Singapore musician Iskandar Ismail dies of cancer

POSTED: 01 Nov 2014 18:36

Iskandar Ismail, who helmed national-scale productions including the National Day Parade, died of lung and brain cancer. He was 58.

SINGAPORE: Music composer and Cultural Medallion winner Iskandar Ismail died on Saturday (Nov 1) morning due to lung and brain cancer. The 58-year-old’s career spanned three decades.

He was behind the musical direction for some of Singapore’s national events, like the National Day Parade and 2010 Youth Olympic Games.

Mr Iskandar was born in 1956 to parents who were singers in the Malay music industry. The eldest of five children, his musical talent was unearthed at an early age. He received lessons from Zubir Said – the man behind Singapore’s national anthem. Mr Iskandar went on to study music in 1976 at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

His foray into music started in the 1980s, and he soon found himself collaborating with singers like Dick Lee and Anita Sarawak.

Last year, he published Iskandar Ismail The Music Man – a book that chronicled his path towards musical excellence. The aim was to share his stories with aspiring musicians.

“Today’s musicians can’t only learn one genre of music,” he said in an interview in 2013. “They have to learn different genres of music for the long term.”

Mr Iskandar was known for musical fusion – mixing East and West, as well as classical and pop. His works also went beyond Singapore, where he arranging music for some of Asia’s top singers like Sandy Lam and Aaron Kwok.

Mr Iskandar’s biggest honour came in 2008 when he was conferred the Cultural Medallion – Singapore’s top cultural award.

He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and had surgery to remove a tumour in his lungs in 2011. He also went through 25 months of oral chemotherapy and seemingly recovered. But the cancer resurfaced in 2013 and he had to go through 15 rounds of radiotherapy.


Tributes have poured in, honouring the musical talent. Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong said on Facebook he was sad to learn of Mr Iskandar’s passing, adding his works made music more accessible to Singaporeans. He also described Mr Iskandar as a passionate “man of music”.

Former Singapore Idol winner Taufik Batisah said he had worked with Mr Iskandar since the competition.

“I’m always in awe of his working ethics. He was very kind and laid-back, yet a master of his craft. His talent and dedication is irreplaceable and is a great loss to our music industry,” he said.

Malay self-help group Mendaki also paid recognition for Mr Iskandar’s involvement in some of the organisation’s initiatives. He was a mentor in Project Protege, a talent development programme launched two years ago.

Friends also remembered him as one who was big-hearted.

“In 2010, when he was diagnosed with cancer, he kept it as a secret from me because we were preparing for a big concert in 2011 for the National Cancer Centre,” said Maryanne Tan, who had raised funds with Mr Iskandar for various charities. “And the last concert we did together was in 2012, where we raised funds for the Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital. He came straight after chemotherapy.”

Family and friends paid their last respects to Mr Iskandar at his mother’s home.

Mr Iskandar leaves behind a wife, son and daughter. He was laid to rest at the Muslim Cemetery in Lim Chu Kang.

– CNA/xq



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