In 1990, when Datuk Sheila Majid performed at Stadium Negara, some 14,000 fans turned up to celebrate her jazzy tribute to the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee. A week earlier, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine only managed to pull in half the number. It was an era that she misses, admits the petite artist, who celebrates 36 years in the music industry this year.
“Everything was vibrant,” she reminisces. “It was my favourite period when CDs were selling, concerts were everywhere. Meriah.”
When Sheila released her debut album Dimensi Baru in 1985, she brought a new perspective to the Malaysian music scene. At a time when Malay music was largely dominated by ballads and lovelorn themes, Sheila “crossed-over” to an urban audience who were taken by the upbeat sound of the album. From then on, her appeal continued to grow. Warna (1988) experimented with a new electronic sound while Legenda (1990) took on ‘legendary’ status. In fact, as a testament to Sheila’s status, the special edition (Japan version) of Legenda in vinyl is currently worth a couple of thousand ringgit.
“I did not know that,” she remarks. “I am very grateful that people still value my music until today and there are people who are willing to pay extra to attain it. I am flattered actually. I never thought I would go so long in this career.”
Being the youngest in the family of eight, you have to get your voice heard to your parents. You better make sense, you better know what you want.Sheila Majid
Sheila now has nine studio albums to her name, the latest being Boneka, released in 2017. Her entry into music, she says, was just for “fun.” But music was a part of her. She started playing the piano at just four but when she was offered a recording contract at just 17, she had to “strategise” about how to convince her father to give her the go ahead. Haji Majid was among the first generation of Malay gentlemen to be educated at Oxford University. He initially associated the music industry with elements that were “dark” and “bad.” But after he observed Sheila was passionate to succeed, he gave her his blessing, even accompanying her when she performed at the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta.
When Sheila first entertained the idea of a recording contract, she was just intrigued with the idea of hearing herself on “cassette.” But after Dimensi Baru generated international interest and she was signed on to EMI, things started to develop and then she just “went with the flow.” But although she might not have planned her career, Sheila was pretty adamant that she wanted things to be done her way.
“I don’t think anyone can control me,” she says, when asked if there were attempts to pressure her to conform to the mainstream. “I had to be tough because this is my livelihood, this is the direction I wanted my music to be!”
Now the chairperson of Recording Performers Malaysia Berhad (RPM) along with other prominent recording artists in Malaysia in the board of directors, Sheila aims to protect the welfare of today’s artistes and musicians in the face of threats such as piracy.