As an entertainer, Sharizan Borhan creates a feel-good, mellow buzz every time he is on stage. Those who have followed his career from the mid-1990s will attest that the crooner, with his ready smile and golden voice, still exudes the same earnest charm that first endeared him to audiences as a budding pop and R&B artist.
These days, fans can hear him sing at Alexis Bistro Ampang once every few months, including this coming weekend. But in the last decade, Sharizan has been more of a voice-over artist, host and MC, only occasionally “giving in to the itch” to sing on stage.
It is no doubt a loss to the local music industry that the career of the 1996 Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) Best New Male Artiste — he won for his mixed-language debut album Hadir — did not take off like that of Ning Baizura, Man Bai, Camelia or Anuar Zain, who captured the same award before or after him. Interestingly, Siti Nurhaliza won in the female category that year.
But the multi-talented artist did not wallow in self-pity. He reveals his positive attitude to life as our conversation progresses, talking about the kind of music he likes and his bumpy musical journey.
“When I started out, I told myself that I would have to work three times harder than a female artist because the truth is that they have more public appeal,” Sharizan says.
That mindset and a tough childhood — his father had died when he was just six years old and by 19, Sharizan was working multiple jobs, in the travel industry, in restaurants and even washing cars for VIPs, before making it to the grand final of singing competition Asia Bagus in 1993 — were instrumental in his ability to change directions when the recording company he was attached to ceased operations after his AIM victory, causing his contract and career momentum to come to an abrupt halt.
From then on, Sharizan could not get a break with other recording companies. Nevertheless, he released independently a charity mini-EP in 2003 entitled Saat Ini and followed it with Timeless in 2006 — the first live recording of a jazz and swing album by a Malaysian artist in the country. This marked a 10-year milestone and shift to swing music, which earned him the moniker “King of Swing”.
Meanwhile, an opportunity to switch to TV saw him pivot to becoming an MC, which led to a successful career in voice-over work and hosting TV and radio shows.
“It is a vicious industry,” he remarks. “Sometimes, when my children say, ‘Dad, I want to be a singer’, I say, forget it, because there is a lot of falseness, pretensions and other things that come along with it.”
Still, the 43-year-old father is very matter-of-fact about his past. “Until today, I’m very thankful to my boss at the time. She got top songwriters to produce songs for me, it was a lot of money spent … a fantastic stepping stone for me. But people’s attention shifts very quickly when somebody new comes along, so you just go into free fall. At one point, you
really have to know how to hedge yourself.”
Yet none of this was tougher than when he uprooted his family and moved to Australia in 2011. “It was a turning point. I had to deal with my ego and bring myself back down to zero. But things didn’t quite pan out the way we hoped it would, which was a tough pill to swallow. But it was a lesson needed.
“Now I am able to do anything — even coming back and starting from scratch (in 2014). The industry was changing so quickly that I had to rebuild from zero. But I’m very lucky to still be here, thanks to a number of people who still recognise what I’ve accomplished over the last 15 to 20 years,” says Sharizan.
He also gained a sense of freedom from those three years in Australia, which changed his outlook on life. For one, he has become more contented and appreciative of life’s simple things. When he is not doing one of the several things listed on his skill set, Sharizan might be found roaming somewhere out of town on a motorcycle as part of his new venture, Otomoto — a creative platform that promotes a motorcycling lifestyle through video and web content.
This more laid-back approach translates into Sharizan’s performances on stage as well. Working again with his regular music director — pianist Tok Khon — and Muhammad Nazrin (guitar), Daniel Foong (bass) and Arthur Kam (drums), Sharizan relishes the spontaneity and chemistry that can only come from performing with a live band. “Alexis is a small crowd but it’s a good time with musicians and people up close. It keeps me sane … you have got to have something to experiment with, to escape creatively. When we gel and find the right fit, it’s magic,” he smiles.
“I’m supposed to perform a new repertoire this time around, but it’s been really hard trying to find new good songs — all very sexual lah,” he laughs. “So, I’m still going back to the 1970s, and going for songs that have a more lasting quality. I really want people to have a good time, so the choice of songs is important … ones that they can sing along to.”
His upcoming gig will present a mix of English and Malay pop hits “with a familiar yet slightly different and refreshing feel”, including U2’s With Or Without You, Sheila Majid’s Sinaran, I Am No King from his own debut album and Harvey Malaiholo’s Sesaat Kau Hadir. The last song is of sentimental value to the singer as it is one of the first he learnt in music school. Fly Me To The Moon will be a sort of signature opener while numbers by the Bee Gees and Earth, Wind and Fire will also be featured.
As fulfilling as life is for him now, Sharizan still yearns for the recording booth. “There is a dream, to put out a ‘Malaysian songbook’, and to do it live-recording style. That would be the ultimate dream — to bring back the glory of Malaysian songs. If you look at Malaysian songs, we have no identity now. Where do we stand?
M Nasir asked that question before.
“There’s so much talent but many are going overseas to play for others. I’m happy for them, but their musicianship is not appreciated much here. Here, a few have dared to be different, but when things were changing and we were almost there, we got lost again along the way. It is difficult to make things happen unless we have someone who believes in this vision, who wants to fund it, even if for charity. That would be great too. I just want a product we can call Malaysian, done by Malaysians.”
Sharizan has thrown down the gauntlet to the industry, but while we wait, we can enjoy a taste of his music at Alexis Bistro this weekend.
Sharizan Borhan will be performing at 10pm on Oct 21 & 22, Alexis Bistro Ampang, Great Eastern Mall, Jalan Ampang, KL. There will be a music charge of RM10. For more information, visit www.alexis.com.my or call (03) 4260 2288.