Born on 22 July 1907 in the Minangkabau district of Sumatera, Zubir was the eldest son of a village headman, Mohamad Said Bin Sanang. Zubir Said or “Pak Zubir” took an early interest in music. His mother, the first wife, died when he was seven years old. Zubir attended a Dutch school but preferred music to academic studies despite his father’s strong objections toward his musical inclinations. Nevertheless Zubir learnt the Solmisasi – Solfa music system – the number notations system of music, from his scout teachear while a primary school classmate taught him how to play and make a flute. At middle (pre-scondary) school, he learnt playing the guitar and drums from students and the keroncong group. During his travel trouhghout Sumatera with this group, Pak Zubir heard of Singapore and its promise of a brighter future, where he was to later make his home.
Landing on the shores of Singapore in the 1930s, Pak Zubir first found work with the City Opera, a ‘Bangsawan’ troupe and later became the troupe’s bandleader. When World War II broke, Pak Zubir and his young bride returned to Sumatera, only return to Singapore in 1947. Soon after, Pak Zubir took up the post of orchestra conductor at Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Production pada 1949, and later as score arrangerfor Malay films at Cathay Keris Film Productions dari 1952 hingga 1964.
An important and well-repected composer in his day, Pak Zubir was viewed by many as a composer with a true Malay soul, composing songs that were traditional, yet modern and patriotic, interwoven and historical messages and Malay truism. Journalist A. samad Ismail once said that Pak Zubir and his contemporaries from Minangkabau, awoke a wave of national consciousness in the historical times of the 1950s.
Recognition came when Singapore government tasked him with composing the country’s national anthem, Majulah Singapura, and many other patriotic folk songs, including Semoga Bahagia, the theme song song for Singapore’s Children’s Day Youth Festival. Pak Zubir was also asked to compose the national anthem for the newly independent Federated Malay States, which never materialized due to a disagreement between himself and Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first premier.
Mentor to some of the region’s most eminent composers such as P. Ramlee and Wandly Yazid, Pak Zubir receive numerous accolades and awards from the government and arts organizations in Singapore yet was widely known to be extremely humble an unaffected by his achievements. It is not known how many songs Pak Zubir composed until his death in 1987, but some estimate close to 1,000 songs, including the famous Sayang Disayang and Telaga Biru. He became the local pioneer in the writing of film scores. His work often reflected Western and Asian influences which when mixed with Malay melodies resulted in an electric blend that reflected the different moods required in the movies.