Kapit, Bintulu, Miri, Kuala Belait, Seria, Bandar Seri Begawan, Tutong, Temburong, Limbang, Lawas, Kota Kinabalu and Tawau. In Semenanjung I have performed in Penang, Taiping, Alor Setar, Kuala Lumpur, Seremban and Port Dickson. When I looked back these seemed to be a dream. My audience thus far included the 11th Yang di-Pertuan Agong the late Sultan of Selangor Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Al-Haj (in B.S.B Brunei), present Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (Kuching) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (Alor Setar), former Sarawak TYT Tun Datuk Patinggi Muhammad Salahuddin bin Abang Barieng, present TYT Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud and most Sarawak leaders both past and present. I had the privilege to perform together with the late Tok Nan at the former Ferritel in 1989 at a show hosted by the late Mustapha Besar and also featuring the legendary Rose Iwanaga with whom I also performed together in 2010 at then Holiday Inn infront of Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu who was then Deputy Chief Minister.
This blowing of my own trumpet is necessary to prove one or two points as stated in the relevant paragraphs above. Excuse me for reiterating – I am just one small humble dot among the big mighty ones whose lifestyles are fashioned after the King’s.