Music Star Shabir Has Waited Two Years For That Feeling Of Unity At NDP
He’s a prolific award-winning singer, composer and producer who was the inaugural winner of Vasantham Star in 2005, and the man whose musical creation prompted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to gush on Facebook: “Among our National Day songs, Singai Naadu is one of the most soulful and heartfelt.”
He was the first Singaporean to sign a deal with Sony Music India in 2017, and a recipient of a Singapore Youth Award in the same year. Plus, his hit song “Yaayum” from the 2019 film “Sagaa” has chalked up over 120 million collective views on YouTube. In the year “Sagaa” was released, he was tied to five Tamil films – an unprecedented achievement for a new composer.
And like Bono, Sting, Prince, Usher and Drake, he goes by one name.
So, you’d never expect Shabir, a music star of such magnitude, to consider being part of this year’s National Day Parade – which is back in a huge way – to be “a bit of a learning curve because I’m naturally an introvert”.
But, for love of country, press on this humble introvert must.
“After two years of fairly muted celebrations, we’re celebrating with everyone – smiles, tears, tears of joy, everything. That is one of the most beautiful things because we are all united here for the love of our nation,” says Shabir.
“And it’s so eclectic. There are so many different sounds and cultures, but we know that everything that’s happening on stage is all ours, it belongs to us. That feeling of unity, I’ve really missed it, and I’m so happy that we can feel it this year!”
Shabir appears in Chapter 3 of the show, which throws the spotlight on family, and the Year of Celebrating SG Families, a movement led by Families For Life Council.
"During COVID, the silver lining is you end up spending more time with your family. And during that time, I realised my daughters were really growing up - they're 13 and 14 now," says Shabir, who shares his children's taste in music (Arctic Monkeys) and film (Marvel movies).
"I've built a certain relationship with them, and it has really strengthened in these two years. I want to ensure that this bridge I've built with them is strong. I don't want it to be shaken by my work, my travelling. I used to think that work and family come in a single basket. Now I realise, no, family is family. It comes first."
In our long-overdue face-to-face catch-up, the 37-year-old also talks to us about “Singai Naadu”; his duty to contribute to the Tamil-speaking community; and – to commemorate 55 years of national service this year – reminisces about his days with the Singapore Police Force. (Standing broad jump wasn’t his strong suit, just sayin’.)
Not everyone can use their talents for a national celebration. You composed and sang “Singai Naadu” in 2012. How does it feel being able to use your gifts for National Day?
Sometimes, it’s about representation. I think we do have a healthy number of English [National Day] songs. I’m not very sure about Mandarin, but I do hear that it’s time to have new Mandarin songs. Malay, I hear the same thing. But because the language that I’ve chosen to grow in and help grow is Tamil, I have a duty as a composer to see if I can contribute to that department.
I thought we should expand the repertoire of Tamil songs, and that’s the reason I wrote “Singai Naadu”. It was a ground-up indie project.
I don’t think what I have is a gift. I’m just a channel. The gift comes from the nation, from the people, from my childhood, from my mother who said: “Keep your feet planted in the country that is taking care of you and serve the nation when you can.” If she didn’t say that, there would be no gift to give, you know what I’m saying?
I can’t take credit for “Singai Naadu” – it’s the community, it’s our history, the struggles that we have been through as a nation, it’s God, it’s mother, it’s everything coming together, finding its confluence. I’m glad that I can be the conduit for this to reach the people.
“Singai Naadu” is such a special song. What goes through your mind each time you sing it, especially this year?
Yeah, every time it’s different, right? Because as the song matures, you’re maturing and your emotions are changing. And that’s why it’s beautiful because it’s real at the end of the day.
When I sang the song last year, I realised that I was singing a Tamil song in the midst of hundreds of people. It was just so beautiful to see all these dancers around me and that the shade of their skin colour was different. They probably spoke different languages, and some probably even came from different countries and became [Singapore] citizens. And we were doing this right here at the Bay. And this occurrence could only happen in my country.
This year, it’s upbeat, it’s been 10 years, and it’s time to celebrate this song, the things that we’ve been through as a team (my team and I) to bring the song to National Day parades. This year, I’m not standing and crooning. I’m like, moving, man. I’m having fun on stage, doing twirls and stuff like that!
Another milestone being celebrated this year is 55 years of national service. How was your NS experience with the Singapore Police Force, and how did it inspire you?
NS made me better in certain ways. I’m asthmatic, and I was told that if you want to get into the Special Operations Command (SOC), you can’t be asthmatic. I asked my OC, really no chance ah? And he was like, I don’t know, maybe you do your best, we’ll see how? So, I was like, ok, I’m gonna go all out.
My IPPT was like, fail, because, you know, skinny Indian legs can’t do standing broad jump so, frog jump, frog jump, frog jump – I had to do a lot of frog jumps! My OC thought I was mad because everybody woke up at 5am. I would wake up at 4am just to do the jump. I finished with a Gold for my IPPT; law exam, I was in the top five in my squad; and I was a section IC in my squad.
With all these accolades, my OC recommended me to SOC and I got in. The problem was, my OCs were afraid that if I went out to patrol carrying a rifle, people would want to come and take photos – cuz I had just won Vasantham Star at that time. It was the peak. So, they were like, I think you cannot go outside. So, I was in the base all the way.
In that sense, I think it was good because they were very supportive. I had a very good OC. He really took care of me, and he also knew that I had just won the competition, and people would want me in things like community events, and to perform for charity organisations. So, they made adjustments for me to go and perform. That was really very forward, very progressive of them to think of that back then.
And so, I could do my national service, but at the same time, keep my thing going on, and stay in touch with the community and my music, all thanks to my SOC camp at Queensway.