By Tony Mariadass
Pictures by: Muzakkir Sazali
Music makes the world go around, but for blind singer and guitarist, Alfred Ho @ Hoo Ah Let, it gives him a shelter and food on the table.
It has been a struggle all his life for Alfred but he has never complained because he has lived to make the best out of adversity.
But for Alfred who turns 67 on July 9, his current situation where he has to bask to earn a living together with occasional stints at homes, functions and weddings, has left him a little disillusioned.
“I know I am old, but feel that we entertainers, especially who are physically challenged, could be given better recognition,” said Alfred who basks at the LRT station between Avenue K and KLCC.
“Thanks to the Malaysian Buskers Club (MYBC) and Avenue K who have a dedicated space for buskers, I get a slot each week for a two hour performance. I cannot depend on performances at events because there are few coming these days,” said Alfred who has his wife Ruffina Baptist for 22 years, assisting him in moving around and setting up his equipment.
Alfred is no stranger to the music industry and best known for his rendition of evergreen numbers from legendary crooners Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Pat Boone and various other country and western performers.
Born sighted, he went blind after a bout of measles at the age of three.
Alfred who comes for a poor family of three brothers in Klian Intan, Betong, Perak, said poor health facilities in the village and his parents’ busy running schedule a small coffee shop, saw his measles make him blind.
“I cannot remember vision, but can remember colours. I suppose I was fated to be blind. But that has not made me have self-pity on myself or feel any less than any ordinary human being.”
Alfred showed a love for music from an early age at Penang's St Nicholas School for the Blind, he taught himself to play the guitar and formed a four-piece schoolboy band called The Sharks.
While his ambition was to become a singer, Alfred enrolled for vocational training when he was 15 at the Gurney Training Centre for the disabled, where he learnt to be a telephone operator.
Albert soon found a job with Penang City Council as a telephone operator, but his love for music saw him make his rounds in pubs around town.
He also wrote his own compositions, such as Train to Tennessee and Wendy's Love Song.
Then he decided to quit his day job and become a full-fledged singer to realise his dream to become an entertainer.
He wrote to Radio Rediffusion (popular radio station during the 70s) hoping to get an audition to play a few songs on the show and it was well known deejay Patrick Teoh who auditioned him.
He went on to do a few shows with them, before some who listened to him on air recommended him to compete in a talent show on television – RTM’s Bakat TV in 1971.
Alfred took the show by storm as at the only blind competitor and made it to the semifinals, rising to stardom and popularity.
That was a dream come true for Alfred and gave him the confidence to make music a career and landed his first contract with a hotel in Terengganu and went on to move to play in many other states in hotels and shopping complexes.
He finally decided to make Kuala Lumpur his base in the 80s where his popularity grew and his mellow but powerful saw his fan base build.
Alfred who also sings in Spanish, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Japanese and Thai numbers, saw his diversity a listening pleasure to his audience.
He has such a wide repertoire that he has been known to play for four straight hours and still have some songs to spare.
It was not long before he was dubbed Malaysia's Jose Feliciano.
Alfred self-produced an album of 22 covers of his favourite hits called "Special Gems". He now has five albums consisting of the evergreens.
He also had shows with Time Highway radio and RTM where he was engaged for just six months for a show called “Family favourites”.
“But all the fame and popularity is just remembrance and history now,” lamented Alfred.
“Today, I literally have to beg for stints and getting turned away has become the norm. While I am disappointed, I am not bitter. Sometimes I cannot blame anyone because most of the entertainment managers at hotels or shopping complexes come from the younger generation. Many do not know me or even appreciate the kind of music I play. They rather engage younger entertainers,” said Alfred.
“Besides being blind does not help. People sometimes are not comfortable. It is no longer about appreciating a good singer.”
Albert said that he has faced with this situation all his life and was used to it.
“I just wished television and radio stations give us ‘oldies’ and physically challenged a platform to make ourselves relevant and perform the good old oldies.
“All my life I had faced with adversities and the current situation is nothing new. I have been marginalised, cheated, overlooked and even had no one coming forward to cut my album.
“But I will continue to strut along because of my love for music and it is what I do best.
“I have a dream though – to own a ‘Dream Café’ which will become a place for musicians to play evergreen music and for me to perform.
“I cannot do pub scenes these days because of health issues and also age. I need to slow down, but music is in my blood and my livelihood.”
Indeed a sad situation for Alfred who certainly warrants to be called an Icon in the music industry but as Alfred said: “As long as I can sing and am mobile, my music will be alive as I try to earn some money to fan for my wife and myself.”
For those who want to catch him in action, he will have a Hi-tea performance for Mother’s Day at Armada Hotel on May 8 from 12 noon to 4pm. Tickets available at the hotel are priced at RM75+, RM55+ (senior citizens) and RM37.50+ (children between four years old and 11 years old).
Also listen to Alfred’s songs at his blog: http://www.alfredhomusic.blogspot.com. He can be can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 03-7984 8560 or 012-3461232.