FOR A man with “little bit of talent” Datuk Ramli Sarip has made the most of it, and enjoyed a long career.
From humble beginnings playing at weddings and birthdays, Papa Rock as he is commonly referred to easily commands a full house at the Esplanade, holding the audience for a good three hours with a mix of fare that spans a colourful musical journey.
Raspy voiced and sporting his now silvering long hair, Ramli enjoys the adulation of many in the region. It has been hard work, and built around a work ethic of incessant recording and touring, which in his case, equates to playing hard.
Seven albums with Sweet Charity and 12 solo efforts that have hit precious metal status, selling into the tens of thousands each have positioned Ramli on a high shelf with little company.
Ramli was never the flavour of the country when he first burst on the scene with his group Sweet Charity. The band’s image reflected the growing unease that the authorities had with pervasive Western culture, especially as the group’s fan base grew in the region. In a narrow-minded narrative, the establishment assumed long hair equated with the drug culture and freedom of expression that would have challenged the process of nation-building.
Malaysia banned him for years and Singapore kept him at arm’s length. Out of sight, out of mind…? Not quite. Undeterred, Ramli displayed the kind of tenacity and fortitude that the government was trying to instil in society. Working hard and honing his skills, while staying clear of bad habits.
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Some five decades on, Ramli has been bestowed the title of Datuk by the Yang Dipertua Negeri of the state of Malacca and has been honoured with a lifetime award for his contributions to music in Singapore.
Such are the vagaries of life.
In this interview with STORM.SG Ramli talks about the early years, the fears and inspirations that came from keeping to the same path in life. As he walks along, in trademark tee-shirt, jeans and sneakers, he can honestly say it has been a difficult but beautiful journey.