Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Nawab Khan, Seniman Negara

Celebrating six decades of contribution and achievements in the music industry

Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

On 13 August 2017, Ahmad Nawab shared his musical journey in a dialogue session with Gareth Richards at the Penang House of Music. In a career spanning six decades Ahmad has composed more than 2,000 songs and almost 70 singers from all over the region have recorded his songs. Many have become standards. Besides ‘Bintang Malam’ (subsequently recorded by Zaharah Agus and Uji Rashid), other songs include ‘Kau Kunci Cintaku Dalam Hatimu’, ‘Setulus Hati Mu’, ‘Sabar Menanti’, ‘Tiada Maaf Bagi Mu’, ‘Antara Matamu dan Mataku’ and ‘Wajah Kesayanganmu’.



Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

I first learn about Ahmad Nawab when I was working on the book, 'Just for the love of it – Popular Music in Penang, 1930s-1960s' with Paul Augustin and James Lochhead. We put together an interesting insight on Ahmad and dedicated 3 pages to this compelling personality. The photo above shows how thrilled I was meeting Ahmad Nawab in person. 

Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

In the book on page 124, Ahmad's story concluded with, "Ahmad has achieved so much in his musical career and won awards for best musical scores for films and received numerous awards including Anugerah Industri Muzik, Anugerah Seniman Negara and Anugerah Seni Parfi from Indonesia for his contribution to the entertainment industry. Ahmad has also been conferred the title Datuk by being awarded the Pingat Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri from the Governor of Penang in 1996 and the Pingat Panglima Jasa Negara from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in 2004."

Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

For two straight hours, this renowned composer and gifted saxophone shared with all an intimate dialogue session with memorable performances. He played some of his favourite songs accompanied by two keyboard players, Ismail (his son) and Azmi. He even dedicated a new song to this granddaughter Suraya, performed live for the very first time.

Aby Norlila and Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

A young budding singer Aby Norlila with powerful vocals gave a soulful rendition of Kau Kunci Cintaku Dalam Hatimu, one of Ahmad's most popular songs. Ahmad composed this song for Ramlah Ram which won the Anugerah Juara Lagu in 1988.

Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

Gareth quoted a story written by Zieman from the Star published on 9 May 2017 stating that despite all the successes, Ahmad, who worked with Orkestra RTM for 17 years predicts his fate will be somewhat like P. Ramlee.

“RTM never bothered to play P. Ramlee’s songs until many years after his death. Likewise, I had slogged for RTM but no programmes were attributed to me. I am not creating any controversy but that is the truth. I am feeling the rejection. No singers or composers come to me for advice. There is plenty to learn and I am willing to teach. The reality is old composers like me are forgotten and alienated. Now I know how P. Ramlee felt towards the end of his career,” he said.

...“As a Seniman Negara, I should contribute to the industry but nobody wants to do anything with the treasure trove of experience that I have,” said Ahmad Nawab, who was awarded the title in 2006, making him the seventh recipient of the prestigious honour.

Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

Ahmad's brilliant performance at the Penang House of Music only goes to show that even at 84, the music that is in his soul still resonate strongly. Penang House of music is proud to preserved the musical legacy of Penang for posterity. Ahmad can always call it home. He is such a big part of our musical heritage. Unlike P. Ramlee, Ahmad knows that Penang celebrates and revel in his musical genius. 

Ahmad Nawab © Adrian Cheah

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Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
13 August 2017