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Kassim Masdor is an instrumental figure in the development of modern Malay music in Singapore. Making his name as a musician and arranger in the golden era of Malay films in the ‘50s and ‘60s, he went on to become one of the foremost Malay music composers in the Singapore music industry for over half a century. In 1982, he won Best Song Award at the Third Malay Film Festival, and in 2002 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Malay Singers, Composers and Professional Musicians (PERKAMUS).
Born on 19 Sep 1938 in Singapore, Kassim Masdor received his early education at Kota Raja Malay School, where he developed an interest in music.
Deciding to pursue his interest after he graduated, he joined Malay Film Productions in Shaw Studios as a clerk at the age of 14. There, he worked daily with several Malay music and film stars who were his colleagues at Shaw Studios. Immersed in the creative atmosphere, he nurtured his musical talents and learnt how to play several music instruments including the xylophone, piano and guitar.
He also learnt how to compose and arrange music, working with legendary Malay actor, singer and composer P. Ramlee, whom Kassim acknowledged as his mentor and regarded as an older brother. Learning as much he could as P. Ramlee’s protégé, Kassim would work late into the night completing music scores for his mentor. Eventually, he became a composer and arranger at Shaw Studios. Together with P. Ramlee, Kassim also went on to form the vocal group Pancha Sitara.
By 1956, Kassim had established himself as an up-and-coming composer and arranger. He made his foray into the music industry and started working part-time at EMI Singapore, going on to meet and work with many of the popular Malay singers. When Shaw Studios closed in 1958, Kassim was asked to join EMI Singapore full-time as a producer, composer and arranger. He agreed, and went on to stay at the company till 1974, producing around 60 music albums in five years. After EMI Singapore, Kassim continued his musical activities, founding Senada Records in 1977.
Kassim, together with his composer peers of the time like Osman Ahmad, were pioneers of modern Malay music. They experimented with their craft, combining Malay music with Eastern and Western elements to bring a new, modern sound to Malay music. Initially meeting with resistance from the music community, their progressive attitudes and compositions soon gained popularity and acclaim, earning them reputations as foremost composers of their time.
Throughout his career as a sought-after composer, Kassim composed more than 400 songs, most of them with lyrics written by his good friend and fellow Malay music pioneer Yusnor Ef. Through his music, many singers went on to become stars, such as Kartina Dahari, Ahmad Daud, Sanisah Huri and Sharifah Aini. In 1986, he composed the music for Singapore’s first Malay musical Jefri and Maria, which was written and directed by respected playwright Nadiputra.
Kassim’s film music output has also been prolific. His first song for a film debuted in Darah Muda, and he went on to serve as music director for 18 movies for Shaw Studios and Malaysian film companies, composing music for films such as Dendang Perantau (Wanderer’s Ballad) and Sumpah Mahsuri (The Curse of Mahsuri).
For his contributions to Malay music and film over the decades, Kassim has received recognition from both industry and his peers. He received the Best Song award for the film Setinggan at the Malaysian Film Festival in 1982, the Meritorious Award by the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore in 1998, and the Anugerah Seri Temasek award in 2011. In 2002, Kassim received the Lifetime Music Achievement Award by PERKAMUS (Association of Malay Singers, Composers and Professional Musicians).
Kassim continued to contribute to Malay music, teaching music as a guest artist at Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan (National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His music—such as his Hari Raya songs and his opus Sapu Tangan Tanda Mata, performed by Malay songstress Saloma—continue to be heard today.
On 20 Jan 2014, Kassim passed away from pneumonia at the age of 76 at Singapore General Hospital.
Born in Singapore.
Attended Kota Raja Malay School, Singapore.
Attended Griffiths Primary School.
Messenger and then clerk, Malay Film Productions Studio, Shaw Brothers.
Composed Sapu Tangan Tanda Kaseh.
Founding member, Pancha Sitara. Together with P. Ramlee.
Composer, script supervisor and continuity clerk and composer, Ali Baba Bujang Lapok.
Composer and script supervisor, Darah Muda.
Composer, film Gerak Kilat.
Music director, film A-Go-Go ‘67.
Producer, composer and arranger, EMI Singapore.
Music director, film Keluarga Si Comat.
Founder, Senada Record.
Recording producer, Senada Record.
Music director, film Dendang Perantau.
Music director, film Tiada Esok Bagimu.
Music director, film Prebet Lapok.
Music director, film Detik 12 Malam.
Honorary member, PERKAMUS.
Composer, film Setinggan.
Composer, film Serampang Tiga.
Composer, film Penyamun Tarbus.
Composer, film Jejak Bertapak.
Received Best Music award, Malaysian Film Festival.
Composer, film Kami.
Arranger (part-time), Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra.
Received Best Selling Album award, CBS Records.
Mentor, Singing Course, Kampong Ubi Community Centre, Singapore
Received Meritorious Award, Composers and Authors Society of Singapore.
Received Champion of the Arts award, Radio Warna, Mediacorp, Singapore.
Received Lifetime Music Achievement Award, PERKAMUS, Singapore.
Honoured in 7 Magnificent Composers (7 Tokoh Muzik), published by PERKAMUS in recognition of outstanding composers, alongside Zubir Said, Osman Ahmad, Yusoff B., Ahmad Jaafar, P. Ramlee and Wandly Yazid.
Received Anugerah Nadi Cipta award, Music Authors’ Copyright Protection Awards, Malaysia.
Honoured in tribute concert Persembaharan Muzik 7 (Remembering the 7 Magnificent Composers) at library@esplanade.
Received Bintang Lagenda Balik Tabir, 22nd Malaysian Film Festival.
Received Anugerah Seri Temasek award, Seri Temasek 2011 Gala Night and Awards Ceremony, Singapore
Guest artiste, Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan, Malaysia.
Passed away from pneumonia at age 76 in Singapore General Hospital, Singapore.
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Kassim Masdor preparing for Kembali Ke Jalan Ampas, a Pesta Raya concert, at library@esplanade. 2011.
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Kassim Masdor performing at Kembali Ke Jalan Ampas, a Pesta Raya concert held at Esplanade Recital Studio. 2011.
TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.
In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.