Remembering Biduanita Kartina Dahari

Remembering Biduanita* Kartina Dahari (12 November 1941 – 30 April 2014)

It was with great sadness when I heard the news that Biduanita Kartina Dahari passed away on 30th April 2014. She is a biduanita – not just a female singer but a singer who has achieved a very high standard in her profession, an artist par excellence. Many might strive to be good singers but few will achieve this standard. To those who have been and will continue to be entertained, soothed and impacted by her songs, Allahyarhamah* Kartina will always remain a ‘biduanita’, a treasure.

I called a friend, Khir, who knew her to reconfirm the sad news and to get Biduanita Kartina’s home address. I have not been in touch with Khir for quite some time but we met after attending Biduanita Kartina’s tribute concert at the Esplanade, Singapore, on 30th August 2013. I was with friends and one of them, Sharifah, Khir knew and had assisted in launching her book in California. Sharifah’s late mother, H. Hanim, was Biduanita Kartina’s close friend.

The concert was a timely tribute to a biduanita – I had written an entry in Malay about it in this blog. I love keroncong songs and Biduanita Kartina renditions of keroncong songs are simply superb. And her songs of other genres are just as good. It was her songs, those of Saloma and P.Ramlee and many other veteran Malay language singers from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia that have enriched my vocabulary, my heritage and my life. Their beautiful lyrics, usually made succinct like traditional Malay pantun (poetry) and music are like poetry to my ears. Her songs are that meaningful to me that I ended up writing a poem, titled ‘Di Persimpangan’ (At the Crossroads) in which I mentioned her name. I wrote that poem on 28th May 1976 when I was at the crossroads of my life – whether I could continue my studies after my GCE ‘A’ level results at the University of Singapore (now NUS) or to start working. I have included a translation of the poem in this entry.

Before attending her concert last year and knowing Biduanita Kartina was unwell, I had an inkling of wanting to share with her a few supplications (‘doa and selawat’) from the Quran and other special prayers. A number of these supplications have been part of my routine but a number of others were given to me when I had a breast cancer scare last March. I had my mastectomy last April and I believe that by the grace of God and via these supplications, medical interventions and others had made it possible for me to get some form of ‘shifa’ or healing. Although I knew Biduanita Kartina would have a number of these supplications, I wanted to share these with her and this was especially so when I saw her at the concert. Like others, I cried and prayed for her when I saw her at the concert.

I did not know Khir knew her but it was after the concert that I knew this. Sharifah and I met Khir again when there was a talk at the Malay Heritage Centre (‘Taman Warisan Melayu’) at Kampong Glam, Singapore, in September last year. It was there that I told Khir about the supplications for Biduanita Kartina and Khir agreed to pass these to her. Khir had also invited both of us to his house to look at his collection of Malay antiques and his research on them a few weeks later. When Sharifah and I went to Khir’s house, I brought the books and copies of supplications for Biduanita Kartina then. But instead of giving it to her, Khir invited us to join him in visiting Biduanita Kartina (after calling and getting her permission) as he had to pass some things to her that day.

Biduanita Kartina was very touched to see Sharifah again. It was a really wonderful time for us and I was able to give her the supplications. I saw a gracious lady, weakened by cancer but her warmth, joviality and kindness were ever-present. When I left that evening, it was with sadness. Most likely I would never see her again as unlike Sharifah and Khir, I did not know her personally. I was and am an admirer of her voice and songs; a voice so distinct and beautiful. I am grateful her songs have enriched my life.

When I heard the sad news, I messaged Khir that I would pay my last respects to Biduanita Kartina by visiting her home the next morning. But I could not make it as I was already unwell on the 30th of April. The news of her demise is like a void – after P.Ramlee, Saloma and other wonderful veteran Malay/Indonesian singers, we might never find another singer of her stature and dignity again. And I am reminded that like her, I too am living in ‘borrowed times’. But I wanted to say my last farewell to Biduanita Kartina Dahari – as a poet and writer, I could only write. I wrote a poem for Allahyarhamah Biduanita Kartina Dahari, titled ‘Meminjam Masa’ (Borrowing Time) on 30th April – 1st May 2014. I have included the poem in Malay in this entry but I have yet to translate it to English.

May Allah bless her soul and place her in Jannah* amongst His true believers. Amin.

*Biduanita- an honorific title given to a female singer who has achieved a very high standard of artistry and professionalism in her singing career. The male version is ‘Biduan’. However, ‘Biduan’ could also be conferred to both male and female singers as certain terms in Malay are used for both. Allahyarhamah Saloma and Sharifah Aini were conferred the ‘Biduan Negara’ title by both the Malaysian government and the public in Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of the world. Of similar variation is the term ‘seniman’ (‘artist’ not just painters but those involved in the arts) – it could be used for both male and female artists, although female artists could also be called ‘seniwati’. In English, of a similar example is the term ‘actor’ which could be used by both male and female actors. Allahyarhamah Kartina Dahari was given the honorific title ‘Biduanita’ by the public in Singapore, Malaysia and other parts of the world. It is not just a direct translation of the term ‘Diva’ with some of its negative connotations but it is of a different artistic level altogether. A ‘Biduanita’ would be someone like Oum Koulsoum of Egypt, Fairuz of Lebanon and Edith Piaf of France.

*Allahyarhamah – ‘late’: term used for Muslim women who have passed away.

*Jannah – paradise.

Written by: Rasiah Halil
4th May 2014.

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