Zubir Said

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Zubir Said in an interview in 1957Zubir Said at an interview in 1957. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)

Zubir Said
Zubir Said (b. 22 July 1907, Sumatra, Indonesia – d. 16 November 1987, Singapore) is among Singapore’s most prominent music composers and songwriters. He has composed over 1,500 songs, comprising film songs, popular songs and national songs. Affectionately addressed by many as Pak Zubir, he is best known as the composer of the National Anthem of Singapore, Majulah Singapura.
Stamp featuring Music Score of Majulah SingapuraThis is one of four stamps issued as a set by the Singapore Post to commemorate the opening of the Malay Heritage Centre. The stamps were issued on 31 May 2005 and this 60-cent stamp features the music score of the National Anthem that was composed by Zubir Said. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)

Early Years
Zubir Said was born in West Minangkabau, Sumatra, in Indonesia. From a young age, he had a strong musical inclination and picked up many musical instruments while in Singapore, including the flute, guitar and drums. While he worked as a copy typist, his passion for music led him to join a keronchong band in his village. He travelled often with the band between villages, performing at social functions, weddings and funfairs. He left Indonesia for Singapore in 1928.

Career & Accomplishments
Zubir Said continued to pursue his musical passion in Singapore after his arrival in 1928. He worked as a violinist at City Opera’s bangsawan (traditional Malay opera) troupe, which was based at the Happy Valley amusement park in Tanjong Pagar.

He also picked up the piano and eventually rose up to become its troupe leader. 

In 1936, Zubir Said was recruited by British-owned recording company, His Master’s Voice, as a recording supervisor. He quickly established himself as a well known figure in the music industry. 

In 1949, as the Malay film industry was beginning to flourish, Zubir Said joined Shaw Brothers. He took on the role as an Orchestra Conductor with Malay Film Productions Ltd
, one of the production arms of Shaw Brothers. Chinta, which carried his songs, became a box-office hit.

In the early 1950s, Zubir Said switched to work for Cathay Keris and was its Music Director for 14 years until his retirement in 1964. He composed background music and wrote songs for selected scenes, using his vast knowledge of European and Asian scores, and particularly Malay melodies. He composed musical scores and songs for some of the most iconic and memorable films in Singapore’s film history like Sumpah Pontianak, Sri Mersing, Chuchu Datok Merah, and worked with popular artistes including P Ramlee, R Ismail and Nona Asiah.

Scene from the film Sri MersingA scene from the film Sri Mersing, which Zubir Said was the music composer. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)
Film Magazine featuring Sumpah PontianakA film magazine featuring the hit Malay film Sumpah Pontianak. Zubir Said composed musical scores and songs for many popular Malay films, including Sumpah Pontianak. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)

The Mayor of Singapore had also made a recommendation to the City Council for Zubir Said to compose a song to mark the official opening of Victoria Memorial Hall and Theatre. He wrote Majulah Singapura, which was performed for the first time by the Singapore Chamber Ensemble at the refurbished Victoria Theatre in 1958.

Majulah Singapura was subsequently selected and declared the national anthem of Singapore on 11 November 1959. It was formally presented to the people as a state national anthem on 3 December 1959, the same day Yusok Ishak was inaugurated as the Yang di-Pertuan Negara.
Certificate of Honour conferred on Zubir SaidYang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak conferring the Certificate of Honour on Zubir Said, composer of Singapore’s National Anthem ‘Majulah Singapura’. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)

Zubir Said’s work, the National Anthem is sung every day at schools during the flag-raising ceremony and at state events. Zubir Said also composed the popular Children’s Day song, Semoga Bahagia.

Original Flexidisc Record of Majulah SingapuraThis is the original flexidisc record of Majulah Singapura that was composed by Zubir Said. The version on this record is the original one composed as the theme song of the Singapore City Council. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)

Later Years
Zubir Said received many awards for his contributions, even after his retirement from the film and music industry. For composing the National Anthem, he received the Certificate of Commendation and Public Service Star. He also received the Jasawan Seni, an award conferred by eight Malay cultural organisations for his contribution to the Malay culture in Singapore. He passed away at 80 at home and was buried at the Pusara Aman cemetery in Choa Chu Kang.

A Zubir Said Music Scholarship was set up in 1990 in his honour. He also received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award from the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore in 1995. Zubir Said Drive, a new road, and the address of the new School of the Arts, was named after him in 2009.
Strohmenger Piano belonging to Zubir SaidThis 100-year-old Strohmenger piano belonged to the late Zubir Said, who had used it to compose Singapore’s National Anthem in 1959. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)