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Video: Young pop voices make a patriotic connection

A classic Malay poem inspires a song about unity.

IT took Kuala Lumpur-based composer-songwriter Audi Mok a while before he gathered his nerves to say yes to work on Tanah Air as part of the Petronas Merdeka and Malaysia Day 2013 campaign. 

“I had to think about this project seriously. It involved one of the greatest works by the late National Poet Laureate Datuk Usman Awang entitled Tanah Air.

“I was scared and I thought if I didn’t get it right, that would be the end of me,” said Mok, who was approached by Petronas at the end of June.

The brief was to write a song that had youthful appeal. 

"I wanted to do something different as most patriotic songs have that 'marching band' kind of style. I wanted to make a pop song first. It had to have mass appeal as well as patriotic reach."

Mok said that the subtle touch was key in making this project a success. Luckily, he was also given the freedom to work on the song.

“I really wanted to do it my way. I wanted to put soul into it."

At first, it was a struggle in the studio for Mok to realise his vision for the song. 

"I remember the first two versions weren’t good. I just felt that something wasn’t right about them. They sounded disconnected,” said Mok, adding that he finally nailed the idea with the third try. 

“After struggling and feeling frustrated, I decided to let the words (of the Tanah Air poem) take the lead. It was just amazing how fast the melody flowed from that moment on. Somehow, I completed the song in less than half an hour! It changed my way of thinking in terms of songwriting."

The experience of working on the inspirational poem taught Mok quite a bit.

During his research, he also found the late Datuk Usman’s works very disciplined in nature. 

"They have a structure that made my songwriting easier. This experience affected me as a person as well because 'Tanah Air' is really a beautiful and meaningful poem."

The singers featured in the song – Aizat Amdan, Stacy, Suki and Alinda – were selected after discussions between Petronas and Mok.

The presence of award-winning singer-songwriter Aizat has given the tune a headstart. 

“It was a collective decision and these young singers have diverse personalities and their music represents the younger generation today,” said Mok. 

The recording took about one week with the singers backed up by a string section (the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra).

Mok’s attention to detail has paid off as Tanah Air has now received close to 650,000 views (at press time) on its official YouTube page.