A simple knock on the door changed singer Misha Omar’s life forever.
In 2001, Samihah Aishah Omar or Misha Omar was just your average 19-year-old college student from Kota Baru, Kelantan.
Early one morning, Misha was woken up by a knock on her door. It was her aunt.
“She told me she had taken leave that day to bring me to audition for a singing competition at RTM in Kelantan,” she shares in an interview.
“I said, ‘For what? I don’t sing to compete,’” she recalls the conversation.
Misha’s father had bought a karaoke set when she was 13 and since then, the teenager has become the go-to in-house entertainer, often singing at family gatherings.
“My aunt replied, ‘We know that you can sing and we want to let other people hear your voice.’”
Misha, who had never joined a singing competition before, eventually agreed to audition for Bintang RTM, a singing competition that gave birth to iconic entertainer Sudirman.
“I just went with my worn out jeans. I had my spectacles on, I didn’t put on any makeup and I didn’t comb my hair,” the now 34-year-old singer says with a laugh.
Not only did Misha nail the audition, she made it to the finals of the competition. She didn’t win, but her music journey was far from over.
Misha had met the late Adnan Abu Hassan during the full dress rehearsals a night before the finals of Bintang RTM 2001. Two weeks after the competition, she got a call from the revered composer asking to work with her.
“I told him, ‘I didn’t win (the competition). I have nothing to offer.’ I don’t know why but he really believed in me,” she says.
Misha, who was pursuing a diploma in business at Unitar in Kota Baru, would take a bus to Kajang, Selangor, where Adnan lived, every weekend for a few months to work on her debut album.
“He wrote one song after another and so I was given a new song to learn over the week and during the weekend, we would practice them over and over again and record it,” she says.
With a demo ready, Adnan even helped her shop for a record label before she finally signed with BMG, now owned by Sony Music.
In 2002, the singer released her debut single Bunga-Bunga Cinta, the very first song she learned and recorded. The song was a hit and in the following year, won prestigious awards such as the grand prize and best vocal at Anugerah Juara Lagu and the Gold Award at the Shanghai Music Festival 2003. It remains an iconic power ballad to this day.
“He was the one who moulded me. He taught me how to sing. I feel indebted to him,” Misha says of her mentor who passed away last month.
“He taught me that during recording, you can’t give too much. You give everything, but you still keep a bit for your live performance so that if people who hear you in your recording wanted more, they’ll look at your live performance and see that it’s even more creative,” she recalls one of his advice.
Although her first single was met with success, Misha still had to prove herself as a singer by promoting her album at supermarkets.
She remembers those times with fondness, saying: “You’ll see people pushing their trolleys or holding a can of sardine. They look at the product and they look at you and go, ‘Who is this?’ Some will stay and watch, some will just rush off with their trolleys.”
“It’s so priceless, you get to see these different reactions and it makes you want to give more, you want to make people stop and watch you.”
She went on to release another two albums and churned out notable hits like Dedebu Cinta, Pulangkan, Ku Seru and Cinta Adam Dan Hawa.
Up until her last album in 2008, each of them had song titles with the word “cinta” (the grand tally is at seven so far), I point out the pattern to Misha.
“Hidup ini kerana cinta (This life is for love),” she offers. “Whatever we do, we do for love. And love is a big thing, losing the person you love, it’s different; a love met with many obstacles, it’s another thing; if you love someone but you have to keep it to yourself, what’s that like? These are like assignments to me.”
“The subject of love is close to my heart. Before getting married, I went through the different phases of love. All those experiences have made me understand it more.”
Now the big question remains, will her upcoming album have song titles with the word “cinta”? “Actually, I don’t think so,” she says.
The eight-year gap
Should Misha release her fourth album this year, it’ll be eight years since her last one (not counting her greatest hits compilation in 2011).
What took the singer so long? A few years into her singing career, Misha also ventured into acting. In fact, her feature film debut GK3 The Movie (a Gerak Khas sequel) scooped up a Best New Actress nomination for Misha at the 2005 Malaysia Film Festival. “It helps you to be a good singer. After all, singers are storytellers,” she says.
Since then, Misha has branched out into TV dramas and theatre too. “If you act in drama series or theatre productions, you can’t do them quickly, it takes time. And I can’t record (a song) and go to set, I have to focus and do it one by one. If you add all this up, a year goes by before you know it.”
Last year, Misha also explored her comedic side in reality comedy and music series Juara Parodi which sees comedians and singers parodying well-known local songs.
Misha says she learned that when it comes to singing parodies, she mustn’t sound too good. “Because people will focus on your voice and they won’t get the lyrics that are funny. It wasn’t easy for me to adapt because as a singer, you want to sound good when you sing,” she says of the experience.
A lot has happened in her personal life too. The singer and actress has to juggle being a mother to her two adopted children – Muhammad Adam Emir, 10, and Humaira Lateefa, four – and a wife to pilot Firos Ezzwan Rossly. She also has a baby on the way, having announced her pregnancy just last month.
Misha elaborates the road to her wedding day wasn’t easy. A month after getting engaged in 2012, her husband was promoted to a bigger fleet and had to undergo a year-and-a-half of training. After Firos completed the course, Misha’s father passed away. The wedding was held off until May 2014.
“Those chapters that I’ve gone through in life have given me a bigger perspective, which helps in my music too.”
Work on her upcoming album started four years ago. Misha took her time to find the right songs and have been recording them in stages.
The pop album, originally planned for a release this year though it may change due to her pregnancy, will feature seven tracks including pre-released singles Angin Syurga, Untuk Bermimpi and the recent Terimaku Seadanya (a duet with Akademi Fantasia winner Hafiz).
“I’m stuck in between. I know that the new generation likes to hear something light and easy. Frankly, I’m not very good at singing that kind of songs. It doesn’t suit my vocal character.
“At the same time, if I still sing songs that are too complicated, where the stories are too deep, people will be like, ‘That Bunga-Bunga Cinta era is gone.’ It’ll be too serious for radio,’” Misha shares candidly on finding her fit in today’s music industry.
To sound current for her new album, the singer says she is finding a balance between the two: “I have to be myself, there’s still Misha Omar, that deep singer, but there’s also a lightness to it.”
Asked if she feels nervous releasing a new album after so many years, Misha says she is spurred by the support from her fans.
“I’m still here today because I still have loyal fans who know my voice and the type of songs I sing. They’ve followed me for so long.
“I have people who come up to me and say, ‘My mum loves your songs a lot. And it goes on to, ‘My grandmother or my late father or mother too.’”
She recalls an interesting encounter while she was singing in a school for a charity show last year. “The oldest student would’ve been 12, so they shouldn’t know me. But they sang Bunga-Bunga Cinta with me and I asked them, ‘Do you know this song is older than you are?’ They said, ‘My mum loved your song and I watched you on YouTube.”
Asked what improvements can be made in the local music industry today, the singer responds: “It’s not that I disagree with the songs of the new generation, they offer a new flavour, but the beauty of the (old) songs, they’re often written like poems, and I’m afraid that the poetic quality in our songs would slowly fade as the language used becomes more and more conversational today.”
Misha suggests a collaboration between new and existing talents to retain the songs’ poetic quality yet offer something new.
Asked what life would be like if her aunt had not knocked on her door that fateful day, Misha answers: “That door would have never been opened. I think I will continue to further my studies and earn a degree and then work as an executive.
“I wouldn’t have been a singer.”
Misha will be performing alongside Jamal Abdillah at the Royale Chulan Hotel Kuala Lumpur on April 29. Call or email Music Messee Production at 012-448 1761 and firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.