Marie Claire’s very DNA lies in celebrating women. Focused, fearless and brilliant, the ten Amazons of substance and style we’ve selected this year embody the qualities we admire and champion.
SHILA AMZAH, SINGER-SONGWRITER
Many tend to forget that Shila Amzah wrote most of her songs. Not their fault, perhaps – the Malaysian singer’s powerhouse vocals carried by vigorous stage presence and glamorous hijab wear are enough to command all attention.
With tracks written in her own words, Shila’s latest album truly live up to its title, My Journey. It was her path, her emotions, her choices. All three, according to the 27-year-old, are best captured in one of the tracks in the album, ‘Jia’ (translated as ‘Home’). “To chase a dream, one can be without a fear… to better myself, I will hold back every tear,” Shila sings in Mandarin – a language she used to conquer the stage and millions of hearts in China even though she could barely speak it until a year ago.
‘Jia’, written in English and translated into Mandarin, conveys her dilemma about having to leave her home country to break into the China market. In 2012, Shila clinched the top spot of the Chinese talent contest Asian Wave. Two years later, her rendition of Beyonce’s ‘Listen’ in the reality singing show I Am A Singer 2 got the mainland to sit up and do just that.
Her name exploded across the continent and went viral over the Internet: a Mandarin single she released in 2015 reached 2 million downloads in just two days. Her latest recognition came in threes – she bagged the Best Female Singer (Hong Kong and Taiwan), Top Five Most Popular Female Artiste and Top 10 Song awards during the Music Pioneer Awards in China last year.
But these victories were won away from home – not for lack of trying. In fact, it took 12 years of “struggling to be on the charts” in Malaysia before she conceded that her career was going nowhere. “I have been singing since I was 10, and I often ask myself, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I developed high levels of self-hate, feeling like I was not good enough,” shares Shila, whose real name is Nur Shahila Amir Amzah. She descended into depression.
It did not help that the local media often identified her as “the daughter of N.D. Lala” – a famous popstar in the 80s. As much as she appreciates her father’s support, Shila was not thrilled to live under his fame. She wanted to make her own name.
With her family’s encouragement, the virtuoso decided to seek appreciative ears in the international arena. China, with over 1 billion citizens, seemed as global as it gets.
SHILA AMZAH “I told them, this is not coming off.”
What ensued was four years in an unfamiliar market. Rising to fame following the I Am A Singer 2 show, Shila began to teach herself Mandarin by listening and participating in conversations around her, and jotting down the meaning of the Mandarin lyrics she sings. She eventually engaged a tutor and in less than two years, was able to converse crisply in the language touted as one of the hardest in the world to learn.
Her record label had also initially designed looks for her that omitted the headscarf.
“I told them, this is not coming off,” says Shila, pointing to the gold and black hijab she was wearing. The assertive lass made clear that she would rather lose the contract than dress against her belief. Instead, she suggested alternative chic styles. Fortunately, the recording company agreed.
Shila may still be establishing her own trademark in the Asian showbiz, but at least she can truly claim ownership for her self-made success – N.D. Lala is now known as “Shila’s father” in China.