Musician, composer, author
Saidah Rastam has composed music for for gamelan, martial artists, opera singers, choral groups, jazz ensembles, western orchestras and electronic music. Her music is often cross-cultural: Indian classical instruments and jazz in Scintillations, Malay poetry and western classical voices in Lapangan Ya-ya-ya; Chinese opera singers and a jazz quartet in Spirits; folk music from six Asian countries in Prism, traditional Chinese instruments and Malay gamelan in Keras Bila Dipadu. In M! the Opera, Saidah combined Malay traditional instruments and asli singing with a western orchestra and SATB vocal arrangements.
Her work as music director of large-scale theatre and events includes Cabaret at Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre; Prism which went on a six- nation tour, and, the launch of the Petronas Twin Towers. She also composed film soundtracks for Wong Hoy Cheong’s
Re:Looking (shown at the 50th Venice Biennale), Khir Rahman’s transgender drama “…Dalam Botol”, and Amir Muhammad’s indie film Lips to Lips.
As a music producer for commercials, Saidah worked with many different types of music ranging from Gregorian chants to electronica. Collaborations with dancers include Aida Redza’s Feast of Fools and AWAS! with Akademi Seni Kebangsaan. Besides Malaysia, her music has been performed in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and the USA.
Chuck the Duck and Lapangan Ya-Ya-Ya, both commissioned by the Australian Song Company, have become part of their standard repertoire and has been performed worldwide.
Malam Terang Bulan, a show she created, wrote and directed, was staged in 2014 and in 2015 at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (Philharmonic Hall) to popular and critical acclaim. It was, as described by actress and director Jo Kukathas, “[The] story of Malayan music, the story of the birth of our national anthem and a much deeper, moving narrative about what we dream and what is borne to us on the wind. Part orchestral majesty, part bangsawan, part vaudeville…”.
In 2014, as part of a preservation project on Malayan music recordings, manuscripts and oral history, Saidah wrote Rosalie and Other Love Songs, a book that “…may turn out to be the single most important volume written so far on Malaysian musical history” (Tunku Abidin Muhriz, The Malay Mail, October 2014).
Trained as a barrister at Gray’s Inn, Saidah practiced as a litigation lawyer for several years. She studied contemporary music composition and film-scoring at New York University and has also studied audio engineering. She has taught at the Multimedia University, University Teknologi Mara, Akademi Seni Kebangsaan (National Arts Academy) and CENFAD (the Centre for Advanced Design), and has been a mentor for the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s Composers’ Forum. She was an original member and music director of the satirical group The Instant Café Theatre Company.