Image Saufi Nadzri
Sheila Majid’s Wardrobe by Michael Kors
JUICE has spoken to legendary musicians before, from Morrissey to Nile Rodgers, and even more massively popular foreign acts, yet we’ve never so much as fumbled in our conversations with them. Thanks in part to the personal mantra inherited by every new generation of Writers in our 11 years of existence: We had never thought of ourselves as below the subject of our interview. Yet it took Sheila Majid – possibly the only local act we’ve spoken with who actually possesses real fame – to reduce us to intern status; our palms were sweaty and there was some feeling of nausea forming as we waited for her arrival at the designated interview spot.
To calm ourselves, we eavesdropped on DANGERDISKO’s conversation with the organiser’s PR girl, something amusing about the glory days of the shifty Heritage Row and guns drawn while they were having a bite at a nearby mamak. Before we even managed to finish a half-thought about sharing our own Heritage Row anecdote, Sheila and her Personal Assistant made their way to our table – “Hi Kak Sheila, thank you so much for meeting up with us,” reading that doesn’t have the same effect as imagining us stammering each syllable out to her, “(Laughs) Yes, it’s a pleasure,” she responded.
The chortling might be bemusement from our perceived faux pas (“Kak? She’s a Dato’!” we thought later) or unintentional flattery bordering on backhanded (“Was that appropriate? She’s not that age anymore!”). One-half of DANGERDISKO, Farez (ROBOTRON 5000) and Shah simply opted for ‘Auntie Sheila’, clearly already having formed a rapport with the legend. Maybe that should have been the colloquial title used? As soon as we sat down and settled ourselves though, it was obvious that we were overthinking it – Sheila Majid was the most approachable and affable public figure we have ever had the pleasure of conversing with. To paraphrase Farez, she was like the favourite aunt you never had – had your aunt been a celebrated songstress for decades, that is.
Naturally loquacious, she was quick to add on to a half-sentence of ours that amounted to not much more than “So Urbanscapes…”
“I was flattered that they invited me, Urbanscapes is something my daughter goes to!” That exuberance continued for the whole hour of the interview. Admittedly it was really something that deserved excitement, “…having the youth interested in watching me perform [is] a big step for my career, that gives me a longer [career lifespan],” said Sheila. Not anywhere close to a diva like her peers, she’s coyly self-deprecating of her position in the local pop milieu: “My shows are usually, what, secretary days? Mana ada youth nak pergi? Don’t put it there, they might not call me anymore (laughs).”
While that was said jokingly, Sheila needed not worry about her appeal anymore, Urbanscapes 2012 singlehandedly proved that her draw power was still immense – she had an audience across all demographics (who was enduring the drizzle just for her no less). And she was sharing the same stage as the likes of Yuna and Sigur Rós to boot! To the uninitiated, that year’s Urbanscapes was also when DANGERDISKO decided to remix her classic single ‘Sinaran’. “Sheila was playing that year and we just sort of want to pay tribute to her,” Fariz explained before Sheila excitedly butted in, “[They] made my ‘Sinaran’ hip!”
Insert collective laughter here, vintage sitcom-style.
“That’s the thing! She doesn’t realise that the song is evergreen and transcends all age boundaries,” added Farez, downplaying DANGERDISKO’s involvement in Sheila Majid’s renaissance in current pop awareness. He wasn’t wrong, we’ve been to enough The Deer Society (DS) parties back when they hadn’t chopped and screwed ‘Sinaran’ yet to witness partygoers going crazy over the original track – just as they would do so to Madonna, Whitney Houston, Earth, Wind & Fire, or any other Western classics. “Every time I play that song, everyone will go nuts and the place will be on fire with everyone singing along – it’s like a time machine!”
And that was the natal idea behind their decision to remix Sheila Majid; it’s a genre staple for a producer of any dance genre to reappropriate lost classics to modern sensibilities. Not possessing original stems of the track initially, DANGERDISKO chose to do a bootleg remix – a chop screw-y nu disco take on the original. In the digital age, going viral meant having your track shared on social media, ‘Sinaran (Bootleg Remix)’ did the unthinkable; it went viral purely through making the rounds of DS nights. Punters were hearing it and talking about it – notably the most important of DS’ frequenters was one Chelek – former Makeup Artist and Hairstylist of Sheila’s (now Art Director, Stage Director, and an irreplaceable figure in the fashion world). Looking to meet up with the person responsible for the remix, Chelek eventually managed to hook up DANGERDISKO with Sheila Majid.
“Oh, you know Sheila Majid?! We actually want the acapella,” was exactly how their first meeting went down, and before Farez and Shah knew it, they were face-to-face with the diminutive (but larger than life) songstress. “[It’s] like one of the top 10 best days of my life,” recalled Farez. “I hope it stays that way!” Sheila interjected to the guffaw of everyone around. She had that quality in which even a light joke could get everyone settled into a comfort zone.
‘Sinaran’, not surprisingly, is something of Sheila’s equivalent to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’. “I’ve been singing the song since 1986? You’d reach to a point where you’d get jaded,” she told us, before reinstating her position, “but then again, it’s like having your favourite singer on stage not performing their most popular hit.” It took DANGERDISKO’s bootleg remix of the song for Sheila to finally find freshness in a track that amounted to just a routine to her previously.
“If you talk to people from my generation, we’ve reached the point where we’re doing it as a routine. But working with the youth injects a little bit of edge to my music,” said Sheila with a seriousness that was missing previously. This collaborative effort with DANGERDISKO was to be the much needed jolt to her system, she was more excited than ever to release the tune to an audience who might just be new fans of hers. So much so that a bootleg remix of ‘Sinaran’ alone wouldn’t suffice, she wanted an actual collaboration with DANGERDISKO.
“It’s not so much about ‘Oh, I’m already here, you have to work your way up,’ instead [I want to] give them the shortcut to be up there.”
Farez and Shah themselves weren’t going to settle with just a bootleg remix either, they wanted to go into the studio with Sheila Majid and rework the song completely despite their ‘limited’ musical skills. “It took us [3 months] with the bootleg, but it took an even longer time to do the rework,” Farez said, continuing that they’re “not really classically, musically trained.” It didn’t help that Sheila Majid wanted to rerecord her vocals instead of giving the boys the existing stems. The result was something of a crash course into the real recording world for the boys – out of the bedroom and into the studio.
“It’s gonna be exciting,” Sheila teased us, “you’ll see.”
Probably not as exciting as working with your childhood favourite, we wager. “We’ve always been fans of Sheila Majid, the first song I ever learnt on the guitar was ‘Lagenda’,” Farez shared with us. Imagine how surreal it was when Shah jokingly asked Farez “Can you imagine if we could perform this one day, and she hears this, and likes it, and performs with us?” during the initial remixing of ‘Sinaran’.
“Everything starts with a dream,” a sudden moment of clarity from Sheila Majid to us. You’d think it was a glib Yasminist sentimentality, but there were just too many serendipitous moments that led to her collaboration with DANGERDISKO. When Chelek first told her about the remix, it was only then that she realised that Farez was her friend’s son – a pure coincidence that didn’t stop there. Then there was the convergence point in which both of their wavelengths meet musically, despite being a generation apart.
Discussing music in hopes of maybe collaborating further with each other, they found out that their references were similar; Sister Sledge, ‘80s r’n’b, and more. Farez exclaimed “Disco is forever!” at one point, to which Sheila repeated verbatim before he expanded upon the seemingly battle cry-sounding declaration; “Disco never dies, it will just reinvent itself into something different. But the basis of disco will always be evergreen.”
To inject our own opinion into it, the natural cycle of music phases, especially with nu disco trending heavily now, has made Sheila Majid and DANGERDISKO a perfect fit. This contrasts quite a bit with what Farez said of their affinity for the past; “Everyone’s a DJ, everyone’s a producer, knowing two or three chords you can create a song already. For us to escape from that stereotype, we looked back into the ‘80s.” Nostalgia with tinted glasses or not, we can’t deny the truism in statements such as “listen to any ‘80s song, you’ll probably not recognise the verse, but you’ll definitely know the chorus. You may not even know the artiste, but you’ll sing along to it.”
“That’s the magic of the ‘80s!”
It’s sort of an absurdist statement in hindsight, yet Sheila Majid provided us with some insight that made sense out of this. Wasn’t there a point in the early ‘80s when disco was uncool? She confirmed our extrapolation – “It’s a cycle.” Like fashion she added, before reasoning that old trends are hipper than ever now because these forgotten pop culture bits and pieces weren’t just regurgitated wholesale, they were reclaimed by the modern age into something that only resembled its past. “I’d look at today’s magazines and recognise some of the clothes, but the styling is different, just the same pieces. Same thing with music,” she reasoned.
You’d think Sheila’s daughter, rapper Kayda, would think she’s cooler now that ‘Sinaran’ is something of a club anthem (something even the daughter hasn’t achieved yet), but Sheila only said as much as this; “I hope she thinks I’m cool (laughs)!”
While certainly on their way to bigger things, especially with this project, DANGERDISKO isn’t that big of a deal just yet – and that’s more reason for Sheila to support them. “No one wants to take the risk of [giving exposure to new acts], even radios,” said Farez, adding that “they may think it’s a good song but they won’t put it up because when they check their Facebook page, there’s like only 80 likes, and they won’t take the risk.”
“Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? Play the music, and try it out!” interjected Sheila.
“If you’re too scared to take the risk, you will never progress – and that’s what’s happening now,” she posited with the sort of fiery passion you’d expect from a fledgling indie act. Coming out from her mouth though, it didn’t just validate the struggle of new artistes, it was also a breath of fresh air to know that there are those up in the ladder that are willing to cross the mythical gap between the urban and the masses, which is to Sheila one of the reasons why indie acts find it hard to succeed in a commercial market. Using Indonesia’s music scene as an example, she argued that the country does not segregate their music by perceived target audiences – “Their urban, dangdut, everything is still playing [on the same level], so there’s no such thing as urban or masses… you go out in the kampong and they’re singing Nidji, Peter Pan, and all that cause it’s all being played on radio!”
Come Saturday 15 March ’14, perhaps the first endeavour to bridge that divide will take place as DANGERDISKO and Sheila Majid are promised Future Music Festival Asia 2014’s Future Live Arena, making them the only local acts to be given the headlining stage as well as “one of the best set times ever for a local act.” While they can say as much as they will imbue ‘Malaysiana’ into their first collaborative live performance, they can’t reveal a lot to us just yet. That’d be doing the cardinal sin of the internet age; spoilage. But this much JUICE knows, there will be visuals by a friend of JUICE and stage direction by an aforementioned fashion staple. Make of that what you will.
DANGERDISKO and Sheila Majid will perform together at FMFA2014’s main event on Saturday 15 March ’14 at Bukit Jalil National Stadium.