People: Tan Sri P. Ramlee


Seniman Negara

Tramlee4engku Zakaria bin Tengku Nyak Puteh was born on a most auspicious day, Hari Raya itself on March 22, 1929 perhaps a prelude of greatness to come. To this day, many may not realize the ‘P’ in from of his name is ‘Puteh’ as all and sundry know him simply as P. Ramlee.

He came from a very poor family. He studied at Sekolah Melayu Kampung Jawa, then at Francis Light and finally at Penang Free School. As a child, it was obvious the performing arts and the entertainment world were to be his to conquer. At an early age, P. Ramlee had already taken on the roles of a clown and mimic. He was a natural livewire in the class and his incessant flood of jokes and stories always held the other children spellbound. P. Ramlee was often chosen as bilal to lead the prayers at the local mosque. Music, was paramount to him. The violin being his favourite instrument. A keen athlete, he loved football, sepak takraw and badminton, often leading the winning teams in local cup competitions.


ramlee2Growing up in Penang, he quickly picked up the local dialects of the various races. During the Japanese occupation, P. Ramlee learned the invaders’ language and even won a Japanese diploma in language proficiency from the Japanese Boys’ Brigade. His musical abilities blossomed during the war despite deprivations.

By 1945, he formed his own band with fellow Penangites called the ‘Pancaragam Sinaran Bintang’. Their entry in the ‘Singing Star of North Malaya’ contest won them third place. The following year, with a new band, ‘Orkes Mutiara Pulau Pinang’ and new song, he came in second. Backed with true grit and determination he took apart again in 1947 with the ‘Tenora Sekampung Band’ and finished first place. The winning song was "Azizah" which was to become a classic to this day.


ramlee1His star had begun to shine. Among the audience was the well-known director and talent scout for Shaw Brothers Singapore, B.S. Rajhans. He was impressed and offered P. Ramlee as a playback singer in Singapore. His voice floated melodiously in the film ‘Chinta’ in June 1948. He stared in his first movie, ‘Nasib’ the following year. In the 1950 movie, ‘Rachun Dunia’, he played the violin. His popularity led to box-office sales. After performing in another 20 hit movies, he directed ‘Penarek Beca’ in 1955 and it was an instant success, paving way for more.

His film, ‘Hang Tuah’ in 1956 won the award for best musical score in the Third Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong. His films continued their successful run, being permanently fixed to the winning track of the silver screen. At the height of his career, disaster struck when Lee Kuan Yew took Singapore out from the Malayan Federation to become a sovereign republic in 1965. As a patriot, P. Ramlee insisted on returning to the Malay Peninsula. In Malaya, he produced a further 22 films before his death in 1973.

His prolific genius enabled him to produce scores of hit films and songs that live as evergreens today. Adored for his golden larynx, he was a consummate actor, singer, composer, musician, director, producer, sportsman, philanthropist, comedian and an all-round Malaysian hero. A legend in his lifetime and most importantly, an OLD FREE!

From PFS magazine 2000


From the Star Newspaper Sunday, June 2, 2002

Genius of P. Ramlee lives on

Wednesday marked the 29th year of artiste P. Ramlee’s death. While the man may have gone, the legend lives on, writes ZIEMAN.

pramlee”Kaulah satu-satunya di antara berjuta, Insan teristimewa, Kau kebanggaan kita, Kau budayawan bangsa, Kau Lagenda” – from the song Lagenda, sung by Sheila Majid

You are one in a million – an extraordinary being, our pride, a national cultural icon, you are a legend.”)

THERE is probably no artiste anywhere in the world – living or dead – who matches up to the multi-talents of the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

Since his passing on May 29, 1973, at the age of 45, the void that now exists in the entertainment world has not been filled, as aptly conveyed by pop diva Sheila Majid in her song about the legend.

In 1995, American balladeer Lobo recorded an English version of the P.Ramlee classic Getaran Jiwa and named it Whispers in the Wind. The remake featured several Asian instruments, which gave the song an exotic and Oriental sound. In that same album,Classic Hits, Lobo also recorded the folksy Geylang Si Paku Geylang in English, giving it the title No Secrets.

Getaran Jiwa was also recorded as a “duet” between KRU and the late singer, which caused quite a stir but was lauded as an engineering feat in the Malaysian music industry.

In 1998, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his demise, Renong sponsored the production of an instrumental CD compilation of 16 works of the late composer performed by the Bolshoi Ballet Theatre Orchestra of Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The album, which shot to No. 1 in the Record Industry of Malaysia (RIM) charts, was essentially a project to show the universal appeal of P. Ramlee’s music. The effort by Lobo and KRU were also tokens of appreciation and recognition for Malaysia’s best-known musical genius.


pramlee1It is easy to sum up that P. Ramlee is to the local scene what Charles Chaplin was to Hollywood.

But even Chaplin could not match up to the multi-faceted talents that P. Ramlee demonstrated in his lifetime, and which are still remembered in current times.

P. Ramlee was an actor who played both hero and villain, a comedian, dramatist, singer, a musician who played an array of instruments, a music arranger and composer, director, scriptwriter and, at one point in his life, a magazine writer and publisher.

He was, in a word, extraordinary.

When he died, he left behind a cultural heritage for generations of Malaysians to treasure – his works, which included films, songs, music, and personal memorabilia.

The house where he last stayed, at Jalan Dedap in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Setapak, now houses the Memorial P. Ramlee. The house where he grew up, at Jalan Caunter Hall in Penang, is the other memorial for him, aptly named Rumah P. Ramlee. On display at these places are exhibits, audio-visual displays and a wealth of information on his life and achievements.

For years since the two memorials were set up, thousands of fans and other visitors have milled through the displays of the exhibits, audio-visuals, personal items and a host of information on display.


pramlee3On the anniversary of his death each year, family members, friends and fans gather fortahlil sessions to offer prayers in his memory. This year was no different.

Veteran asli singer S. M. Salim (the only other artiste with the honorific title, Tan Sri) recalled fondly that P. Ramlee was a good friend and a true artiste.

“A true legend can never be forgotten. No one could forget P. Ramlee. He was a genius.

“His movies, songs, lines were all so original. He had a good support team. All his friends stayed true to him through thick and thin. And he would cast the same people whom he felt comfortable working with in his films,” he said.

P. Ramlee, he said, was like a brother and they understood each other’s temperament.

“He always told me to stay true to my music. Don’t try to ape others. ‘You stick to your style, I will stick to mine’ – that’s what P. Ramlee used to tell me,” said Salim.

He described P. Ramlee as a good soul who never liked animosity, was generous, helpful, caring and sensitive.

But, he added, he had some bad breaks in life.

“He appeared a fun-loving person on the exterior but deep down – for reasons only those close to him will know – he was unhappy. But then that’s a long story. It’s unprintable.

“He left us his movies and songs – let’s enjoy those,” said Salim.

The late P. Ramlee’s sister-in-law, veteran actress Mariani Ismail, felt the great actor had left behind a huge treasure.

“I don’t think anyone can dispute that P. Ramlee is indeed a legend. The man was a happy-go-lucky person who used to treat my late sister, Saloma (the diva who became his wife), like a princess.

“It’s me that he would count on to make his coffee, to sew on a button or prepare his favourite ikan terutup dish. I was at his beck and call,” recalled Mariani.

She said they shared a special bond which always brought back fond memories of her late brother-in-law.

“He treated me like a friend, a sister and a confidante. I knew what was going on in his head when he was angry, disappointed or happy” said Mariani.

For P. Ramlee’s fans, young and old, he was nothing short of a prolific songwriter and music maker. For friends and family members, he was a good soul and a true friend.

Even those who never knew the man would swear that he holds a special place in our hearts.

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