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Zubir Said: Composing Singapore's National Anthem


Zubir Said (Credit National Archive of Singapore)
Zubir Said (Credit National Archive of Singapore)

Ready to dive into the fascinating story of Zubir Said? He is the brilliant musician who composed Majulah Singapura, Singapore's cultural anthem. Join us on a musical journey through Singapore's rich heritage as we explore the remarkable notes crafted by Zubir. From his early years to the lasting legacy he left on the nation's identity, we willl uncover the life of this influential composer right now.


Early Life and Biography

Zubir was born on July 22nd, 1907, in the beautiful Minangkabau highlands of West Sumatra, Indonesia. He grew up in Bukittinggi (formerly Fort de Kock) as the eldest of three boys and five girls. Family meant the world to him, and he faced challenges early on after losing his mom at a young age.


During Zubir's school days in a Dutch school, he wasn't particularly thrilled about the curriculum. However, everything changed when a teacher introduced him to the mesmerizing Solfa music system and it sparked his love for music! Zubir began his musical journey, starting with the flute. As time went on, he taught himself to play the guitar and drums. Talk about talent!


Zubir's musical genius, evident in his self-taught prodigy talent, extended beyond crafting the iconic anthem to creating beautiful melodies for Malay Singaporean films. In 12 years with Cathay Organisation's Keris Film Productions, he composed an impressive 1,500 songs, showcasing unparalleled dedication.


Start of a Musician Career: Moving to Singapore

Let's take a closer look at Zubir's journey in the world of music. In 1928, at the age of 21, despite reservations from his father, he chose vibrant Singapore as his stage. Inspired by a sailor's vivid description, Zubir embarked on a musical adventure, drawn to the city illuminated by lights and filled with the aroma of coffee and butter. Ignoring religious objections, his journey began.


Soon, Zubir found himself welcomed by the City Opera, where he quickly rose to become a bandleader. In 1936, he ventured into His Master's Voice. Just two years later, he also married Keroncong singer Tarminah Kario Wikromo in Java. Post-World War II, Zubir returned to Singapore in 1947. Juggling roles as a part-time photographer and composer, he made cinematic contributions, conducting orchestras at Shaw Brothers' Malay Film Production in 1949 and later at Cathay-Keris Film Productions from 1952.


In 1957, Zubir's compositions resonated in Victoria Theatre, earning him well-deserved public acclaim, a milestone for a musician whose melodies continue to echo in Singapore's rich cultural symphony.


A scene from the Cathay-Keris film Sri Mersing which Zubir Said composed music for (Credit the National Museum of Singapore)
A scene from the Cathay-Keris film Sri Mersing which Zubir Said composed music for (Credit the National Museum of Singapore)

Original flexi disc record of Majulah Singapura which Zubir Said wrote (Credit the National Museum of Singapore)
Original flexi disc record of Majulah Singapura which Zubir Said wrote (Credit the National Museum of Singapore)

The Birth of Majulah Singapura

Let's delve into the birth of "Majulah Singapura." In 1958, Zubir Said, an accomplished musician, was invited by the City Council to compose the national anthem Singapore. Premiering on September 6, 1958, at Victoria Theatre, it swiftly became a symbol of Singapore's progressiveness which we now know as "Majulah Singapura". Adopted on December 3, 1959, coinciding with Singapore's self-government, it marked a historic moment of unity and pride under the first Malayan-born Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Yusof bin Ishak. Zubir Said's exceptional contribution echoes the enduring impact of this extraordinary anthem.

Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak presented Zubir Said a certificate of honour for his composition of Majulah Singapura. (Credit the National Archives of Singapore)
Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak presented Zubir Said a certificate of honour for his composition of Majulah Singapura. (Credit the National Archives of Singapore)

Awards and Honours

It’s time to mention the amazing achievements of Zubir, a truly remarkable composer!  Back in 1962, his compositions for the movie "Dang Anom" earned him well-deserved recognition at the Ninth Asian Film Festival in Seoul. This marked the beginning of his successful journey in the international music scene.


However, that's not all. Zubir continued to make significant contributions and received numerous awards that truly symbolize his exceptional talent and dedication. In 1963, he was honored with the prestigious Sijil Kemuliaan and the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat.


Zubir's excellence was not limited to just the world of cinema. In 1971, he was also granted the Jasawan Seni and then, in 1987, he received the ASEAN Cultural and Communications Award. These achievements showcased his versatility and artistic prowess. 


Even after his passing, Zubir's remarkable accomplishments were celebrated in 1995 with a Lifetime Achievement Award, proving just how impactful his contributions were. His legacy is truly enduring.


In 2009, to honor Zubir's significant impact on Singapore's cultural scene, the School of the Arts (SOTA) campus was fittingly named 1 Zubir Said Drive. It stands as a lasting tribute to his immeasurable contribution.


Zubir's journey is an inspiration to all aspiring musicians, reminding us of the power of passion, dedication, and artistic excellence.


Personal Life in Later Years

As Zubir grew older, he went beyond just being a musician, still contributing to the local scene in numerous ways..He became a mentor, sharing his knowledge and wisdom with others. His family home even turned into a music sanctuary where he guided fellow artists. But wait, there's more! Zubir's generosity extended to Sumatra and adopted families in Singapore!


Zubir Said was more about sharing and caring than wealth. His artistic principles valued honesty, sincerity, purity, and originality. Amazing, isn't it? On November 16, 1987, he bid farewell, leaving a remarkable legacy captured in the 1990 book "Zubir Said: His Songs." And cool fact – in 2004, the Malay Heritage Centre honored him with a bronze bust. 


Conclusion

Zubir Said's enduring influence is seen in Majulah Singapura, a powerful symbol of unity. This anthem, born from his genius, resonates across generations, shaping Singapore's cultural identity. It fosters national unity, echoing shared values. Let's appreciate the timeless legacy Zubir left through Majulah Singapura.


If you're curious about the awesome forefathers and icons of Singapore, we've got you covered with information provided by our knowledgeable guides and team! Here, you'll find a detailed insight into the significant contributions made by these amazing individuals who played a pivotal role in Singapore's growth. So, let's dive right in!

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