Malaysian entertainer Shila Amzah climbs the ladder to success in China
She started her career in China by entering and winning singing competitions, but now, 27-year-old Malaysian Shahila Amzah, better known as Shila, is being awarded accolades for success in the entertainment industry of the world’s most populous country.
Considering that Shila is neither an ethnic Chinese nor a citizen of China, her record is impressive. She is the first Malaysian artist of Malay descent to break through the Chinese music market in a big way.
Her wins have included awards for Most Popular Female Artist, Best Female Singer (Hong Kong and Taiwan) and Song of the Year (Hong Kong and Taiwan) for her single Goodbye at the 2016 Music Pioneer Awards and Most Popular Female Artist (Hong Kong and Taiwan) and Best Female Artist (Hong Kong and Taiwan) at the 2015 Guangzhou Music Awards.
Starting out as a child performer in Malaysia, encouraged by her father, ND Lala, a Malaysian pop singer popular in the 1980s and 1990s, Shila started performing when she was ten. She took second place in a reality singing programme, Bintang Kecil RTM, and won the award for Child Artist of the Year at the 2000 Anugerah Bintang Popular organised by local newspaper Berita Harian.
But as no recording company dared to sign on child artists back then, her first album was produced in 2000 using her father’s own money. She later signed with record label EMI and released her second album, Sha-Hila, in 2005. A natural performer with a uniquely husky voice, the album and her pop ballad Yang Teristimewa were well-received and boosted her popularity. However, she wasn’t yet in the league of contemporary Malaysian divas such as Dato’ Sri Siti Nurhaliza, Dayang Nurfaizah or Jaclyn Victor.
In fact, there was a time when she suffered public backlash, a side effect of success among teenage pop artists, something that stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera endured during their early days. It wasn’t a deterrent for Shila, though she was affected by it.
“I think I am just a normal person and of course was a bit upset at first, but the feeling waned as I knew I didn’t do anything to hurt anyone,” she tells Going Places. “And when I truly looked into the situation, there were always positive and supportive comments more than disruptive ones.” She chose self-evaluation to try to be a better person.
Joining the second season of reality singing competition One In A Million brought Shila back into the consciousness of Malaysian music lovers. She took second place in the show, proving that she had the fans to become a commercial success, and earning her a recording deal with Monkey Bone Records. Shila represented the new generation of Malaysian performers, joining vocal powerhouses Ning Baizura and Jaclyn Victor in a collaborative album, 3 Suara, which served up the hit song Beribu Sesalan. The release of her next single, Patah Seribu, which won Song of the Year at the 2012 Malaysian Music Industry Awards, cemented Shila’s position as one of the nation’s top artists. This was when she decided to start all over again, setting her sights on China.
Her foray into China started when her father submitted videos of her singing for the inaugural Asian Wave competition, a Chinese talent show held in Shanghai. She was invited to join, and subsequently won the competition as well as a six-year recording contract with Shanghai Media Group. This meant she had to leave Malaysia, quite a sacrifice for a 22-year-old who didn’t speak any Mandarin or Cantonese at the time.
In 2014, she joined another reality singing competition, I Am A Singer (Season 2), and it was after winning this show that her popularity soared, gaining her more than two million followers on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo.
“Going to China to develop my career has always been on my roadmap, as has been planned by my father since I was a kid,” she says. “When I was offered the opportunity, there was no reason to decline, and it was the perfect opportunity for me to produce music while learning the language at the same time,” says Shila, who is based in Hong Kong for its close proximity to China as well as to Malaysia. Her career and management teams are also based there, making it easier to facilitate her work schedule.
“I started singing and performing since small, so at 22 I was already comfortable with the music industry, so that’s one hurdle out of the way,” says Shila, when asked to comment on adapting to living and working as an artist in a new country. “If I really have to identify the hardest thing about living abroad, it would be access to halal food as restaurants are limited. But I love cooking so I can always shop for ingredients and cook for the family, too.”
She also acknowledges another part about being a Muslim – her headscarf worn as a religious observance. No doubt, she creates curiosity due to it, but it is evident from the reaction of viewers watching her sing that her biggest strengths are her voice and performance skills.
One of the factors of her success is her versatility across genres, displaying her technique and range and different tones of voice. She downplays her success, though, choosing to focus on the process rather than the results.
“That’s my mantra to keep myself relaxed, as I generally perform better without stress,” says Shila. “I am happy with the pace of my music career in China, and I guess what drives me to improve myself is to produce different kinds of music all the time. There are always new things to learn and I am excited about that.”
Commenting on her future plans and if it includes venturing into the Western entertainment industry, Shila says that Europe and North America are on the roadmap. In fact, she is already making inroads with Western audiences via YouTube. Shila regularly uploads videos of herself singing covers of popular songs and is wowing viewers as well as reviewers with her rendition of Beyonce’s Listen, Adele’s Set Fire To The Rain and a slew of other hits, including Bollywood and K-Pop chart-toppers.
“2018 is definitely a year of exploration and a year for the next chapter of Shila Amzah. Watch this space!” she says.