Listen! It’s Esther!

ESTHER CLEMENT TUBONG is all warmth and passion. She was bursting with enthusiasm the moment I set eyes on her in San Francisco Coffee in Warisan Square. She is petite and pretty, with the biggest smile in the world, all ready to tell me all about her new album “Kinongo Noh” which means “Listen,” (karaoke VCD and audio CD) and her new life.

She beamed. “I’m 33 years old and I’m from Penampang.  I have 2 kids, one is 15 years old and one is 9 years old, both sons.  And I’m a single mum.”

Proud and happy, Esther said, “I like my life better now. I had written all these songs before, and after being divorced, I am now able to release them in my album.

Best Performance for RTM Sabah’s Carta Lagu Kadazan 2011 for her song
‘Kokompungan Ku’ (My Village)

[Youtube video courtesy of MsClarissa1984]

Full review of CD/VCD “Kinongo Noh” by Esther Clement Tubong

“My family, my mom and pop, are the ones who really support me. My friends too. I thank God very much because I have many fans supporting me now.

“I always liked music. I was singing when I was seven years old. Even the patriotic songs I can sing! No one in my family is a singer or a musician, so maybe I’m the one who starts this in my family.

“I actually have songs on CLAS, Carta Lagu Artis Sabah, the local Malay chart show, and the Kadazan chart LPK Lagu Popular Kadazan in Sabah V FM Kadazan. It’s still in the chart now. But they are not very well known, because my song is not really publicised. But for my album, the newspapers look for me, because I’m the first Penampang woman to do this kind of album.”

Esther’s album “Kinongo Noh” (means “Listen”) has ten songs. Seven are in Kadazan, two in Dusun, and one in English.

“I have put my heart into these songs,” she said. “I have already translated these songs on my Facebook fan page (Esther Clement Tubong Tambahutku Koupusanku). One lady, she’s Chinese, she emailed me and said, ‘I really, really like your songs Esther, even though I don’t understand. Can you give me the meaning of the songs?’ I said, ‘Sure’, because she proved that she had already bought my CD. Wah I’m so happy, that non-Kadazan also like my songs!”

“I compose my songs on my own. When I have a song in my head, I use my phone to do dubbing. For one of my songs,  I was taking a shower, then I heard the rhythm in my head!  With my bubble shampoo, I run out to my room and get my phone!  It was so funny!  My mum was like: ‘Esther, what happened?’  I said: ‘Don’t disturb me, Mum! Because the rhythm is here (points to her head)  and I have to get it in here (the phone).'” She laughs. “I sing all my songs like that! The rhythm, and the melody. Just humming, not with lyrics. Later I write the lyrics.”

Some of the songs are about broken hearts, disappointment, and being strong. Other tracks are about Esther’s Kadazan roots.  “On the CD, “Kokompungan Ku” has a Sumazau rhythm. It means, “My Village”.  It’s about how I like to stay at my village, how I like the environment there. Also, “Au Dii Atagak” is about how I don’t want our Kadazan race to just disappear like that. Because now, parents don’t teach their kids in Kadazan. They teach in Malay and English. My kids speak Kadazan better than me, it’s because my parents teach them. Sometimes my kids teach ME! They say, ‘Mummy, not like that. This is the right words.’ I say, ‘Wah, ok.'” She laughs again.

Esther said cutting an album in Sabah is not the same as in KL. In KL, it’s possible to be fully sponsored to make an album. In Sabah, the artists needs to invest their own money, she said.

“Douglas Henry Monis did the music and video editing. I duet with Da Prinz, who are very nice. I invited some people to join me to sing ‘Au Dii Atagak’: Betsy Michael, who is also a vocal teacher, Joseph Majakui and Janrywine J Lusin.”

Esther said sometimes it’s difficult to get support from Penampang. “They say to me, ‘Your CD?  Is it any good? But my friends NOT in Penampang, they support me. I’m so happy, I went to Ranau before, to sell my CD. Even my friends from Kota Belud, they go to Ranau just to see and support me!  Wah! I’m so happy.

Kadazan singer Esther Clement Tubong, from Penampang
Esther Clement Tubong, photo by Onassis Pintol Moinjil

“Now, I have many calls for functions, for charity dinners (to sing my own songs). Then there are big functions like RTM, the new station at Suria FM, they always do concerts, and they call many of us to perform.

“When I sing for dinner functions, I sing my own songs, with a minus 1. But if they want me to do it with a band, I can do it. They ask me on Facebook.

“I have to travel to keep promoting my album. I want to go to Keningau, Tenom. This December I am going to Kota Marudu, because we have our Pesta Jagung there.  They asked me to perform there.  I would like to do a roadshow in Sandakan and Tawau.”

Esther doesn’t promote herself directly to the festivals. “No, they ask me! I’m too embarassed to call them and ask, ‘Do you want me to sing?’ I can never ask that!” She laughs.

“But they ask me on Facebook if I can perform. I’m not a demanding artist. Even for RM25 I do it, for the small harvest festival in the kampung. I can be a judge for the singing competition for the children, things like that. I don’t want to be like one of the artists with many demands. I’m not like that. I only need publicity for my album, that’s all.”

Esther has been a primary school teacher for six years. “My contract was only for three years, to teach computers. But I been there six years already! They will not let me go! I have 350 students. I teach in Malay and a bit of English. In the kampung, kids are not really good in English, but because of the software, we have to explain some basic English.

“My students, they’re all fans of mine. They see my picture in the Daily Express. They cut it, and they ask me to sign it and they keep in one big file. They know by heart my songs already. So sweet!”

Throughout the interview, Esther’s gratitude to her parents for their support is so strong. Before we wrapped things up, she said,”I just want to say that I am really thankful to my parents. They are my Number One supporters.  My mother is Mary Jimmy, and my father is Clement Tubong.  They are MY idols!  Sometimes they tell me, ‘Go out lah, do something happy!  They don’t like to see me staying at home.  But I need to be home, for my kids. Especially Sunday. That’s my family day. We are very very close.”

“I am still composing new songs: Malay songs, English songs, and I hope I can market these outside of Sabah.”

Music and Family. Esther’s life is full of adventure now. “I’m doing now! Nobody can stop me now, I want to go and go! I ask my mum, and she says, ‘Do! Anything, just do!'”

Good luck to our courageous and vibrant Sabahan singer, Esther Clement Tubong.

KINONGO NOH, by Esther Clement Tubong

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