Zubir Said (22 July 1907 – 16 November 1987) was a Singaporean composer who composed the national anthem Majulah Singapore. Coming from a Minangkabau family, he learned to play music by himself. He composed a number of songs for Malaysian films while working as a film music composer at Cathay-Keris Film Productions. He is believed to have written at least 1,500 songs, but only a tenth of that number has ever been recorded.
Zubir's works are widely regarded as true Malay songs because they relate to Malay history and values and, along with their Minang contemporaries, evoked nationalism in the 1950s. In addition to Majulah Singapore, Zubir composed the patriotic song "Hopefully Happy", which was used as the theme song for Singapore Children's Day. He received numerous awards throughout his life and posthumously for his contributions to Malay music and culture in Singapore.
Life and career
Dutch East Indies
Zubir Said was born on July 22, 1907 in Bukittinggi (formerly known as Fort de Kock), the area of present-day West Sumatra. He is the eldest child in a Minangkabau family consisting of three sons and five daughters. His mother died when he was seven years old. His father, Muhammad Said, was a traditional figure who firmly adhered to religious teachings. His father's job as a conductor at a railroad company owned by the Dutch East Indies colonial government allowed Zubir to be educated at a school formed by the Netherlands. Since he was in elementary school, he has shown his talent for playing music. The music teacher who saw Zubir's talent introduced him to the solmization technique—a style of learning music by reading notation—and helped him form a musical group for gifted students. A group friend taught Zubir how to make a flute out of bamboo, and they played it together. When he was in high school, Zubir joined the keroncong group. From there, he learned other instruments, namely guitar and drums. After completing 11 years of education, economic limitations forced Zubir to work at the age of 18. With a meager education, he had only limited job opportunities. He first worked in a factory as a brick maker. After that, he followed a friend's offer to work as a typist. While working as a typist, Zubir used his free time to play music. He joined the keroncong group and got a position as a violinist. At the age of 19, he decided to quit his job after meeting a village government official who was amazed by his talent. The employee encouraged Zubir to follow his dream. After no longer working, Zubir formed a traveling keroncong group. With members of the group, he travels from village to village in Sumatra, earning a living by appearing at weddings, exhibitions and other public events.
In 1928, 21-year-old Zubir left Sumatra for Singapore. From friends, he'd heard about Singapore as a place of "sparkling lights, coffee milk and butter"—a luxury never found in Sumatra. He went on a cargo ship without his father's permission or blessing because his father believed that music was against religion. In Singapore, he joined the wayang aristocracy City Opera, an opera group whose performers are Malay. While working at the theater, he learned to read and write music in Western notation by playing the piano. Zubir left in 1936, when he was recruited by His Master's Voice (HMV), a British-owned record company, as a recording supervisor. Singapore is one of the most important centers of the HMV recording industry in Asia. Apart from producing records, he worked to provide guidance for talented singers which required him to travel to various regions of Indonesia and Malaya. At HMV, he met a singer ke