Azura and Cheb Ali are working on a duet album that would feature songs in Arabic and Bahasa Malaysia
by AZALEA AZUAR
IF YOU are one of the 90’s kids, you might remember “Bukan Ku Tak Sayang Lagi”, a “lambada-influenced” song by a young singer Azura Aziz that managed to get regular airplay on various radio stations.
The popular tune also made it to the semi-finals of Muzik-Muzik ‘92. Azura’s talent was initially noticed when she won the “Juara Wargakota” competition in 1991.
She was scouted by local recording companies and immediately worked on her debut album, with the full support from her family.
After all, Azura, who hails from Negri Sembilan, came from a musically inclined family.
“My father was a guitarist and he really loves music. My brother is also a drummer, while my uncle is a bassist. We are from a musically inclined family,” she said.
Throughout her career, Azura was not very much in the limelight as she was constantly watched by her strict father.
Love Conquers All
A couple of songs later, by the mid-90s, the singer seemed to have slowly blended into the background and left her spot to be replaced by other new and younger stars.
Azura gave up music for love, as she found her “habibi”, Cheb Ali Masrawi, a singer who hails from Cairo, Egypt.
Their love story began when Cheb Ali had a singing stint at a club in Genting Highlands, Pahang.
“At that time I was singing at a dinner function, and he was for a three-month singing contract. He was with a group of four belly dancers and all his percussionists, so they performed there,” she explained.
When Cheb Ali and his troupe came down to Kuala Lumpur, Azura’s good friend introduced her to him, with the idea of teaming them together as duet partners.
They did end up together, apparently, as husband and wife a year later and moved to Egypt in 2003.
The Move to A New World
Despite the great moments living in The Land of The Pharaohs, it was not as rosy for Azura, it seems.
“The first time I reached Egypt, I experienced culture shock because the situation was not as flowery as I expected. However, I tried to be positive and think of all the good memories. I got to go to many good holiday places, too,” she said.
“It’s just that there was a political crisis at that time and President Hosni Mubarak was in power. Then, they had the revolution,” she said.
The Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia during late 2010, spread to other countries in the Middle East. The uprising was caused by social media that was protesting against the government’s corrupt authoritarian regime.
When President Mubarak stepped down in 2011 after 30 years in power, the military took control of the state which left hundreds of protesters dead as they clashed.
“I supported the new revolution. It was hectic. There was chaos and everything. My family back home in Malaysia was very worried and they were constantly checking on me,” said Azura.
Military power somehow came back to Egypt which was a discomfort to the young couple.
“We did not feel safe or secured at all. So, I might as well bring my kids back here in Malaysia where they could live a better life,” she said.
Azura and Cheb Ali now have three sons — Seiful Islam, Safiyurrahman and Nusratuddin.
They have been sent to tahfiz schools which are modelled after schools that use the syllabus from Al-Azhar University, one of the oldest universities in the world.
“My kids are very fortunate because they now can speak fluent Arabic so, they can understand the Quran. Although they have reached the 25th juzuk (part), they would need to maintain. Even my first son can do the khat or Islamic calligraphy,” she said.
Since her three sons were born in Egypt, Azura is trying to get Malaysian citizenship for them. Other than taking a yearly exam at the Egyptian Embassy to maintain their Egyptian education, Azura also sends her three sons to the national primary school.
“They go to the primary school near the house because I want them to learn Bahasa Malaysia so they can get both benefits. So far, they are coping very well. They are happy with the school here and have no problem with the studies,” she said.
To maintain her children’s fluency in both Arabic and Bahasa Malaysia, Azura and her husband created a system for them. “When our children started to talk, I would only speak Malay while my husband would speak Arabic to them,” she said.
As they grew, they had no problem switching between the languages.
The Best of Both Worlds
Certain students have to learn the Arabic language during primary school. Some can pick up faster than others, while some are slow learners. And some really can’t do it.
Azura did not attend any formal Arabic classes, but being married to an Arabic speaker for 15 years, as well as living in an Arabic-speaking country for a long time makes her learn the language naturally.
“I just learned by heart through conversations with my family-in-law there and learned a lot from watching television. I also tried to identify what word is being used and what it means,” she said.
Now, she can communicate with the local Egyptians.
Learning a new language is very practical and requires a lot of practice to improve.
According to Azura, she believes that some Malaysian students do not have the opportunity to practice as they are only learning the language by theory.
“That is why my husband and I are currently teaching Arabic and khat calligraphy. We are teaching the language phase by phase. We hold lessons at our students’ houses, but now one whole family is learning Arabic,” she said.
Those who are interested to participate in their Arabic lessons can reach them via their social media accounts @khatbychebali on Instagram and their Facebook page Khat by Cheb Ali.
Azura’s love for the Arabic language has also prompted Cheb Ali to learn Bahasa Malaysia quickly. They do complement each other.
“So far, my husband can easily blend with the Malaysian society because he eats anything and he’s not fussy. He loves belacan and he also eats tempoyak,” she laughed.
The decision to return to Malaysia was Cheb Ali’s idea.
“I miss Malaysia. I want to stay there…” he once told Azura.
A Blend of Cultures in Music
Currently, the husband and wife singing team is preparing for a duet album that would feature songs in Arabic and Bahasa Malaysia.
Interestingly, Azura will sing in Arabic, while Cheb Ali will sing in Bahasa Malaysia.
She said that her brother is also involved in her latest song “Di Setiap Mahu Mu”, which was written by Andy Sulaimand and Rosli Ahmad.
“It’s a very good number and it can really touch the listener’s hearts. It’s about what’s happening to women nowadays — abandoned and abused. It’s a very sad song,” she said.
As a product of the 90s, Azura is also aware of the competition that is rife among young singers who are very adept at the various social media platforms.
“I salute all the new singers now because they can make their own decision. They create their style, make their songs and have strong opinions on what they want to do,” she said.
As a very private person, Azura is still struggling with the challenges of sharing her life on social media.
“I don’t really like to expose my lifestyle. I’m also struggling to follow what people are up to nowadays,” she said.
Perhaps the upcoming music project would change her perception…