Datuk Sheila Majid has been mesmerising her fans in Malaysia since the 1980s and those in Indonesia and Japan since the 1990s.
Successfully penetrating the Indonesian market, Sheila shares with The Leaderonomics Show how she overcame adversities in the media industry and her personal life, and to rise to the top of her game.
Till today, the singer and songwriter finds it mind-boggling why she was dubbed “Queen of Pop Jazz”.
“At that time, my genre of music was very different from what we had in the local market. The media categorised my distinctive style as jazz due to the jazz influences – the elements, chord changes, etc. In actual fact, the music I do is pop,” Sheila says.
Baby steps, giant leaps
Sheila recalls being exposed to music at a very young age. “I’m the youngest of eight children, sent for classical piano lessons at the age of four and was the first child who was actively involved whenever there was a school concert, drama, or extra-curricular activities. Music has always been a part of my life, but I never thought I would turn it into a career,” she reminiscences.
Her big break came during one of her usual stints singing at a friend’s party, when someone was captivated by her voice and invited her to work on an album.
“I was very excited but was at that time preparing for my SPM exams. My late father, one of the first Malays who got a scholarship to study in Oxford University in England, emphasised academic achievements and I knew he would surely disapprove.”
Sheila strategised, patiently waited for the right moment and approached him for his blessings while waiting for her results. “He thought that I wasn’t doing anything anyway and that would probably fill up my time” she says.
After a demo which got a local label interested, she was offered a contract to record an album. Before her second album, an international label bought over the contract and Emosi, which helped her penetrate the Indonesian market, was born.
Strive for excellence, not mediocrity
“Do it for the passion, not for the glamour,” she advises.
“There are bound to be challenges in whatever you do,” Sheila says.
But if you like doing what you do, the passion will drive you and keep you motivated to overcome those challenges.
“I went into music because I love music, performing and singing. If you’re in this industry for the glamorous life, you’re going to get very disappointed and disheartened as the glamour is merely superficial,” she emphasises, adding that entering the fraternity for the wrong reasons will make you mediocre.
“Many people today work on mediocrity and nobody is striving for excellence anymore. That is the wrong attitude. If you put your heart and soul into it, you will come up with something truly magical!” she enthuses.
Instead of letting fame go to her head, she’s happy to have a family that keeps her grounded. “Once the makeup and the costumes are off, I go back to the reality of my home where everyone sees me as plain ol’ Sheila.”
Sheila remembers those early days when people dictated the type of music she should make in order to sell.
“If I had followed, I won’t excel because that’s not where my passion lies.”
Being a trend setter in the industry is also what distinguished Sheila from the rest. “Some called me fussy for being one of the first with a personal makeup artist and stylist, but this ensures my image stays the same from teenager to adulthood. This involves having an eye for finer details that many tend to overlook,” she points out.
Paradox of value and values
Sheila shares about the public’s attitude towards intellectual property as a major challenge faced by the industry today. “Music is essential for uniting people and giving the feel-good vibes, yet we do not accord it with respect by paying for it and only pursuing music and concert tickets for free,” she expounds.
She is disheartened to note that liking an artiste doesn’t translate into support and respect towards the work of the artiste. “This mindset has to change in order to see our music industry stay alive and thrive,” she adds.
She advises CEOs and leaders in the industry to consult the industry players prior to making decisions.
“We live in the industry, hence we know what needs to be done and what can benefit the industry.”
On a personal level, Sheila turns to prayer for guidance to overcome the struggles she faces, especially when facing marriage and relationships issues during the early stages of her career.
Sheila’s nuggets of wisdom
- Don’t dwell on failure
- Some people dwell on being a victim without doing anything to get out of that rut. Pick yourself up after crying and think about what works for you.Life has to go on. It’s not about stopping oneself from falling; instead it’s about falling, getting up again and moving on.
- Be grateful and hopeful
- Make the best out of every situation and never give up. Always have hope that tomorrow will be a better day. When you look at problems faced by others, you’ll realise that your issues are so minute compared with what others are going through.
- More hard work than glamour
- For a young person starting out in life, Sheila has this simple advice to offer: “Like what you do, then you’ll excel in it.”“Be highly-disciplined, as no one is going to dictate your work hours and schedule. Bear in mind that it involves a lot more hard work than glamour,” she says.
- Work on your strengths
- Through the years, Sheila continues to inspire many women to empower themselves to be proactive and not be afraid to live their dreams.She advises women to identify their strengths and work on them. “You’re not the same as the next woman, so don’t compare yourself with another.”
- Malaysians must stay united
- When writing songs, Sheila draws inspiration by observing the people and things around her. Her song, Ikhlas tells a story of unity in diversity.“We are Malaysians, thus we ought to take care of our country,” says Sheila, adding that we ought to be grateful for this safe country. Sheila muses that Malaysians must stay united, especially with the current landscape of controversial racial and religious issues.
Below are snippets of Sheila’s answers in The Thinkeronomics segment:
Q: If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
A: Teaching people to have a good attitude.
Q: If no one would ever find out, what crazy things would you do?
A: I don’t even know! I’ve reached a stage of my life where I don’t want be crazy. To have another baby, perhaps?!
Q: Which is more important to you when following a leader – results or inspiration?
Q: What are two impossible things you have done in your life?
A: Firstly, my career. Even now when I think back, it seemed impossible that my father had even allowed me to do it. I hope he is proud of me today. Before he passed away in 1996, I guess he saw that I could make a living out of it. Secondly, having four children. That’s my biggest achievement, as I’m one who’s afraid of pain and injections!