SINGAPORE — Sheikh Mohd Danial Bawthan was 14 when he started to feel the impact of how different he was from his peers.
“My friends would go and play soccer, they wouldn’t invite me, because I couldn’t (play). I got frustrated and angry,” he said.
The young man, who is now 23 and wheelchair-bound, suffers from muscular dystrophy. He did not enjoy his days in the first two years of secondary school, he recalled, becoming aware then of how he could not match up to his schoolmates physically.
That was when he turned to music for solace at what he called the “lowest point” in his life so far.
“It was my saviour… in that ‘zone’, I’m equal with everyone else,” Danial said. “In music, there is no genre called blind jazz or diabetes reggae, it’s just good music or bad music. You put in your earphones and you can’t make out whether this guy has lost a limb or not.”
The oldest of five siblings, Danial recently graduated from the Higher Nitec in Information Technology course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College West. He is now working part-time as a sound engineer.
He is also a beneficiary of the TODAY Enable Fund, which helps people with disabilities achieve their aspirations or maximise their work potential. He received S$3,000 to work on his debut EP, and he intends to use the money to hire a sound engineer to edit his music tracks, because it is better for someone else to do the job for this project.
Danial has written more than 12 original songs, and is planning to put four to six of them on the yet-untitled EP, targeted to be launched early next year. The first track on the playlist is called I Know. It describes the “stares” and “looks” he often receives in public because of his condition, he said.
It also tells of what it is like to experience a gradual loss in strength and control of muscles as a sufferer of muscular dystrophy, but the lyrics also speak of a never-say-die spirit.
Asked about his biggest musical influences, Danial named American rappers Eminem and Jay-Z as the people he looked to for inspiration. He used to listen to Eminem and hip-hop music for hours after school, he said.
To mix his own beats and do sound recordings, he uses an Apple Macbook Pro laptop as part of his tools. To get it, he recalled that he had to work part-time at a salad shop after his GCE N Levels.
“When I showed up at the job interview, the boss was shocked to see me in a wheelchair. She looked at me and said, ‘You sure you can do this?’”
He was put on trial for two days to work without pay. The agreement was that if it proved too much for him to handle, he could leave with no obligations.
After the two days, he was hired. Earning S$6 an hour, he stuck to the job for around 10 months before he was able to get the laptop he wanted.
He still uses it today to create tracks for his upcoming EP. Other audio and sound equipment that he uses cost around S$9,000 in total, bought with his own money.
He converted the space where his wardrobe used to be into a recording room, and it is padded with thick noise-reduction rug pads. This small makeshift “studio”, where he spends hours arranging his music, is a refuge of sorts for him.
“I love music so much… and now, I will get to showcase it to people,” he said.