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Music from the Soul
30 October 2018

Despite the devastating diagnosis of terminal cancer, Samah is determined to encourage others through the way he best knows – music.

“Oh, my sorrows/Sad tomorrows/Take me back to my own home,” Abu Samah Bin Mohamed croons. “Reflections of My Life”, a 1969 hit single by Scottish band Marmalade is one of Samah’s favourites. Afflicted with terminal liver cancer, HCA patient Samah, 62, experiences great pain on a daily basis, but that has not deterred him from one of his favourite pastimes – making music. Today, he has decided to record his music and personal words, as a form of encouragement for other patients and their families. 

A smile lights up Samah’s face as he plays the guitar.

Strumming the guitar adeptly and filling the living room with his deep, soothing vocals, it is hard to imagine that he has never received formal music training before. “I saw a friend playing the guitar when I was 16 and I asked if he could teach me,” Samah shares. “He taught me basic chords and I started playing on my own.”

For Samah, music is more than just a passion – it taught him persistence and represented a platform through which he built lasting friendships with like-minded others. “I only knew two chords – A and D – back then, but eventually I learned how to play my very first song, which was a simple Malay tune,” Samah says.

The Song of Camaraderie

Sharing unreservedly about his life stories and musical journey, it is evident that the warm, affable man values the spirit of community and friendship. “In 1979, I formed my own band with a few acquaintances,” Samah reminisces. “One of them was a Chinese man – we didn’t really share a common language, but we bonded through music!"

In the midst of recording “Reflections of My Life”.

A ship worker for most of his working life, Samah never took his music into the professional arena, but instead carved his own path to pursue his passion for music. Joy is multiplied when shared – and music is no exception. Samah recalls the first time he played in a public setting: “It was at a party in a community club – I was so nervous then!”

Samah went on to play at the weddings of friends and neighbours, regaling crowds with his soulful music. It was his way of showing love and care to those around him.

Tunes of Inspiration

Speaking at length about his work in the shipping industry and his musical progress, it is evident that Samah takes pride in learning new things. He relates how he learned to identify the origins of different ships and committed the global map to memory.

In the area of music, there are three much-loved oldies that he can play and sing mellifluously, thanks to years of practice: “Reflections of My Life”, “Love Somebody” and “I Started a Joke”.

Each of these tunes carry great significance to him. “They embody life’s wisdom,” Samah says. “Music has also taught me to persist and never stop trying.”

Samah prepares for the recording, together with MSW Paul. 

It is the same fortitude Samah hopes to impart to other patients through his recordings, an idea he put forth to HCA’s Medical Social Worker Paul Bashyam. The day before the recording, he was in great pain but kept it from Paul when he called. “I made a promise, and I want to fulfil it,” Samah says with a smile.

Living with a terminal condition is never easy, but Samah tries his best to take things in his stride. “Try not to overthink about the past and don’t dwell on the negative,” he advises. “It is also important for family members to be patient and strong.”