In this time of massive political change, Singer-songwriter Amirah is asking us to unite despite our differences. She is doing so with a unique sound, blending traditional elements such as tanbura, gamelan, and tabla with modern pop production, giving her songs a timeless quality that allows her pacifist message to truly shine.
On her latest single, she has delivered a dramatic ode to the powers that unite us all, despite our polarized world, as she continues her quest for unity with 'Tell Me', not long after her previous release 'You Are My Land'?
'Tell Me' asks the questions that are on many of our minds as we struggle to make sense of the chaos of the modern era.
"The more I understand of this world, the less I understand it," Amirah sings, before building up to the question at the core of the song, "What should I believe? How can I believe? Am I my name, am I my face? My religion or my race? My tradition or my tribe? Or just this heart that beats inside?"
'Tell Me' is almost cinematic in scope with luscious live strings and modern pop drums. Originally composed in Malay, it explores faith, freedom, and the endless search for meaning for who we truly are as a people. Amirah taps into our collective consciousness to encourage unity despite our differences.
Catching up with Amirah on an interview chance just awhile back, we ask her how has it been so far for you since the release of 'You Are My Land?' leading up to the more recent release of 'Tell Me'.
“The response for 'You Are My Land' has been extremely humbling. I enjoyed reading and responding to people's comments on my socials, especially on Youtube. It makes me realize how universal the things we go through are. Google Translate is a lifesaver,” Amirah says.
You've released your new song "Tell Me" (which as weI understand is the English translation of the original KatakanLah). Could you let us know how did this come about? What went into writing it and where did the inspiration for the song come from?
I first composed "Katakanlah" because of the Kalimah Allah issue. I felt extremely saddened seeing people hurt each other because of the colour of their skin and the difference in their religion. So I started questioning the logic and reasons people would do what they do. What drove them to do this? I laid out these questions in the lyrics, hoping to also lay some kind of framework for listeners to honestly question themselves and ponder upon. I felt it was important for us all to remind ourselves that we are not very different from each other and that we are all connected. After I composed the Malay version of the song, it encouraged me to do an English version by my father; and so I did. In terms of the musical arrangement, I composed the song based on an Indian raga that I stumbled upon, which I loved and felt inspired by. The Malay lyrics and the melody came together in one piece and I composed the song in less than 30 minutes. I love fusing East and West in my music, so I incorporated two traditional instruments in the music arrangement - the tabla and tanbura. I also played my custom build chromatic gamelan saron in the song's recording.
How did you go about recording and performing it so far, what has been the response like?
I did the recording session for the tabla player remotely because of COVID19. We had a live string section as well, and I love the middle eastern flavour it brought.
The response has been amazing and humbling. The comments I have received so far thrilled and touched me.
Because of COVID19, we had to use remote methods to record which was extremely challenging. Luckily, the bulk of the arrangement and discussions were completed while I was working with my producer pre-COVID19 in his studio and the live strings. My producer and I worked remotely as much as we could; discussing it over video calls and sending files back and forth. We recorded the live modern drums and tabla remotely. I had to record my vocals without my producer.
What and who has been your inspiration in your music?
I tend to compose when I am feeling sad or confused about what is going on around the world. I guess you can say I am more of a sad songwriter. The message of unity is very close to my heart, so I write about that a lot. I am extremely passionate about fusing traditional instruments and music with modern pop music. I love experimenting and combining these two worlds. I do that when I design my clothing as well. I am inspired by Ryuchi Sakamoto; he is my favourite composer. I listen to and enjoy a wide range of genres and music from Rachmaninoff and Anoushka Shankar to Rihanna. It is all about the melody to me.
How did you get into being a singer/songwriter?
I initially wanted to be an animator, and I went to school to study film and animation. However, my calling to music was too strong, so I decided to be a songwriter. I was creating demos and pitching my songs to artists and was fortunate to have my songs released by Dato Siti Nurhaliza, Nadeera, Atilia Haron, Alif Satar, and a few others. With a twist of fate, 'Katakanlah' garnered interest and people started asking me to sing my own songs. I had several songs I composed, which I felt would not fit other artists, as I was fusing Eastern and Western concepts and writing lyrics in the theme of unity. After pondering on it for a long time, I embarked on this new path and I haven't turned back since.
What kind of singer would you classify yourself as? What is your creative process like?
I would say I am a songwriter first. I don't really look at myself as a singer, as strange as that may sound. In terms of singing, I focus on the emotion and meaning of the song in terms of delivery and healthy vocal technique. It is all about the emotion to me. In terms of my creative process, I usually keep a recorder next to my bed as I tend to have melodic ideas come to me just before I fall asleep or when I wake up from a dream. Some of my melodies come to me from my dreams. I then flesh them out on the piano and record a demo on my computer. I work on the arrangement ideas, trying different traditional instruments. The lyrics take the longest time for me. Once I feel that the song is the best it can be, then comes the recording and arrangement process in the studio.
How have you been coping during this time this year? How have you been keeping busy through all this?
As an introverted, autistic singer-songwriter, I thrive on silence and being away from crowds, so this has benefited me. I don't enjoy going to stores or shopping malls and I usually get my groceries online anyway, even before COVID19. This is the perfect lifestyle for me. I have been busy working on completing my recording and other aspects of my business this year. It has been a lot easier for me to figure things out. There are more resources available online. I was unwell for several months at the beginning of the year because of exhaustion, so I had to take some time off to recover during that period.
With CMCO still in progress, what plans from now on for you? What can we expect from you coming up for 2021?
I have been spending most of the time completing my recording and music for my debut album, which took a setback because of COVID19. It is a slower process now, and the album has experienced some delays which are inevitable with a pandemic. Still, I am moving ahead and am looking to release more music next year. I look forward to connecting with people more through my social media next year as well.
How do you feel about how the RMCO is progressing regarding the music industry in Malaysia as a whole?
I think it is very important for the music industry in Malaysia to set up a healthy and complete ecosystem that covers management, syncing, licensing, royalty, live performance, and distribution. It is important to set up strong channels of online resources and systems by music organizations such as RIM and Performing Royalty Organizations (PRO) such as MACP, RPM, PPM, etc. A strong, meticulous, and thorough royalty collection system and distribution needs to be set up and implemented so that musicians receive their royalties fairly missing no channels, both from traditional platforms such as radio and TV, digital music distribution such as iTunes, Spotify, etc, and online platforms such as Youtube, Pandora, etc. It is important for these organizations to also run professional music conferences and networking events, and agents so that musicians can pitch their songs to TV, film, and other artists. Lastly, live performance through live streaming is a new and exciting industry for us to build on. This is a great time and an opportunity for us to change and rebuild the music industry. Let's focus on solutions.
You can also check out Amirah via Instagram and Twitter