After 18 years, Amir Yussof returns with a song of healing and change

The Malaysian indie artiste has re-released his song 'Calling On You', which he composed back in 2008, as a way to speak up about the current state of affairs. Photo: Amir Yussof

Ever wondered what happened to Amir Yussof?

Long absent from the local music scene, Amir, 53, has felt compelled to make his presence felt again and speak up about the current state of affairs. Hence, the re-release of the song Calling On You, which he composed back in 2008.

“The original intention of this song was to contribute to the message about the plight of the sun bear, but it slowly became something wider, ” said Amir, in an email interview with StarLifestyle last week.

Amir explained that the lyrics are not specific to any time or space, and could easily relate to many things, even the current Covid-19 worldwide situation. Essentially, it’s a song to remind us of what we are doing to the planet and what the resulting consequences are to ourselves.

“Perhaps when people listen, they might relate to it, and it might add to some solidarity in times like these.”

Calling On You was originally composed on guitar for a fundraiser event called The Bear Necessities in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to raise funds for the first phase of the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

“The sun bears have no voice so I wanted to write a song from their perspective. It was sung from the point of view of all the species and the planet singing to us, through me, ” Amir said, from his home in North Island, New Zealand.

Once a popular local pub singer who transitioned to successful recording artiste under the mentorship of Roslan Aziz in the early 1990s,

Amir moved to Sabah in mid 2000s and refocused his interests to animal and environmental concerns.

In 2016, he moved again, this time to Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, and has made his home there with his wife, Hilda.

“I don’t have a full-time day job per se, ” he says of his life in Waikino, a small district near the Karangahake Gorge.

Amir Yussof moved to New Zealand in 2016, where he spend most of the time Amir Yussof moved to New Zealand in 2016, where he spend most of the time "looking after our property and the animals".“During the warmer months I manage and maintain a private, two person BNB on our property called The Dome ( I still do voice-overs from my home studio for some international clients but I spend most of the time looking after our property and the animals – that’s five alpaca, two goats, three chickens, three dogs and one cat – and some land surrounded by protected forest.”

Music has been on the backburner for a while now, he admitted.

“I stopped for many years and then took it up again here, just playing in small pubs like I used to 30 years ago in Malaysia. Living in the country, however, there are not many venues nearby that cater for live music. Nonetheless, it felt like I had come full circle.”

Amir shared that he came up with the idea for a new video for Calling On You just a week ago.

“We are under lockdown now, so I decided to do it myself as it was also a lot more affordable, and also hiring anyone to produce a video would not have been possible at the moment, ” he shared.

“Instead of a standard video of me singing the whole song, I decided to add some images, so it would be more effective in getting the message across. They were mostly my ideas, some tweaked by my wife. I am bit of a geek so I spent three days putting it together.”

One of the clips used is a flashback of Sabah Festival 2011, in Kudat. “The two musicians accompanying me in that clip are Albert Sirimal and Badar Fawzy. The second clip was filmed at my performance at the Penang Jazz Festival in 2012. The same guys are performing with me as well as another guitarist, Arab.”

The new track is produced, arranged and mixed by Mike Bloemendal, owner of Imaginex Studios, which runs a network of creative audio production studios in Kuala Lumpur and music services in Auckland.

“Mike and I used to work together a lot at his studio in KL recording voice-overs.

“He moved to NZ a while back and set up his studio here. Eventually I moved to NZ as well, just a few hours away from Auckland where he is based.

“On a whim last year, I sent him a couple of guide tracks and he started arranging and producing on top of that. We finalised this track just last week, ” he said.

“Mike was absolutely instrumental in this project. Not only with his talent and professional skill, but also for ‘pushing’ me. He did amazing stuff.”

This is Amir’s fist official release in 18 years since his last album, Aquarius, in 2002. All of the singer-songwriter’s albums are now up on online platforms including YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play.

Can we expect more music from the older, wiser artiste? Amir offered quite candidly: “Some of that music is now stale! I will need to do something about that.”

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