When she was twelve Nora Ariffin wanted to be a singer. Quite naturally for schoolgirls
her age the school talent contest was and still is the showcase. Little did she know
that she would monopolise the winners' rostrum for six years running. Right after
school in 1991 she took part in RTM's Bintang HMI talent competition. She won. A
flood of recording offers followed.
"I didn't know what to do," she recalls.
Johan Nawawi had just been introduced to her by mutual friends. He, like she, also
hailed from Kelantan and having had experience in the music industry Nora turned
to Johan for advice.
On composer Adnan Abu Hassan's prompting they recorded five songs on a demo tape
and approached several recording companies. That seemed the proper way to do it.
Warner Music saw her potential and snapped her up. It was 1992. Nora had become a
What followed has been nothing short of phenomenal. Nora Sandiwara has gone double
platinum with sales of over one hundred and twenty thousand in Malaysia and another
hundred thousand in Indonesia. This in an industry that considers sales of fifty
thousand as good. And the album is still being snatched up.
Nora is especially proud of her Indonesian success.
"Of course I am happy," she laughs and adds, "It isn't easy for Malaysian
artistes to penetrate Indonesia. Their standards are higher. Indonesians want something
different. If I sing like them then they will not accept me. But my voice is different."
Debaran, or Heartbeat, Nora's second album was released in November. "Much of
that album was recorded when we produced the first," admits Johan and indeed
work has already begun on the third album. I was lucky enough to hear a couple of
songs from number three album and judging by this preview - watch out Malaysia!
A very heavy promotional schedule follows the release of an album. Radio interviews,
television shows, media events, meet-the-fans tour of the country, all very tightly
strung together and terribly hectic but in Nora's own words it's 'satu kemestian'.
It must be done and is part of the industry. You sell yourself and if people like
you, if people like your songs, if people like your voice, your cassettes and your
"Fans appreciate my meeting with them," Nora declares, "they are very
important to me."
She cites an instance that warmed her heart, "A little girl of about thirteen
asked to have her picture taken with me. I put my hand on her shoulder and after
the picture was taken, the little girl ran all over the place, all excited and proudly
telling everyone 'Nora pegang aku! Nora pegang aku!'
"I am approached everywhere I go. But I still go shopping at supermarkets. I
don't turn my fans away."
Nora realises that with her success, she has become a role model for many. "I
work very hard at my image. Being a public figure I have to accept that. Now people
know I'm still the same. I train myself to relax. Not that your album has sold many
copies you change and become proud. I keep my image as simple as possible. If you
are an egoist and say 'I'm a big star!' you won't last long."
Johan Nawawi and Nora were married shortly after they met. Nora, the youngest of seven children,
was then living in Kelantan but moved to Kuala Lumpur after their marriage. "I
have to follow my husband," she grins. Today, Johan is also her manager. They
have a son, Mohd Syakir Iman, now three.
"Unfortunately the music industry prefers it if you are unmarried. If you have
a kid it is even harder," she says. But she has succeeded despite that. Indeed,
after all the promotional tours, and hectic schedules her happiest moments are spent
with her son.
When I play with my kid I have no more worries," she maintains.
Johan 'I'm in my late twenties' Nawawi got into the music industry quite by chance.
He tells it like this: "Normally parents want you to be a doctor or engineer
or architect so they send you to school to study to become one. I spent three years
at the Federal Institute of Technology and earned my diploma in architecture.
"In 1984 I chanced upon Adnan Abu Hassan who had just returned from overseas.
He had written a melody which he reckoned would become a hit and invited me to work
with him. I started by writing the lyrics to the song."
That song was Sheila Majid's Sinaran. The rest is history.
Sinaran became one of Sheila Majid's greatest hits and propelled her into the international
"When I first saw the video of Sheila's concert in Japan I almost cried,"
Johan says, "All these Japanese were repeating my lyrics. And in Malay! It was
an experience I'll never forget."
Johan was nineteen when he wrote the lyrics to Sinaran. "And I could only play
a few chords on the guitar," he admits.