Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Music Film

Yusnor Ef

The grandfather of Malay songs in Southeast Asia.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

At the end of the day, it is the people who will judge me based on my works. When I am working on a project, I don’t just think, ‘Is the quality good enough?’. I also think about how it will be beneficial to the community and the nation.

– The Straits Times, 2011.

Yusnor Ef, born on 12 Sep 1937 in Singapore, is the grandfather of Malay songs in Southeast Asia, having penned some few hundred hits set to music by the likes of Kassim Masdor, P. Ramlee and Zubir Said. Not content with only working in the entertainment sphere, Yusnor has over the course of his illustrious 40-year career worn various professional hats, including that of Malay-language educator, comedian, actor, TV producer, entertainment historian, screenwriter and film expert. His songs remain evergreens today, and have been performed and recorded by artists ranging from Anita Sarawak to Ahmad Jais, P. Ramlee, Sanisah Huri and Rafeah Buang.

Born Mohamed Noor Mohamed Yusofe, Yusnor was the son of a single mother who did odd jobs and sold Malay kueh to pay the bills. He obtained his first break in life when he signed up to become a Malay-language teacher in the 1950s. His talent as a wordsmith soon saw him in traipsing the floorboards of early Malay theatre in Singapore, before he put his literary skills to poetic use as a writer of lyrics.

Yusnor’s stage name was given to him by no less than the film legend P. Ramlee, who bestowed it upon him during an extended mentoring session in Yusnor’s early days. P. Ramlee would come to be a profound influence on Yusnor’s music and film career.

Some of Yusnor’s better known tunes include Gelisah (Restless), a song about the courtship of his wife Jamila, as well as Kasih Sepanjang Masa (An Evergreen Love). Meeting the musician Kassim Masdor in 1959, Yusnor began an extremely fruitful long-term partnership with the composer, which saw the creation of a few hundred hit songs in the Malay music world. Yusnor’s lyrics were inspired by real-life stories that he experienced and encountered, and this created an emotional depth and resonance with listeners. The result was songs that were well-loved and that enjoy continued popularity up till the present day.

Alongside his career as a lyricist, Yusnor also developed interests in producing educational TV programmes and penning books. In 1983, he wrote textbooks for the Ministry of Education under the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore—at the same time producing Educational Television programmes for primary and secondary school Malay Language and Islamic Religious Knowledge curriculum—and, later, informative tomes on Islamic doctrine and culture. Later in his life, he began to pen histories of Malay music and Malay entertainment personalities. He has worked closely with TV channels Suria, Astro and Radio Television Malaysia.

The creation of artistic work has always carried much significance for Yusnor. He holds on to his philosophy—“Good music teaches and instils good in people. Bad music spoils the nation”—that every artistic work should have a moral value for people who encounter the work. He sees his efforts as contributions to Singapore and its people.

Yusnor believes in sharing his knowledge and skills with younger musicians and artists, and feels that it is only to the benefit of art as a whole if he does not keep his knowledge to himself. He regularly gives talks on art, music, and film in universities in Singapore and Malaysia and willingly shares his music materials with whomever shows an interest in his work.

In 1992, he founded PERKAMUS (Association of Malay Singers, Composers and Professional Musicians) and he still serves as the association’s president today. And in 2011, Yusnor was awarded the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to music. On 1 Jan 2014, a tribute concert to Yusnor, Celebrating the Lyrics of Yusnor Ef – Pentas Malam Aku, Dia Dan Lagu, was presented at the Esplanade Concert Hall, where his songs were performed by veteran and young Malay-language artists.

Today, he remains at the forefront of the entertainment industry working full-time running a production house in Kuala Lumpur. He is currently writing a book about the history of the Malay film industry in Singapore and producing a documentary on the history and heritage of Malay music and film in Singapore.


12 Sep 1927

Born in Singapore.

1946 to 1953

Attended Telok Kurau Malay School.


Best actor in a drama competition organised by Confederation of Peninsula Malay Students.


Malay Language teacher at Telok Saga Malay School.


Graduated with Higher Diploma as a teaching professional from the Teachers Training College (TTC) at Paterson Road.


Wrote his first lyrics for Kasih Sepanjang Masa (An Evergreen Love), with music by Kassim Masdor and performed by Fazidah Joned.


Wrote Malay-language and Islamic knowledge textbooks for Ministry of Education under the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore.
Produced educational television programmes for primary and secondary school Malay Language and Islamic Religious Knowledge curriculum.

1983 to 1984

Transferred to Educational Technology Department as Media Specialist, later became Educational Television (ETV) Producer.


Started serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore.

1992 to present

President of PERKAMUS.


Founded PERKAMUS (Association of Malay Singapore Singers, Composers and Professional Musicians).


Received the Long Service Award at the National Day Awards for his contribution to the arts.


Received the Meritorious Award by COMPASS.

1998 to 2006

Vice-Chairman of the Malay Music Development Committee at National Arts Council.


Published book P. Ramlee Yang Saya Kenal.
Published book 7 Magnificent Composers.
Published book Dendang Temasek.


Received the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) at the National Day Awards for his contribution to the arts.


Named an Arts Champion by MESRA, People’s Association.


Published book Melodies of Temasek.


Member of Arts Resource Panel (Music) at National Arts Council.

2007 to present

Chairman of Malay Music Development Committee at National Arts Council.


Released CD compilation Aku, Dia Dan Lagu, featuring 128 of his songs.
Advisory member of MusicSG by National Library Board.


Awarded the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to music in Singapore.
Published book Muzik Melayu Sejak 1940–an (Malay Music Since the 1940s).
Managing Director of YKNA Network Sendirian Berhad.


TV producer of documentary series at Malaysia’s RTM and ASTRO television channels.
Part-time lecturer at the National Academy of Arts, Culture & Heritage (ASWARA), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and other schools in Malaysia and Singapore.

1 Jan 2014

Tribute concert Celebrating the Lyrics of Yusnor Ef – Pentas Malam Aku, Dia Dan Lagu at Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore.


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.

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