In a career spanning 17 years, she has given birth ten albums under her belt plus numerous more from soundtracks, compilations and guest performances. She has entertained us with at least 120 songs, all showcasing her exquisite vocal range with versatility and finesse. Ning has been noted as the voice of Malaysian soul and R&B, but her genre also expands to hip-hop, dance, electronica, rock and even keroncong (albeit pop infused, hehe).
Thus in an almost herculean effort, I have attempted to distil all of the songs into a quintessential list which I believe define who she is through my ears. But please, forgive me for being decidedly super greedy at listing 35 (in honour of her present age) instead of the customary ten. Its difficult to choose when you are spoiled with so many aural delights… So grab a nice warm cup of cocoa and enjoy this trip down memory lane and cris-cross time as we look forward to Ning’s newest offering in the coming year, marking her rebirth and reinvention.
ps: have a very merry Xmas and a happy 2011 peeps!
#35 AKU RINDU PADAMU Starting off our countdown is the lead single from what is considered Ning’s least received offering, PUJAANKU. Perhaps in a marketing decision to make here more relatable to the masses (read; kampung folk), the end result is an almost typical Malay ballad of lost love written by the eponymous LY and Baiduri combo. Still, the song does highlight an important point: than Ning simply cant doesn't fit the typical mode. She is capable of so much more… as evidenced by the selection that follows.
#34 NATURAL WOMAN The title song represents an important era in Ning’s career. After virtually being ostracized by the Malaysian media following the FHM confessions debacle, Ning sought an ‘escape’ by heading to Japan to try here luck there. There, she cut an album with producers Chica Asamoto and Nao Nakamura and the result is an experimental English album which has elements of trance and two-step. NATURAL WOMAN is the most sought after finds among Ning’s diehard fans due to its rarity of being released only in Japan. This bouncy song in particular also showcases her attempt at singing in Japanese.
#33 PUJAAN KU Another title song, this time written by Is Wow. The background synths and effects gives this jazzy number some neo-soul edge that makes it stand out from the rest of the staid collection.
#32 GETARAN RINDUKU / JUST WANNA GET CLOSE TO YOU This song, written by Mark J Fiest exemplifies 90s American-style R&B at it finest, particularly in its English incarnation. With a base-heavy production, this suave track could have sit comfortably on the Billboard charts had the initial plans of taking her global came to fruition.
#31 DUGAANKU This beautiful track that bookends her debut album has been a favourite to many due to its truly heart-breaking lyrics (the killer line: apakah kita nanti tiada dapat serasi? ataukah hanya aku bermimpi ‘tuk memiliki), Ning’s composed vocal delivery and the flute and guitar accompaniment that gives the song a Latin inspired flavour. You can almost imagine a star-crossed couple dancing there last sensual tango together before departing forever.
#30 AGE OF POLLUTION The first single from her third English album is a miasma of heavy electronica bass beats designed to complement Ning's whispery delivery in what could have been the club anthem the Live Earth Concerts. With themes of environmentalism and taking action, the sprightly animated music video has also become winner in the 2007 Rome Film Festival in the video clip section.
#29 ANTARA KITA This duet with Hedi Yunus was intended to be her cross-over ticket to the Indonesian market and vice versa. Their voices complements each other well in this power ballad, with Ning’s clear and strong high register combining beautifully with Hedi’s milky sexy vocals. It remains her most popular song there. It goes to show that if we set our petty differences aside, the two nations can indeed make great music together. Like i always say: kita adalah serumpun.
#28 BAWA DAKU PERGI From Malaysia’s first full length animated feature ‘Silat Lagenda’ by the ever ground-breaking KRU brothers, comes this fresh and fun up-tempo R&B track is tailor suited to Ning’s whispery and relaxed singing.
#27 MENU MINGGU INI Don't let this breezy and understated jazzy number by Aidit Alfian track fool you. It belies some of the sensual lyrics ever written by the devilishly brilliant Ad Samad. As Ning sexily coos to her lover: Andainya diriku kan jadi, patung ujian rempuh, yang sewenang kau lakukan, sekehendaknya hatimu, aku sedia relakan. And just as the song about to end, it abruptly turns the table by asking: Menu minggu ini, mungkin tidakkan kau menduga, sekali ini... berterbalikkan watak kita... kinky!
#26 HUMAN This Human League remake was updated for her second English album ALWAYS by producer Hari ‘Haze’ Menon. I remember it clearly when I first heard the song on the radio, and could have sworn it was a black singer from the States performing the song. Ning voice stands out over a gospel–esque choir and uplifting production.
#25 MUNGKIN A classic up-tempo track from her debut album written by Ning’s own brother Badiq and features the now ubiquitous trademark ooohs and aahs. The song was made even more memorable by a Vogue inspired performance during the Juara Lagu Finals in 1994.
#24 KAU PELITAKU This song speaks of a daughter expressing her gratitude towards her mother’s immeasurable and unwavering love and sacrifice. This is very much about Ning’s own story and the relationship with her mother, who is very much the centre and backbone of Ning’s life and career ups and downs through the years. Another track written by Hari, it features Ning’s very own lyrics. Her sincere performance accompanied by a sax interlude never fails to make my heart soar. Truly inspiring.
#23 JAUH A non-album ballad, this is indeed a rare gem. Featuring Ning’s subdued, almost vulnerable vocals as well as an understated production.
#22 ANGEL OF MY HEART This understated English ballad by Mark J Fiest is presented in a paired down, almost dreamy production, thus highlighting Ning’s vocals to great effect. As always here diction impeccable and her performance magical.
#21 DRAMA Rounding off the first batch of songs is this simply high-camp and diva-tastic track. Cleverly sampling Beethoven's piano loop, it also features guest vocals by her protégés Nikki and the late Yanie. The instant hit, written by Audi Mok and lyrics by Ad Samad created quite a stir in the Malaysian music scene when it was debuted at the ERA music awards. Since then, an English version has been recorded and remixed for the EASTTOWEST album, as well as being much copied by drag performances throughout. As they always say, imitation is the sincerest from of flattery.