By Sulaiman Jaafar
Tumpat, Malaysia: He may be blind but singer-musician Abd Rahman Mahmud or Abd Rahman Alabaladi as he is known to his fans here, also made a few of his musical instruments.
For over three decades, Abd Rahman, 64, who is well known in the east coast for his melodious voice singing qasidah or religious songs, has been giving performances both here and overseas.
The father of six used to get invitations to perform in several countries such as Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, China and Thailand.
"I've been to many countries but they all seemed the same to me as I couldn't see their beauty," he said jokingly during an interview recently.
This wise-cracking man, who is famous for wearing his trademark red fez or tarbush (Turkish headgear), is not shy to make fun of his disability and said it is the best way to warm up the crowd.
He performs as a one-man band -- playing the musical instruments, singing and cracking jokes regularly -- at shows and also weddings.
When he is not performing, Abd Rahman makes and sells home-made traditional medicines and ointments, and travels all over the country to sell them at markets and public places.
Although he normally sings religious songs in Malay and Arabic, he actually has a wide repertoire of songs including oldies by P. Ramlee and other local singers.
"Allah took away my eyesight but he gave me a sweet melodious voice in exchange.
"I have no regrets," he said at his one-storey brick bungalow in Jalan Kebakat here, which he built a few years ago using the income from his singing and medicine sales.
By his side was his wife, Siti Mariam Abdul Rahman, 54, who acts as his manager and assistant during his performing gigs.
Abd Rahman joined a ghazal group in Penang to learn the art of singing and playing musical instruments in his youth as he wanted to become independent.
Over the years, he learnt to play the accordian, gambus, flute and keyboard and later experimented in making his own instruments.
For example, the home-made kecapi buluh or bamboo harp and a saxophone, were made in the 1990s using plastic pipes and bamboos.
Abd Rahman or Abe Meh as he is known locally, said he lost his eyesight at the age of six due to high fever.
He received his education at a pondok or religious school near his home here.
As for his strange stage name "Alabaladi", he said it was from the title of an Arab song, Alabaladi Mahbut (My beloved Country), by famous Egyptian singer Ummi Kalthum which he and a few friends sang in a national nasyid singing competition in 1981.
They won the competition and he went on to record the song which was a hit among the locals here.
And thus, he was stuck with the name "Alabaladi".
As for his children, Abd Rahman is proud that four of them are university graduates while the youngest two are still studying at local universities.