It would be a mistake to expect colourless consistency from an artist as wildly unconventional as Hael Husaini.
Like almost all of the handful of household showbiz personalities whose careers have lasted several decades, he wants to do different things at different times. Talking to the singer/actor reveals yet another surprising facet — for all his electrifying mojo (as this month’s cover shoot amply displays), Hael remains singularly unpretentious about his life and career. Underlying the cool demeanour, one gets the impression that the only people he really wants to impress are the ones who appreciate him for who he is.
In fact, he takes so little to heart that at the very start of his career, on 8TV’s One In A Million singing contest, when infamously jovial orang puteh Paul Moss predicted he would be nothing more than a well-polished karaoke crooner, Hael said thank you and simply carried on doing what he does best — being exactly who he is.
Why the indomitable drive and unshakeable self belief? Hael is the first to admit he’s failed numerous auditions back when he was looking to break into the business and remembers no forebears having an artistic bone in his family tree. “My family used to tell me to shut up and that I was the worst they’d ever heard!” he says self-deprecatingly. But he just knew watching singers on stage that this life was the one he wanted.
“People will always talk, whether or not they’re qualified to speak on the topic. Never listen to what other people say. For some reason, I’ve always trusted my instincts more. Of course the confidence comes and goes. But by and large, I’ve just learned to trust what my naluri (instinct) tells me and I haven’t gone down the wrong way yet,” he replies.
“When you meet people with nasty vibes that’s just part of life. Put on a smile and get on with it. All I know is that for me, when I wake up in the mornings, everything I want to do involves music. Whether it’s writing, singing, performing, I still love what I do.”
A former photographer for glossy magazines, he’s been toiling at his craft for a long time but is still considered by some to be an overnight sensation that somehow struck gold. And throughout the ups and downs he’s kept himself going.
“The most important lesson in life is to learn to believe in yourself. I learned to follow my own voice. Whatever I feel like singing, I sing. When I want to compose a melody or sound that’s in my head, I just do it. From my very first breakthrough with Jampi, my music has come from experiences that I’ve logged away in different parts of my mind and just appears to me when the mood strikes,” he says.
For sure his longevity is tied to his unbounded creativity. But for an individual whose full-time job is to comfortably tie myth-making and personal revelation, Hael remains remarkably grounded. He hardly — if ever — loses his temper. Digging into his history from a desktop, any evidence of unsightly character, of unleashing a return of fire against the groups that are desperate to besmirch his resume, is virtually nonexistent. Furthermore, where other performers might ignore or refuse to engage with whatever allegation-of-the-month is brewing, Hael seems to have a multi-layered plan of action.
Perhaps it comes from learning to adapt and survive as a child who moved from school to school numerous times. Always the perennial “junior” or “new boy” and certainly owing to his slight frame, he probably knew what to expect and could already spot the local silverbacks plotting to rough him up even without eyes on the back of his head.
“I grew up around my older brothers so I know what it’s like to fight to protect yourself. My thinking was, ‘you might bully me today, but tomorrow I will make you like me. And over time I will make you my best friend. I’ll gain your respect without either of us hating each other.’ There’s no satisfactory conclusion if we try to settle disputes by being ganas (violent) or with hatred. You’ve got to show a bit of love, a little understanding, and a lot of empathy,” he says.
“When I’m angry, I stay silent. I don’t lash out. Nothing good can come from screaming or shouting. All of us have our own feelings and no matter what happens, we should never forget to respect one another. The last thing you want to do is hurt someone,” he adds.
Dissecting his explanation reveals a strength and wisdom that’s missing in so many of us. Somehow, Hael’s able to bury bad experiences, to unburden himself of debilitating anxieties, and even without it being printed and stapled into a manual, he is able to devise the right strategy to mitigate and even avoid situations of aggressive competition. While he doesn’t have the machismo and ego-driven physicality, Hael uses his other talents to form genuine relationships.
Just like the first impression he made on the Augustman team; he doesn’t overcomplicate things. Walking into our photoshoot and being unfamiliar with our setting, there’s a lot of uncertainty so he revels in the spontaneity of things. He doesn’t stress over the finer details and puts himself in as relaxed a mood as possible. From his facial expressions, to body language, and tone of voice, Hael makes known that everything is cool and he’s game for whatever challenge the team might throw at him. He ups his attention and listens intently to nearby conversations about what the stylist and photographer want. He makes no strong opinions and wears the outfits by Onitsuka Tiger like they were custom stitched for him. From vintage-inspired jackets to striking “Year of the Tiger” prints, he takes on the camera lens by being true to himself, revealing an unfettered authenticity that enhances and complements the flamboyant shoes, pants, and overalls that we put him in.
“It’s just who I am, I don’t feel tired or worn out from doing good things and winning over friends. And as it turns out, many of the bullies eventually turned to protecting me from others.”
For an artist who has appeared to shape-shift so many times over his career, you might be surprised to hear that Hael plans his life in five-year windows to set the right direction and minimise wastage of time and resources. According to him, five years is long but not too long. It gives him enough time to lay down a roadmap of important milestones and achievements, without being too stretched out where one might lose track of time, goals and motivation.
“I don’t live for tomorrow. I know the opportunities that have been given to me are incredibly valuable and I want to make the most of them. To start with a simple goal, I want to reveal more of myself in my music. I want to show my listeners who I am in different settings and teach them how to appreciate my musical expressions,” he says.
“Ultimately my purpose is to bring happiness and pleasure to the world. We are all connected and we need to appreciate our shared humanity.” adds the singer who has collaborated with names like Dayang Nurfaizah, Jaclyn Victor, Nabila Razali, and Siti Nordiana.
Which begs the question, what does this singer/composer feel are his biggest and proudest achievements? Without skipping a beat Hael immediately talks about his children. In 2017, he became a single dad when he adopted baby daughter Nur Helena. And last year he adopted twin baby boys, Healmy and Healman, announcing his recently expanded family on Hari Raya in matching baju melayu.
“My family is my biggest achievement. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster with so many things happening but my children are the source of my inspiration and energy. They remind me why I do what I do, to work hard and keep growing as a person,” he explains.
Talking about personal development, Hael is constantly evaluating his skill sets. Like most, he’s worked with coaches and he pays close attention to musical trends from all over. But as he elaborates, “you can hire a ton of teachers and get the very best training, but there is no substitute for hard, humble work. You have to put in the hours and constantly work towards improving and evolving. You must absolutely have the humility to treat yourself as a student and learn something new everyday.”
And on that note, Hael also makes special mention about his team. He knows he’s got crazy ideas — for instance, performing a concert number featuring a simulated rain shower for dramatic effect — and he gives them huge props for bringing his visions to fruition. “Throughout the last five to six iterations of AJL (Anugerah Juara Lagu) and winning Best Song in each year, I have to thank my team. They are the ones with the biggest hearts to achieve the craziest goals. They are literally fearless!” he says, and adds, “When I performed with Dayang Nurfaizah at AJL 2019, I told my team we needed that atmosphere and they literally made it rain. There was a lot that could have gone wrong but they managed to pull it off!”
To Hael, what’s life without taking risks? Recognising and capitalising on opportunities are only one half of the effort it takes to be a success. The other half is realising that all accomplishment itself is never gift wrapped in ribbons and chintz. There must be a modicum of risk that removes us from our comfort zones — something that Hael is well adjusted to.
“I’ve always said, selagi tak cuba takkan tahu kemampuan sendiri. If you’re always playing it safe, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. Sure there will be times when the risk doesn’t pay off. But when you take that chance on your own will, you will feel satisfied no matter the outcome because you made the best choice possible and did your best. It’s ok to fail. You actually learn more from falling down than from anything else,” he answers. But how does he deal with the fear? “Why do I need to feel fearful for myself? Or to doubt myself? I enjoy exploring my abilities and talents and learning where I need to improve. But that’s always been my energy I suppose.”
On the bravest thing he’s ever done, Hael points to the choice he made to adopt his children. “Having gone from being a bachelor to a new father during these crucial times, I think that was my best decision. More than ever there is so much uncertainty in life but my daughter and two baby sons have given me a perspective that I would have never otherwise gained. It’s true what they say about becoming a parent yourself. You suddenly realise how much your parents sacrificed for you. I’m so appreciative of everything they have done.”
For this performer, there’s no magic bullet or lucky break. His ethos has always been to set a goal and chase after it with consistently hard work. From his unmitigated self belief, to candidly addressing his limitations, to a categorical insistence on bouncing back from disappointments, Hael Husaini is perhaps one of the most resilient individuals we’ve had the pleasure of talking to.
“Remember to love and appreciate yourself. Don’t compare yourself to other people or focus on what they have that you lack. You are more than enough to achieve your biggest dreams. Be grateful for who you are and know that life’s greatest pursuits are not about money or possessions.”
(Hero image: Short sleeve jacket, shorts, socks and MEXICO 66 SD PF MR sneakers by Onitsuka Tiger; featured image: Track jacket, shorts, socks and SERRANO sneakers by Onitsuka Tiger)
Photography: Kim Mun / Hopscotch Studio; art direction: Joyce Lim; make-up: Khir Khalid; hair: Juno Ko.