What I've Learned: Anuar Zain
On his fans, his music and his parents.
Anuar Zain, Singer, 46
If you layan your fans, they will love you. People just want to be treated nicely.
People don’t really produce my kind of music anymore. They are producing, uhm, more simple music these days. There are a few singers who are doing the same kind of music as me, such as Sheila Majid and Datuk Siti Nurhaliza.
I started singing when I was 13 in 1983. I had four albums with my singing partner, Elina. We sang mainly folk, children’s songs. There was a song about kain pelikat; basically, it’s about how you should wear kain.
I am not on social media. I think it involves too much responsibility. It’s a venue for people to bash you unnecessarily, and I can’t bear it. It’s painful to see people just bashing others on social media these days. There are a lot of hurtful comments on Instagram and Twitter. This is not right.
I am 46. Imagine if an 18- or 19-year-old were to lash out at me for no apparent reason on social media? I don’t want to be in that situation. I am too sensitive for negative comments.
I don’t read entertainment news. I don’t read other people’s comments. I don’t google myself. I don’t scrutinise myself. I don’t even watch my own performances. After I’m done, that’s it. It makes me cringe if I have to look at myself.
Every time I release a new album, it feels like my first album. I still get nervous.
I got discovered by chance. I was performing at my cousin’s wedding. My dad forced me to sing because there was a kampung band. I sang about five songs. It so happened that one of the guests was a cousin’s friend who was looking for young talents at EMI.
In Malaysia, if you have the rezeki, people will love your album automatically. Otherwise, you just have to convince them to listen to your music.
My sister (Ziana Zain) and I are very close. There has never been any competition between us. We are in different genres—she is more Malay pop, and I am more modern pop.
I love blues music. I hope to produce a blues album one day.
People often ask, “Why don’t you produce an English album?” Imagine if I did, I would have to compete with the likes of Brian McKnight and Usher.
Producing an album is a very difficult process for me because I am very particular about the people who I work with. Sometimes, when I get good songs, but I don’t get good energy from people, I don’t do it all.
My father (Zain Abdullah) is very encouraging. He is the driving force behind our [my sister and I] careers. Whenever we sing at home, he gives us pointers on how to perform, how to pronounce words. He was a singer too; he sang mostly Malay folk songs and lagu asli. He was a winner of the Dondang Sayang competition in 1980.
My mother (Robiah Abdul) is a very religious woman. She is very quiet. She has never said anything about our careers. She didn’t encourage or discourage us. One day, back in 1995, she asked me if I wanted to sing. I was shocked because she was never really interested in my singing career. It was then that I decided to give it a try again.
I have never felt like “I’ve made it”. For me, it’s always about looking for something new, something better than before.
When it comes to work, a lot of newcomers tend to take things for granted. Back then, we had to do mall appearances, give a lot of interviews, hold press conferences, conduct fan meets, and even go to mosques which I like to do, because there’s nothing quite like it. It’s like a party.
I can’t do hip-hop, and I can’t rap at all. You need to have really fast-moving lips.
Malays and Chinese love heart-wrenching love songs. But music has evolved into something greater. People are listening to something deeper, something more meaningful.
I love Brian McKnight and Whitney Houston. They are the most interesting singers vocally. Houston had very masculine adlibs, while McKnight, who is a macho-looking guy, has really soft ones.
My voice has changed over the years, of course—and it’s a nice change. I am more seasoned now. I am more comfortable with my voice, and can manipulate it even more now.
Feeling is more important than technique. When you really feel lyrics and music, the technicality automatically comes to you.
People already know enough about me, whether it’s the right story or a wrong one. You can’t change what people think of you. You can’t justify everything.
First published in Esquire Malaysia, July 2016.