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Zubir Said, the Composer of Majulah Singapura

by Rohana Zubir

Publication Year: 2012

Zubir Said is best known as the composer of Majulah Singapura, the national anthem of Singapore, Semoga Bahagia, the Singapore school anthem, and Melayu Raya. Born into a humble and religious family in Sumatra where music was considered haram, at 21 he set out to seek his fortune in Singapore, attracted initially by the glittering lights and the availability of butter and kopi susu, but soon by the opportunities it offered him to pursue his dreams. Armed with his first musical instrument, a bamboo flute he had carved himself, and a basic knowledge of music number notations, Zubir taught himself to read, write and compose music. Despite the many challenges he faced, he became a musical icon of the 1950s and 1960s on both sides of the Straits of Johor, at a time when Independence was the clarion call and nationalist fervour was running high. This book, which includes numerous photographs, documents, musical scores and articles, as well as a CD of a selection of Zubir Said's compositions, vividly reveals one of Singapore's leading composers as family man, friend, composer and mentor. It also accords Zubir Said his rightful place in the history of Singapore.

Published by: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-6


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pp. vi-7

Majulah Singapura

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pp. vii-8

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pp. viii-ix

A national anthem sings of a country’s soul. It captures what it means to be a citizen, what unites citizens, and what distinguishes them from others. It is also a way of re-dedicating oneself to the Nation and all it stands for. People are urged to rise over passing occasions and be an exalted repository of a nation’s deepest aspirations and profoundest dreams. At the same time, the anthem has ...

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pp. x-11

The author, Puan Sri Dr Rohana Zubir, came to see me at ISEAS about three years ago upon the introduction of a mutual friend, Ramon Navaratnam, a retired senior Malaysian civil servant. In the course of the conversation, Dr Rohana disclosed to me that she had been working on a book about her father for some time and that she was looking for help to find a good publisher. When, in response to my query, ...

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pp. xi-xiv

Zubir Said passed away on 16 November 1987 at the age of 80 years. In 1928, at the young age of 21, with only the shirt on his back and a clean towel, he left Sumatra and crossed the seas to make his home in Singapore. For almost 60 years, Singapore was haven for him as he lived and worked by the adage “where the sky above I uphold, the earth beneath I tread”. His dedication and loyalty to ...


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pp. xv-xviii

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pp. xix-21

Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore) mirrors the patriotic fervour of the composer, who earnestly wished to infuse the future generations of Singapore with a sense of urgency to work towards a progressive and dynamic, post-independent nation. It was his deep conviction and emotional drive which led, more than fifty years ago, to the birth of the country’s national anthem. Such were the prophetic ...

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1. The Birth of an Anthem and Challenges to Overcome

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pp. 2-19

Public Service Star medal, an award bestowed on him in 1963 for composing the Singapore national anthem. He was also conferred the Formal invitation to compose the music and lyrics for the City Council, Singapore, on the theme Majulah Singapura in Malay in conjunction with In the meantime, Singapore was making history. On 30 May 1959, the ...

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2. Headlong into Adulthood

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pp. 20-41

My father was an elder brother to two brothers, Jacob and Ishar, and three younger sisters, Norma, Nuridjah and Nuriana. He had an elder brother who died at a young age. Papa was born on 22 July 1907 to Mohamad Said bin Sanang, a penghulu adat1 of Tilatang Village, Bukittinggi, Sumatra. His father worked with the railway company as a train conductor and his designation in his village was ...

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3. Mystical Singapore: City of Lights, Butter, Coffee and Milk

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pp. 42-53

One day in 1928, Papa left Pekanbaru on a cargo boat. After two nights and one day at sea, the cargo boat that was ferrying spices and vegetables to neighbouring islands, anchored off Singapore island at 3 o’clock in the wee hours of the morning. From the deck of the boat, far away from shore, the young Zubir watched awestruck. He had arrived at this port of lights, busy with boats and ships, a sight he had ...

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4 World War II: New Directions

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pp. 54-63

My father and family were devastated. According to Mama, she could see desolation in Papa’s eyes. There was no Dutch ship to take my father and his family anywhere. They had no choice but to take the first available means for a getaway. In the dark hours of late December 1941, 200 refugees of various races crammed into a small boat. It was a perilous journey, I was told. Included ...

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5. Where the Sky Above I Hold, the Earth Beneath I Tread

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pp. 64-95

When my father returned to Singapore on his short trip, a Japanese officer he met quietly and in great confidence told him that the Japanese were about to surrender. My father was much relieved because it meant he could finally leave Sumatra. With my mother and me in tow and two Indonesian army officers, we set sail again for Singapore, leaving behind a Sumatra that was jubilant to be rid ...

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6. 190A Joo Chiat Place: A Sanctuary of Bliss and Blessed Woes

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pp. 96-129

In 1956 we moved house again. The Indonesian Club had closed. We moved to a three-bedroom flat, but occupied only two bedrooms. One room was Uncle Dahari’s room. Through the kindness of Uncle Dahari, my father’s musician friend, we were able to share the flat with him, therefore cutting rental costs. Uncle Dahari was the father of Kartina Dahari, a veteran singer in Singapore ...

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7. The Lull, Celebrations, Respite, Music, Then the...

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pp. 130-209

As far as his work was concerned, Papa in the 1960s was still strong enough to weather the “storms”. Did he emerge from them bruised? He must have. He At some stage, he felt a sense of futility from his life’s work and a little jaded.There was a sudden lull in the vibrant sound of patriotic songs played over the radio on both sides of the Straits of Johor — in Singapore and Malaya — ...

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8. The Storm Afterwards

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pp. 210-225

As a composer who treasured and respected his own work, Papa did not approve any changes to his original work — be it the melody or the lyrics — without his permission. He lived by a certain set of principles in his relationship with people (including his family) and observed these with decorum, sincerity and honesty throughout his life. He expected no less from himself than from other people. ...

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9. The Birthday Bash and Final Curtain

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pp. 226-237

A last birthday to remember. Zubir Said planned his eightieth birthday bash over three days. The typical organizer, everything was in its Not only did Papa compile a list of names of children to receive gifts, he answered. He was then prepared mentally and emotionally to answer to the will of God. He faced his end with as much endurance and intrepidity as he had lived his ...

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pp. 238-269

The icon has departed, leaving “footsteps in the wind” for others to follow. For his unfinished work and dreams unrealized, it is for others to take up from where he left and to continue...


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pp. 270-274


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pp. 275-279

About the Accompanying Music CD, Back Cover

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pp. 280-302

E-ISBN-13: 9789814311823
Print-ISBN-13: 9789814311816

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Zubir Said, 1907-1987.
  • Composers -- Singapore -- Biography.
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