She’s been described as a singing cyclone, a consummate entertainer, and Singapore’s singer ambassador. A household name in Singapore when she was barely out of her teens, Anita Sarawak was one of the first Asian performers to make it in the United States. For nearly two decades, starting in 1985, she performed in Las Vegas, making her way up from the lesser-known nightclubs to Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesar’s Palace.
Anita was born in 1952 to a show business family. Her father was the actor, director and producer S Roomai Noor and her mother the actress Siput Sarawak. She grew up dreaming of a career in music and entertainment. When Anita was 12, her mother began preparing her for an acting career. She appeared in her first film, Dua Kali Lima, at the age of 14.
But it was singing that was her forte. As a schoolgirl, she performed at weddings and school functions. Her first professional gig was at a Chinese restaurant where she sang Mandarin and Chinese-dialect songs. She went on to perform at top venues such as the Neptune Theatre Restaurant and Singapore Hilton Hotel, drawing capacity crowds with her sultry vocals, energetic dancing, and engaging stage banter.
In 1969, when she was 17, Anita released her debut album, With A Lot O’ Soul. By the age of 19, she was already labelled a singing cyclone. She released her first Malay album in 1974 and went on to make numerous English and Malay records.
In the mid-1970s, she became Singapore’s singing ambassador. She was sent by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board to various countries regionally and internationally to perform and promote Singapore as a travel destination. For example, in 1976 she performed in Monaco when Singapore was making a bid to host the next general meeting of the International Congress and Convention Association.
By 1980, Anita had set her sights on an international career. She left Singapore in 1985 when a Las Vegas club offered her a contract. It wasn’t easy for an outsider to establish herself in one of the top entertainment capitals of the world but Anita was determined to succeed. As she once said: “I encountered a lot of hurdles, but I was able to make it because I worked harder than any American artist.” Her hard work, together with her talent and sheer showmanship, eventually secured her a long-running contract with the famed Caesar’s Palace.
In 2000, Anita started venturing beyond singing. She launched a fashion line and began investing in real estate. She returned to Singapore and then moved to Malaysia where she starred in television programmes such as the talk show Speak of the Diva and the Malay variety show Bersama Anita. In 2003, she hosted a Malay talk show Anita for Malaysia’s Astro Ria Channel.
She then hosted a cookery show Chef Diva and released a cookbook, Cooking with Love, in 2004. She also acted in a tele-comedy Agensi Melor and a telemovie Topeng.
Anita has received a host of awards, including the Special Achievement Award at Anugerah Planet Muzik in 2002, the Oxford Centre for Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. and the Seri Temasek Achievement Award in 2011. In 2013, Anita returned to Las Vegas where she has kept a low profile.
"You really have to be hungry for this. You have to know a little bit of everything in the business, you don’t just dress up and go on stage. It’s a jungle. It’s harder than working nine to five."
– Anita Sarawak, Anita’s so in love, The Straits Times, 9 June 2010