Anita Sarawak



Anita Sarawak (b. 23 March 1952, Singapore–) is a professional entertainer known for her showmanship, powerful vocals and energetic performances. A versatile and talented artiste, Anita has performed in film, television and on stage. She is one of the first Asian performers to have carved a successful career in the United States, having been a mainstay at Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for many years.1 Anita continues to expand her horizons as a talkshow host, actress and businesswoman.2

Childhood and early career
Anita was born in Singapore on 23 March 1952 and named Ithnaini Mohamed Taib.3 She was exposed to the performing arts at a very young age, as her mother was celebrated Malay film actress, the late Siput Sarawak (Ramlah binte Dollah), and her father the late S. Roomai Nor (Mohamad Taib Salleh), an actor, director and film producer. Originally from Kuching, Sarawak, Siput was a bangsawan (Malay opera) performer and cabaret singer before embarking on a film career. She met her husband Roomai while filming her second movie, Cinta.4

Anita’s parents divorced when she was 9 months old, and she is their only child together.5 Anita spent much of her childhood with her father and his new family, and grew close to her stepmother Umi Kalthum, a veteran actress, and stepsister Noorkumalasari, a model, actress and singer. Umi remembered Anita as a talkative and funny child: “[Anita] is the joker in the family. She still has this trait. She often makes me laugh. When you are with her, you sort of forget your problems and sadness.”6

When she was around 12 years old, Anita returned to the care of her mother Siput, who started preparing her for a career in acting. A childhood friend, Rosminah Mahmood, recalled that Anita’s mother was strict and rarely allowed her outdoors to play. Instead, Anita spent most of her time at home practising ballet.7

Anita listened to various genres of music when growing up. She especially loved the songs of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Dusty Springfield, Diana Ross, The Supremes, Tom Jones, Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye and Carole King.8

Anita has always dreamt of being a singer and entertainer, citing her parents as her inspiration. “From the very beginning, my parents supported me, [and] gave me education, love, determination and professionalism,” she said.9

Singing sensation
Anita entered showbusiness in her teens. At 14, she acted in her first film, Dua Kali Lima, and also performed at weddings and school functions. Her first professional job upon leaving school was singing Mandarin and Chinese-dialect songs at a Chinese restaurant. Anita subsequently performed in other venues such as the Neptune Theatre Restaurant and the Singapore Hilton hotel. At 19, she was already dubbed a “singing cyclone”.10

By the time she was 30, Anita was described as Singapore’s “First Lady of Song”, who is not only a singer, but also “a mimic, a comic, a dancer, an actress”.11 Anita’s success was much a result of her perseverance. Bunny Boscoe, her manager in the 1970s, said, “Anita’s played in any kind of room, under any condition. She’s played in the best and the worst. She’s geared to be a consummate entertainer.”12

Anita’s television performance on the then Radio and Television Singapura led to her being spotted by an EMI Records employee, and she was offered a record deal.13 Anita’s first EP (extended play) record released in 1969 was the English-language With a Lot o’ Soul. This was followed by other EP releases in both English and Malay. Her first Malay album was released in 1974, while her first English album Anita was released in 1976.14

Anita also teamed up with Ismail Haron, dubbed the “Tom Jones of Singapore”, to release a string of successful EPs in the 1970s. They recorded duets such as “Alam Terpuja” (You Make Me Feel Brand New), “Rahsia-Mu Rahsia-Ku” (Sealed with a Kiss) and “Janji Tetap Janji” (My Girl). Ismail recalled that recording those albums with Anita was fun, and that Anita was always very professional. “Give her homework and you can be sure she will get it done. We were like brother and sister,” he said.15 In 1979, Capitol Records (Britain) released Anita’s first international English-language album, Anita Sarawak, comprising songs by notable songwriters.16

From the mid-1970s, Anita was also recruited to be a singing ambassador for Singapore. She was sent by the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now known as the Singapore Tourism Board) and other partner agencies such as Singapore Airlines to various countries, including the United States, West Germany and Brunei, for performances to promote Singapore as a tourist destination.17 In 1976, Anita performed at an international convention in Monte Carlo, Monaco, to boost Singapore’s bid to host the next general meeting of the International Congress and Convention Association.18 In 1980, she represented Singapore in the Yamaha Music Festival held in Tokyo, Japan, and the World Music Festival held in Seoul, South Korea.19

Career in Las Vegas
By the 1980s, Anita was performing around the world and had set her sights on establishing her career beyond Singapore. “My single biggest wish right now is to establish a reputation on the international scene. I don’t think about quitting. I feel as though I just started yesterday,” she said in an interview in 1980.20

In order to expand her career, Anita took an offer at a club in Las Vegas. Despite her success in Southeast Asia, it was not easy for Anita to establish herself in the new environment. “I encountered a lot of hurdles, but I was able to make it because I worked harder than any American artist,” she said.21 Through hard work and perseverance, Anita slowly worked her way up. She moved from performing at lesser-known nightspots to Cleopatra’s Barge at the famed Caesars Palace.22

Returning home
When Anita was based in Las Vegas, she often made regular visits to Singapore and Malaysia. For instance, every April, she would return to Malaysia to stage a concert at one of the Hilton hotels for Secretaries Week.23 From 2000, Anita began to diversify from singing and performing by investing in real estate and establishing her own fashion line.24 She also starred in television programmes such as the talkshow Speak of the Diva and the Malay variety show Bersama Anita.25

In 2002, Anita retired from Caesars Palace in order to spend more time in Singapore and Malaysia. Anita and her husband-cum-manger Mahathir Abdullah (formerly Martin Cox) decided to steer her career towards television production, hosting and film.26 In 2002, she starred in a sitcom, 2A, by Singapore’s Malay channel, Suria,27 and the following year, hosted Malay talkshow Anita for Malaysia’s Astro Ria channel.

Anita was happy with the response to the talkshow and said, “It’s definitely a chance to do something different in my life, to use my talents to give something back to society, and I thank God for that chance.”28 Other television projects include hosting cook show Chef Diva, and starring in Astro Ria’s latest Malay sitcom, Agensi Melor.29

Anita’s recording career was revitalised when she signed with Malaysian record label KRU and released an album titled Seksis in 2004.30 In 2006, she released an English album of jazz classics titled Another Dimension.31

Throughout her long and illustrious career, Anita constantly pushed herself to do better. “Whenever I do concerts, the next one has to be better than the last one, so I'm always looking for something new, something different. I want to keep the whole thing exciting for my fans and myself,” she said in an interview in 2010. She also revealed that her passion for performing was what kept her going through the years: “You really have to be hungry for this. You have to know a little bit of everything in the business, you don't just dress up and go on stage. It's a jungle, it's harder than working nine to five.”32

Television programmes
2001: Speak of the Diva.33
2001: Bersama Anita.34
2002: 2A.35
2003: Anita.36
2004: Chef Diva.37
2005: Agency Melor.38

Awards
2000: Anugerah Khas Bintang Popular, Berita Harian.39

2002: Special Achievement Award, Anugerah Planet Muzik Singapura.40
2008: Oxford Centre for Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award.41

Selected EPs and albums42
1969: With a Lot o’ Soul.43
1970: Rinduku Hilam.
1971: Papa Ku Pulang.
1972: La La La Lu.
1973: Beautiful Sunday.
1974: Antara Aku Dan Dia.
1976: Sophisticated Lady.
1976: Anita.
1979: Anita Sarawak.44
1980: For the Love.45
1984: Kenangan Manis.
1985: Aku Menyayangimu.46
1989: Asmara.47
1990: Cinta Nan Satu.
1992: Antara Yang Manis.48
1993: Bisikan Cinta.
1997: Look After Love.
2001: Superstar Anita.49
2003: Anita Love Songs.
2004: Seksis.50
2006: Another Dimension.51
2008: Anita Sarawak: Her Complete Evergreen Collection.
2010: Cinta Anita.52




Author
Stephanie Ho



Reference
1. Shuib Taib. (1996, April 19). Anita finds togetherness. The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
2. Bissme, S. (2000, December 12). The return of a diva. The Sun. Retrieved from Factiva.
3. Shuib Taib. (1996, April 19). Anita finds togetherness. The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
4. Zainal Alam Kadir & Fatimah Abu Bakar. (1996, January 6). The return of a screen legend. The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Dashing movie idol led an illustrious life. (1996, March 17). The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
5. Alphonso, J. (2005, November 8). Speak of the diva. The Sun. Retrieved from Factiva.
6. Bissme, S. (2000, December 12). The return of a diva. The Sun. Retrieved from Factiva.
7. Anita was a good girl. (2002, November 15). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Marina Abdul Ghani. (2000, April 22). Anita takes on the fashion world. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
9. Chua, S. C. (2008, November 16).  Showbiz icon. Malaysian Business. Retrieved from ProQuest.
10. Shuib Taib. (2001, February 19). Anita’s big birthday bash. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
11. Ngui, C. (1982, October 30). Nothing quite like Anita ‘live’. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Anita’s ‘guiding hand’. (1982, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Kwee, M. (1971, May 9). Popular artistes make it to the top of S’pore charts. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Shuib Taib. (2001, February 19). Anita’s big birthday bash. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
14. Alphonso, J. (2005, November 8). Speak of the diva. The Sun. Retrieved from Factiva; Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2010, June 9). Anita's so in love. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
15. Ismail ‘Tom Jones’ is back to entertain. (2009, November 29). New Sunday Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
16. Shuib Taib. (2001, February 19). Anita’s big birthday bash. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
17. After Hawaii, it’s Berlin for Anita. (1975, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Anita show to sell S’pore to Brunei. (1980, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Shuib Taib. (2001, February 19). Anita’s big birthday bash. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
18. Anita for Monaco on special mission. (1976, November 12), The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Chiang, M. (1980, June 4). Take what you find, sang Anita and Helen did!. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Chiang, M. (1980, June 4). Take what you find, sang Anita and Helen did!. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Hera Diani. (2001, November 25). Anita Sarawak happy to be home again. Jakarta Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
22. Shuib Taib. (2001, February 19). Anita's big birthday bash. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
23. Bissme, S. (2000, December 12). The return of the diva. The Sun. Retrieved from Factiva.
24. Zainal Alam Kadir. (2000, December 27). Keeping in step with Anita. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
25. Ho, Z. (2001, March 19). She bears it so well. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
26. Jad Mahidin. (2002, September 2). Home is where the work is. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
27. Samat Hafidah. (2003, August 6). Anita does an Oprah. New Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.
28. Lee, J. (2003, September 17). Moving the world. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from ProQuest.
29. Shuhaidah Saharani. (2005, February 2). Anita's new sitcom star. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva; Cook show, talk show and sitcom in works. (2004, June 7). The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
30. Meor Shariman. (2004, March 2). Anita ‘joins’ Elite. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
31. Yushaimi Yahaya. (2006, March 7). Anita steps back in time. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
32. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2010, June 9). Anita’s so in love. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
33. Ho, Z. (2001, March 19). She bears it so well. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
34. Ho, Z. (2001, March 19). She bears it so well. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
35. Samat Hafidah. (2003, August 6). Anita does an Oprah. New Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.
36. Lee, J. (2003, September 17). Moving the world. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from ProQuest.
37. Cook show, talk show and sitcom in works. (2004, June 7). The Malay Mail. Retrived from Factiva.
38. Shuhaidah Saharani. (2005, February 2). Anita's new sitcom star. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva
39. Siti Nurbaiyah Nadzmi. (2000, November 17). Tribute to legends. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
40. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2010, June 9). Anita’s so in love. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
41. Chua, D. (2010, November 7). One versatile entertainer. New Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.
42. Given the large number of releases in different languages and lack of documentation, this listing is only of selected albums that are frequently mentioned in the sources.
43. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2010, June 9). Anita’s so in love. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
44. Shuib Taib. (2001, February 19). Anita’s big birthday bash. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
45. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2010, June 9). Anita’s so in love. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
46. Shuib Taib. (2001, February 19). Anita's big birthday bash. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
47. Chua, D. (2010, November 7). One versatile entertainer. New Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.
48. Chua, D. (2010, November 7). One versatile entertainer. New Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest.
49. Meor Shariman. (2001, July 10). Salim with a smile. Malay Mail. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
50. Meor Shariman. (2004, March 2). Anita ‘joins’ Elite. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
51. Yushaimi Yahaya. (2006, March 7). Anita steps back in time. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
52. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2010, June 9). Anita’s so in love. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 2 February 2014 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
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Personalities>>Biographies
Personalities
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Music
Arts personalities

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