I never know what to say when people ask if I was a pop star in Malaysia. I did win Best Male Vocal for my debut album, Dilanda Cinta (Love-swept), at the thirteenth annual Malaysian Music Industry Awards in 2006. In Britain, I explain that these are the Malaysian version of the BRIT or Grammy awards. While this description sounds semi-impressive, it doesn’t quite capture what really happened the night I won.
My category was presented by Erra Fazira, the last Muslim contestant to win the Miss Malaysia crown (before Muslims were banned from entering beauty pageants) and who went on to carve out a successful music and acting career – Malaysia’s answer to Bollywood royalty Aishwarya Rai! – and Juliana Banos, another fairly famous actress-cum-singer. My fellow nominees consisted of industry veterans and impressive up-and-comers whose names were read out in alphabetical order, with audible applause accompanying each announcement. Mine came last and was greeted by pin-drop silence. When Erra and Juliana opened the envelope, they both raised their eyebrows in bemusement and could barely pronounce my name properly. Maybe three people cheered – my sister (as my plus one), the late Toni Kasim (my mentor and best friend), and another mutual friend who got Toni in as his plus one.
I’ve tried my best to flush this memory out of my system. Against my will, I still recall the embarrassing silence, hugging my sister to near suffocation (the Malay-language paparazzi were a bit confused – was that my wife? ‘friend’? mother?), and the first thing I said in Malay in my acceptance speech: ‘If you’re all shocked, imagine how I feel.’ I’ve resurrected these memories by consulting YouTube, which was itself instructive. The search terms ‘Shanon Shah’ and ‘Anugerah Industri Muzik’ (‘Music Industry Awards’) or ‘AIM’ returned zilch results. It’s only after I typed something like ‘AIM’ ‘Vokal Lelaki Terbaik’ (‘Best Male Vocal’) and ‘2006’ that I found a grainy video transfer – and I had to scroll pretty far down to get to it. It has had barely 900 views and four ‘Likes’ at the time of writing. That’s how much of a ‘pop star’ I was in Malaysia.