Art Fazil

Singapore Infopedia

by Ho, Stephanie


Folk singer-songwriter Art Fazil is often regarded as Singapore’s Bob Dylan. Like Dylan, he is known for singing socially conscious songs accompanied by the acoustic guitar and harmonica.1 Art writes and sings both Malay and English songs, and has written many songs for Malay artistes. His own albums have been critical successes.2

Early career
The first word of his stage name Art Fazil is an acronym for “a rebellious teenager” – a label he once attached to himself. It was in his teenage years that Art became involved in music. At the age of 12, he learnt to play the guitar from his void deck “brudders” (slang for “brothers”). His musical influences at the time were rock groups such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Sweet Charity.3

Art has been writing his own songs – both Malay and English – since he was 16. Fluent in both languages, Art once said that that his Malay songs speak to the Malay community, while his English songs have a more universal appeal.4

In 1986, just after completing his ‘A’ levels education, Art sent a cassette of his English songs to Jimmy Wee, then head of WEA Records, hoping the label would sign him on. Although Wee liked his songs, he felt that Art’s singing was not up to par. Art refused Wee’s proposal to use his songs for other singers, and left the office. On his way out, he bumped into Ramli Sarip from Sweet Charity, a local Malay rock group, and spoke to the latter. Art subsequently sent Ramli a few of his Malay songs.5

Ramli decided to record one of Art’s songs, Orang Kota (“City People”), and thus a partnership developed between them. Art had even gone on a tour with Ramli as a guest performer and back-up musician.Later, Art also wrote Malay songs for other artistes, such as Lovehunters and Ella.7

Formation of Rausyanfikir
In 1991, Art got together with his friends Mohd Khair Mohd Yasin and Mohd Esham Jamil to form a Malay rock group called Rausyanfikir, a Persian term for “thinker”. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1992 to critical and popular acclaim. The Straits Times described it as “a mine of songwriting talents, intelligent lyrics and strong vocals, packed solid in a debut album”. The record sold more than 25,000 copies in Malaysia and Singapore.8

The group’s second album Rusuhan Fikiran was released in 1994 with the aim of conveying serious social messages using catchy songs. “We want our listeners to be thinking listeners. Our lyrics are meant to be pondered. We don’t intend to change the world, but if the people reacted by making this a better place to live in, we believe we have succeeded in our mission”, said Art.9 The album did well, and one of the singles, “Dikir Fikir Fikir” (“Think, Chant”), won a Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) award for top local Malay song in 1997.10

The group stopped recording after the death of Esham Jamil in 1997.11 It was only in 2011 that Art and Mohd Khair regrouped and released Revolusion Rausyanfikir – a compilation of Rausyanfikir’s previous hits, as well as two new tracks.12

Going solo
In 1992, Art made his solo debut at the Acoustic Vibrations concert held at The Substation. Despite being a last-minute addition to the lineup, he impressed the audience with his locally themed songs such as “1964”which is about the racial riots that erupted in Singapore that year, and “Full Moon Over Marina Bay”, which talks about angsty teenagers and other youth-related issues.13 Wee – who was then the managing director of recording label Pony Canyon – was in the audience; noting the improvement in Art’s singing, Wee signed him up as an artiste on the label.14

The following year, in 1993, Art released his self-titled debut English album of 12 original folk-pop songs. The tracks were mainly acoustic guitar-driven songs influenced by Bob Dylan’s folk songs and Malay rock ballads.15 Two singles, “Sometimes When I Feel Blue” and “Everybody Else”, did well on the local radio charts. The former went on to win the Top English Pop Song award at the 1995 COMPASS Awards.16

Career in London
Despite the local success of his album, Art packed his bags and left for London, England, in 1995. “London was the hub of music, where all the greatest bands in the world converged. I was young and as an ardent music fan, I naturally wanted to be at the centre of the buzz… Also, I was very keen to explore how much I can achieve as a musician, doing my own music,” he said in an interview with The New Paper.17

Although he had few friends in London, Art soon settled in and made a name performing in the acoustic club circuit. He played in clubs such as The Rock Garden, Mean Fiddler, The Troubadour, The World’s End and Bungies, where folk music legends, including Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, had previously played. In 1997, Art won the Edinburgh Fringe Festival songwriting competition for his compositions “Monsoon Rain” and “Karma Train”, and was feted for being the only non-British songwriter in the competition.18 In 2000, he was awarded a COMPASS scholarship to pursue a postgraduate diploma in continuing professional development at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and graduated in 2003.19

Art’s second solo album, Nur (“Light”), was also released in 2000. Unlike his debut, Nur was a Malay album. “Nur began with a longing to record songs in the Malay language. It is like after being away for some time, one misses a favourite local dish and longs to taste it once again. Such was my feeling prior to making this album,” he said. The album was a critical success; in 2001, Art was nominated for six awards at the Anugerah Planet Muzik, a local Malay music awards event. He eventually bagged the titles for best new male artiste, best local artiste and best local album.20

While he was based in London, Art still made frequent trips back to Singapore to perform in gigs and visit friends and family. In 2004, he staged a concert titled Kembara Seni (“A journey Through Art”) at The Substation.21

During his time in London, Art tried to promote Malay music and culture to the people there by organising the first London-Malay festival in 2005. “The festival should be an eye-opener in seeing how Malay roots stretch from countries like the Philippines, Madagascar, South Africa right through to the Polynesian islands,” he said. The festival, held at the The Royal Horticultural Halls & Conference Centre, was well-received, piquing curiosity about Malay culture in many people.22

Career in Malaysia
In 2009, Art released his second Malay album titled Syair Melayu (“Malay Poems”) comprising traditional folk tunes he had grown up with.23 “After years of playing songs in English, I wanted to re-explore the music of my roots. Syair Melayu was my going back to ground zero, these are the songs that taught me how to sing. I learnt to speak when growing up by learning some of them”, he said of the album.24

That year, Art relocated to Malaysia to run his own record label, Moro Records. On the decision to leave London, he said, “I was playing the same gigs in the same clubs in London. It was getting repetitive, I wanted to try something else.” Since then, Art has continued performing, composing and producing music. He has also ventured into acting, landing roles in two telemovies that were shown on Malaysian cable channels.25

In 2013, Art's humorous song Rilek Brader – which encourages people to be rational – performed with Malaysian comedian Imuda was a social media hit, generating more than one million views on YouTube.26

In the same year, he released a 20th-anniversary edition of his album Art Fazil under Moro Records, after acquiring the rights to the album from the now-defunct Pony Canyon. In 2014, Art held a gig at the Esplanade Recital Studio, performing “fresh interpretations” of his songs from the album.27

Selected awards
 Sometimes When I Feel Blue, COMPASS award for top local English pop song.28
1997: Dikir Fikir Fikir, COMPASS award for top local Malay pop song.29
Best New Male Artiste, Best Local Artiste and Best Local Album, Anugerah Planet Muzik.30

Selected albums and singles
1992: Rausyanfikir (Pony Canyon; with Rausyanfikir)

1993: Art Fazil (Pony Canyon)
Rausyanfikir Rusuhan Fikiran (Sakina Productions/BMG; with Rausyanfikir)
 Nur (Soul Library)
 “Song for the World” (Mercy Relief single)
 “Raya Nusantara” (Hari Raya album single) (Life Records)
 Syair Melayu (Nusantara World Music/Life Records)
 Revolusion Rausyanfikir (Nusantara World Music/Life Records; with Rausyanfikir).

2012: Dendang Rakyat.
 Art Fazil (special collector’s edition).

Stephanie Ho

1. Christopher Toh, “Top 10 Essential Singapore Albums,” Today, 5 August 2010, 58(From NewspaperSG)

2. Eddino Abdul Hadi, “Singing by His Own Rules: 8 Questions With… Art Fazil,” Straits Times, 23 May 2011, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Sharon Lim, “Young at Art,” Straits Times, 26 February 1992, 6(From NewspaperSG)
4. Woon Wui Jin, “For the Sake of Art,” Straits Times, 30 May 1993, 12(From NewspaperSG)
5. Woon, “For the Sake of Art”; Lim, “Young at Art.” 
6. Woon, “For the Sake of Art”; Lim, “Young at Art.” 
7. Woon, “For the Sake of Art.”
8. Ida Bachtiar, “Rousing Rausyanfikir,” Straits Times, 10 April 1992, 3; Anuar Othman, “Rock Trio Target Album at Thinking Listeners,” Straits Times, 4 October 1993, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Othman, “Rock Trio Target Album at Thinking Listeners”; Art Fazil Music, “About,” n.d.,
10. “3rd COMPASS Awards,” Composers and Authors Society of Singapore, 20 April 1997,
11. Eddino Abdul Hadi, “Singing by His Own Rules: 8 Questions With… Art Fazil.” 
12. Fatimah Rahmat, “Rausyanfikir Is Back!” 24 November 2011.  
13. Sharon Lim, “Folk Power,” Straits Times, 21 January 1992 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Lim, “Young at Art.” 
14. Woon, “For the Sake of Art.”
15. Woon, “For the Sake of Art.”
16. 1st COMPASS Awards, Composers and Authors Society of Singapore, 16 April 1995,; Tan Kee Yun, “Art To Believe,” New Paper, 16 August 2009, 30–31 (From NewspaperSG); Jad Mahidin, “Art Focus,” Malay Mail, 25 January 2001. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
17. Tan, “Art To Believe.”
18. Jad Mahidin, “Art Focus”; Composers and Authors Society of Singapore, Compass News (September 1997): 4. (Call no. RSING 780.235957 CN)
19. Jad Mahidin, “Art Focus”; Jad Mahidin, “Art Sees the Light,” Malay Mail, 16 March 2001; C. C. Neo, “Art’s Back for a Journey,” Straits Times, 27 May 2004. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
20. Jad Mahidin, “Art Focus.”
21. Neo, “Art’s Back for a Journey.”
22. Eri Akbar, “London’s a Great Place to Show Off Malay Culture,” New Paper, 26 July 2005, 20; Fawziah Selamat, “Taste of Malay Life in London,” New Paper, 3 September 2005, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Tan, “Art To Believe.”
24. Eddino Abdul Hadi, “Singing by His Own Rules: 8 Questions With… Art Fazil,” Straits Times, 23 May 2011, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Eddino Abdul Hadi, “Singing by His Own Rules.”
26. Eddino Abdul Hadi, “Music With HeArt,” Straits Times, 14 April 2014, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Eddino Abdul Hadi, “Music With HeArt.”
28. Composers and Authors Society of Singapore, “1st COMPASS Awards Presentation”; Tan, “Art To Believe.”

29. Composers and Authors Society of Singapore, “3rd COMPASS Awards.”  
30. Jad Mahidin, “Art Focus.”
31. Art Fazil Music, “About.” 

The information in this article is valid as at 11 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. 








Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Choo Hoey


Choo Hoey (b. 20 October 1934, Palembang, Sumatra, Indonesia–) is the founder and conductor emeritus of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO). He was the SSO’s resident conductor and music director from 1979 to 1996. A master in his field, Choo has gained a reputation for his expert handling of the...

Christopher Henry Rothwell Allen


Christopher Henry Rothwell Allen (b. 1933, Bombay, India–d. 2004, United Kingdom), more popularly known as Christopher Allen or Chris Allen, was an amateur actor and director who came to Singapore in 1954. He was a prominent member of the expatriate theatre company, Stage Club, which he joined in 1960. With...

Quek Ling Kiong


Quek Ling Kiong (???) (b. 1967, Singapore–) is a percussionist and the resident conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO). Winner of the National Art Council’s Young Artist Award in 2002 and recipient of the NAC Cultural Fellowship in 2013, Quek is committed to spreading his passion and knowledge of...

Choo Hwee Lim


Choo Hwee Lim (b. 28 September 1931, Singapore–d. 12 May 2008, Singapore) was an important figure in the development of choral music and opera in Singapore. An accomplished baritone singer and music teacher, Choo spotted, encouraged and nurtured once-unknown music talents and gave them opportunities to shine. A co-founding director...

Stella Kon


Stella Kon (b.1944, Edinburgh, Scotland–), playwright, novelist, short story writer and poet, is best known for her monodrama Emily of Emerald Hill, which has been performed locally as well as internationally. The winner of several playwriting competitions in the early 1980s, Kon currently resides in Singapore. ...

Royston Tan


Royston Tan (b. 5 October 1976, Singapore–) is an award-winning Singaporean film-maker who is hailed as one of the most promising talents in the local film-making industry. Most of Tan’s works focus on social issues and seek to challenge the boundaries of societal expectations. As such, he is often regarded...

Ovidia Yu


Ovidia Yu (b. 1961, Singapore–) is an award-winning novelist, short story writer and playwright. She is the recipient of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Singapore Foundation Culture Award (1996), the National Arts Council Young Artist Award (1996) and the Singapore Youth Award (1997). Her plays have been performed...

World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) Singapore


World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) Singapore was an arts event that made its debut in 1998 at the Festival of Arts. The first WOMAD to be held in Southeast Asia, the event ran for 10 years in Singapore before it was put on hold in 2007....

Claire Tham


Claire Tham Li Mei (b. 1967, Singapore–) is the author of several award-winning short story collections and two full-length novels, Skimming (1999) and The Inlet (2013). She has also contributed literary reviews for The Straits Times newspaper. Previously a legal officer, Tham is currently a partner at a local law...

Lim Yau


Lim Yau (born 1952, Singapore) is a prominent orchestral and choral conductor whose long conducting career has included stints as Resident Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and Music Director of the Singapore Symphony Chorus (SSC). He is reputed to be the only conductor to have premiered works by...