Azmeer with One Nation Emcees.
DENNIS CHUA speaks to the ‘Alex Ferguson’ of Gang Starz, Azhar Abu Bakar.
DESCRIBED as Asean talent search Gang Starz’s answer to no-nonsense Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Azhar Abu Bakar makes it clear to his students, or the show’s contestants, that he “kicks butt”.
“You have to be cruel to be kind. As a young and aspiring singer and composer in the 1980s and 1990s, my mentors were no different.
“They used to shout at me if my work was not good. And that was why I worked hard to improve my skills and make it in the music industry,” he said.
Recalling his experiences with his no-nonsense mentors back then, the programme adviser of Gang Starz said that when he first became an artiste, acclaimed producer Datuk Aziz Bakar told him point-blank that his performances were lousy.
“He said I was not fit to sit in his place. This really hurt my feelings, but I subsequently strived extra hard to show him I could do it. Seven years down the road, I finally pleased him,” he said.
Another “terrifying” mentor who coached Azmeer was acclaimed composer S. Atan.
“He was the real Sir Alex. He yelled abuses at me if I did not perform well as a singer, and I’m always grateful to him for pushing my limits,” he said.
As the students’ main coach, Azmeer, 42, says he is only “half the terror” that his mentors were, because he “never hurls profanities at them when he is mad”.
“I believe in being ‘brutal’ and honest, ticking them off for lousy performances and making sure they work hard every day for their weekly concerts.
“At times, I even make them sing while carrying chairs. They may feel the pain of such harsh discipline, but at the end of the day, they thank me for it,” he said, adding that it was better to be “abused” by a frank mentor than by fans who see a lousy performance.
“If one is to be a successful entertainer, he or she has to train under harsh discipline. Only then can a star be born.”
However, mentoring students is not all about being nasty.
“You have to give them credit where credit is due too. All good mentors, including the ‘terrors’ who coached me, did the same,” he said.
Azmeer has been programme adviser for two seasons of Gang Starz.
He shares his position with Damian Seet of VE fame and choreographer Sazlan Mat Adnan, handling performances, vocals and choreography.
Azmeer, who hails from Bayan Lepas in Penang, has been an entertainer for 19 years.
The youngest of five children of a police officer, he has two ballad-oriented albums to his credit – Kenangan Lalu in 1989 and Azmeer in 1992.
“My maternal great-grandfather was a back-up singer for the legendary R. Azmi. I guess I inherited his talent,” he said.
Azmeer studied law at a private college in Singapore for a year in 1988 before he chose to pursue a music career.
Besides Atan, he was also trained by Ramli MS and Indonesian composer, Pance Pondaag of Tak Ingin Sendiri fame.
On June 14, 1990, Azmeer was involved in a car accident in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, which virtually put a stop to his stage acts.
“I damaged the cornea of my right eye in the car crash and stayed in hospital for a month. After that, I decided to concentrate on composing and songwriting, though I occasionally sing with other artistes,” he said, adding that his trademark dark glasses were equipped with special lenses to aid his right eye.
He is married to fellow songwriter Azira Azid and has three children.
Azmeer’s famous compositions include Purnama Merindu, a hit for Datuk Siti Nurhaliza which helped her win the Asia Music Festival 2002 in Beijing, China, Ziana Zain’s Menadah Gerimis (Best Ballad in Anugerah Juara Lagu 2002) and Liza Hanim’s Andainya Aku Bersuara (Anugerah Juara Lagu 2001 finalist).
Azmeer also composed and wrote Sharifah Zarina’s hit song Langit Ketujuh (he also sang with her) and Mentor Season 2 winner Fiq Abdul Halim’s Tiga Malam Tanpa Bintang.
Misha Omar’s latest single, Cinta Adam Dan Hawa, was also composed by Azmeer, as was Amy Mastura’s 1995 hit Harapan Semalam.
Azmeer has also written the script for Senario’s comedic appearances on the big and small screen besides composing the funnymen’s hit songs such as Cepat Kaya, Cari Tapak and Sebelum Dan Sesudah.
“I also composed songs for Saiful Apek as a soloist after he left the troupe,” he said.
From 2005 to 2006, Azmeer served as programme adviser for Mentor.
“The show, which lasted two seasons, was a very good initiative by TV3. Sadly, there were not many established artistes who were willing to participate as mentors due to their busy schedules,” he said.
“Nevertheless, there came Gang Starz and it’s a far better programme because it unites young and talented new singers in all of Asean’s original member countries.”
Azmeer believes that a regional talent search will push new local artistes, and even some established ones, to “soar higher”.
“It is good, healthy competition, a chance to learn from neighbouring countries and better oneself,” he said.
Azmeer thinks Gang Starz could not have come at a better time because there was hardly any talent search for vocal groups, as opposed to soloists.
“Damian, Sazlan and I auditioned prospective candidates for the show. More than 5,000 Malaysians auditioned, as well as about 500 Indonesians, 200 Thais, 100 Singaporeans and 300 Filipinos,” he said.
Of the top fine groups in this year’s contest – namely, Malaysia’s One Nation Emcees and Akasia, Indonesia’s D’Reborn and the Philippines’ Paragon Child and 3.5 – he said they all deserve to come this far.
“However, I wish Indonesia’s third group, 3 Voices, could have stayed a little longer. They have great potential, despite their lack of confidence at times,” he said.
On ways to improve the show, Azmeer suggests that some contestants be allowed to play musical instruments.
The Gang Starz final will be held on Aug 24 at Stadium Malawati, Shah Alam at 9 pm.
New Straits Times