AFTER half a century, the centurions of local rock continue to wield a hefty axe, pound a powerful tattoo and ululate the anthem of Malay rock.
Sweet Charity set the stage for their arrival into the big time, working at small events like weddings which drew huge crowds, before announcing their presence nationally at the National Theatre in 1973 with an incendiary display of raw energy, massive talent and crowd-swaying power that made them a most feared act to follow. Who could even come close?
From the mesmerising performance of showman and frontman, Ramli Sarip (the crowd cheered and sang along in the palm of his hand) to frenetic but controlled guitar riffs from A Ali, accompanied by the steady drumming of Rahman Sarbani, and Rosli Mohalim on bass (before switching to the lead guitar in later years), Sweet Charity is the phenomenon that is the foundation of today’s rock music scene in Singapore and Malaysia.
Sweet Charity looking respectable in contrast to their rocking image onstage.
It is widely acknowledged and accepted that without Sweet Charity and Ramli Sarip, much of the rock music industry in this region — and well known bands that went on to enjoy successful recording and performing careers we are familiar with — wouldn’t have had an opportunity to materialise.
While members have come and gone, the constants — Datuk Ramli Sarip, Rosli Mohalim, Rahman Sarbani and Ahmad Jaafar — have continued to play music at a high level.
Coming back together again after a 10-year hiatus, Sweet Charity brings experience, wisdom and new interpretations to their hits like Kamelia, Teratai, Sejuta Wajah, Ribut 10:59 Pagi, and many others.
Ribut: The Concert at The Star Performing Arts Centre on Saturday 14 October will be a sonic trip down memory lane as Sweet Charity picks up where it left off, and cranks up the volume!
The band enjoyed their outing on Saturday at Larkin Stadium (top picture). The Berita Gempa concert played to an enthusiastic house of avid fans.
After five decades, what does this reunion concert means to the band? Here’s what they have to say.
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Datuk Ramli Sarip — Vocalist
Raised on a diet of music by Free, Deep Purple, Santana and bands that defined an integral era of rock music, Ramli Sarip was pretty fixed on forming a band. He admits readily to not being very talented, but his determination and a vision for the band were perhaps the key drivers that propelled Sweet Charity to great heights.
With their hard-rocking sound and lyrics that spoke of life at that time, along with their dress sense, Ramli’s showmanship and the band’s musicianship, they drew in huge crowds who would gate crash wedding receptions.
Their reputation grew, and so, too, did Ramli’s confidence as a vocalist, composer and producer, which he further developed during his solo career after Sweet Charity stopped recording albums in the mid ’80s.
For his contributions to music, Ramli was bestowed the title of Datuk by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of the State of Malacca, in 2013.
All this while, Sweet Charity never broke up. The band members got on as friends, even if they didn’t stay in touch frequently.
“It’s just a moment in time. Somebody out there wants to do something,” Ramli says, referring to Mohammad Anwar of POS TKI Pte Ltd, the show’s presenter, who grew up watching the band and was reintroduced to them at a more recent concert.
“We have to think of it wisely, nicely. It’s about friendship. This could be the last one,” Ramli adds.
Ramli isn’t sure what the original fans of Sweet Charity are expecting from the reunion concert. “I don’t know what they felt 40 years ago about our music and performance. I think now we are more mature and we can talk about the songs, and why they were recorded.
“I have the style and the energy to perform.
“Now it’s about maturity, art and rock and roll.”
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Rosli Mohalim — Lead Guitarist
Now living in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, Rosli Mohalim grew up in Singapore.
Young Rosli would tag along with his guardian, who managed a band, to watch them perform. Rosli fancied becoming a drummer.
But, instead of a drum kit, he was gifted a Rossini guitar when he passed his primary school leaving examination (PSLE) in 1969. Rosli didn’t know how to play the guitar, but he learnt by watching a neighbourhood guitarist play.
Rosli first heard about Sweet Charity while he was studying for his A-levels, in 1972.
“I heard that Sweet Charity is a very popular and good band. The first time I saw them live at a wedding, I was stunned to see a very tight band. Ramli was playing guitar, congas and percussion.
“I was playing guitar in my kampung band, Purple Grass when Ramli and guitarist A Ali approached me to join the band as a bassist.
“How to play bass?” Rosli wondered. “I have small hands, so it’s not very comfortable to play the bass, which has thick strings.”
Undeterred, he joined the band. “If I don’t accept this offer, it’ll be such a waste. It’s a band I regard very highly.
“I played bass with Sweet Charity for more than a year, before switching to lead guitar.”
Since then, Rosli’s stature as a guitar icon has been reinforced over decades of artistic virtuosity.
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Ahmad Jaffar — Organist
Growing up in Sembawang, Ahmad Jaffar (AJ) watched Sweet Charity in action in Ocean Bar. “I admired them and Ramli was the live wire,” he recalls.
A self-taught organist, AJ joined the Bandidos who played eclectic music a few doors away. When the band decided to venture abroad, AJ opted out.
“One day I was at home when Ramli came over and offered me a job because the band’s organist was going back to Malaysia. I accepted and we played at parties, functions and concerts.”
AJ wrote the lyrics for Ribut 10:59 Pagi.
“When I went to the studio, the music was done but there were no lyrics. Ramli asked if I could write the lyrics. It was inspiring music and I based the lyrics on something that happened when I was staying in Kallang. A huge storm uprooted trees and the roofs of some of the buildings. 1059 is not about a specific time. The 10 represents 10 in the morning and 59 is the year when the incident happened.”
AJ thought his playing days were over and was about to sell off his equipment when, again, Sweet Charity came a-knocking.
Rahman Sarbani — Drummer
One of the founding members of Sweet Charity, Rahman Sarbani, like many other youths, would spend his weekends watching bands at weddings. He would be inspired to connect with his schoolmate, Ramli, to talk about music and eventually the discussion led to the formation of a band.
“I used to be a bassist playing in a band that played Chinese music. Ramli wanted to be a drummer, but he couldn’t make it, so I started drumming,” Rahman recalls.
The band was originally called Funky Jewels, before it was changed to Sweet Charity.
Rahman used to work in a factory in the day before rushing to play with the band at the club in Sembawang until close to midnight.
“Every wedding we played, there would be a big crowd. Maybe it was our music, or our appearance, but we were popular.
“During concerts, every promoter would call for Sweet Charity, and we would play last because the fans were there to watch us. Once, a foreign band, Pegasus, wanted to play last. We played before them, and when it was their turn, the hall was so empty you could count the number of people in the audience.
Ribut: The Concert — Five Decades Of Sweet Charity
Saturday, 14 October 2023, 8pm
The Star Performing Arts Centre
Tickets from $48 – $188 available at www.sistic.com.sg