Count On Me, Singapore copyright saga: Jeremy Monteiro was in recording studio when song was written

Jeremy Monteiro said the song's writing process kicked off in late 1985, at the now defunct B&J Recording Studios.
Jeremy Monteiro said the song's writing process kicked off in late 1985, at the now defunct B&J Recording Studios.PHOTO: VARIAN MONTEIRO

SINGAPORE - Jeremy Monteiro, composer and music director of several National Day songs, was in the recording studio when Count On Me, Singapore - now the song at the centre of plagiarism claims - was written.

The song was composed by Canadian Hugh Harrison and arranged by Monteiro in 1986, but Indian composer Joseph Mendoza, who has been accused of copying it, claims he wrote his version, We Can Achieve, three years before in 1983.

The songs are near identical, with the lyrics to Count On Me, Singapore changed to "India" or "Mother India" instead of "Singapore" on We Can Achieve.

Home-grown jazz stalwart Monteiro vividly recalls the song's writing process. He tells The Straits Times it first kicked off in late 1985, at the now defunct B&J Recording Studios near Ayer Rajah which he owned with radio personality Brian Richmond.

"As Hugh Harrison was writing the song, I was sitting right next to him," says the 60-year-old. "He is a lyricist and melodicist, and so I was there attaching the harmonies, almost in real time, to everything he composed in terms of lyrics and melody.

"The sound engineer was there as well, and he saw the both of us sitting at the piano for hours on end... there was a four-hour period during one of those sessions when the entire song was written."

The songwriting process was well documented, with several stakeholders involved. Besides the musical production team, there was also input from Mr Harrison's boss Brian Watson, then the managing director advertising agency McCann Erickson, and Mr Richard Tan, then director of the Ministry of Communications and Information.

"We all saw the song birthed right in front of our eyes, so there's no way Mr Mendoza could have written this song in 1983," says Monteiro who was also the music director and arranger on two other national songs - Stand Up For Singapore (1984) and We Are Singapore (1987), alongside Mr Harrison.

The Cultural Medallion recipient also composed One People, One Nation, One Singapore (1990), with lyrics written by creative director Jim Aitchison.

The recent furore erupted after videos surfaced on social media showing what appeared to be students in India singing We Can Achieve. Several have since been removed.

In the comments of his YouTube page, on which Count On Me, Singapore is uploaded, Mr Harrison disputed the Indian composer's claims that he is the original creator of the song.

"Implying I copied the song from him, is a direct attack on my integrity and professionalism and for that he could be sued for slander and/or libel.

"As it stands now, I have written (to) him and given him the opportunity to rescind his claim and am awaiting his response."


In the comments of his YouTube page on which Count On Me Singapore is uploaded, Mr Hugh Harrison disputed Mr Joseph Mendoza's claims that he is the original creator of the song. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

On Thursday (March 18), Singapore's Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) also weighed in via a Facebook post, saying: "Given that the two songs, and their lyrics, are practically identical, and that we hold the copyright to Count On Me, Singapore, we are puzzled by this claim."

They also invited Mr Mendoza to "substantiate his claims".

In a statement to the media on Tuesday, Mr Mendoza claimed that 250 orphans had performed the song in 1983 after he had written it while teaching music at the Bal Bhavan orphanage in Mumbai, where he is based.

He also claimed that the original tapes of his composition were swept away in the 2005 Mumbai floods.

Ms Caroline Heng, manager for memberships and public relations at Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) says: "The rights (of Count On Me, Singapore) belong to the Singapore Government and Hugh Harrison, as he reiterated, and the right is administered by MCCY.

"We are supportive of MCCY's probe into the matter to seek clarity, and also for Mr Mendoza to provide proof of his work as claimed."

Compass is a non-profit started in 1988 to protect and administer the rights of music composers, authors and publishers here.

Ms Heng adds: "Generally, when Compass members entrust their works to us, and we are convinced that the copyright belongs to our members, we will request third parties such as social media companies to take down materials which infringe on the member's rights. The other party may of course, seek legal recourse and challenge us in court should contentions arise."


Count On Me, Singapore was composed by Canadian Hugh Harrison (left). Indian composer Joseph Mendoza has been accused of copying it. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF HUGH HARRISON, JOEY MENDOZA/FACEBOOK

The Indian interpretation of the beloved national song has raised the ire of netizens and Singaporeans, but Monteiro called for calm.

"I hope the outcome is that Mr Mendoza apologises, and then let them settle the financial and legal matters with Pauline India," he says, referring to the India-based Christian book and record store which bought the song rights from Mr Mendoza. The company released the song as part of a CD, "We can Achieve - Inspirational Songs for Children and All" in 1999.

"I hope Singaporeans can 'chillax' a bit and will let the matter sort itself out," he adds.