In tune with NS

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01 Sep 2017 | OPS & TRAINING
Melayu 华文

In tune with NS

// STORY Thrina Tham
// PHOTOS Kenneth Lin, Chai Sian Liang & Courtesy of MDC

English Melayu

Forward we're moving, not turning back
Day by day we prove that we will last


So opens the NS50 music album with a song that underscores the committed spirit of national servicemen. Launched on 4 Aug, We'll Carry On is a compilation of original tracks that pay tribute to servicemen for their sacrifices for the nation. The album title itself pays homage to the NS50 theme, From My Generation to Yours.

The album packs a diverse crew of local artistes who hail from the Music and Drama Company (MDC) and its alumni - prepare to be moved by a soulful Mandarin ballad from Nathan Hartono and Edric Hsu, before bobbing your head to the catchy Book Out Day rap from Shigga Shay and Jack Neo.

The compilation also features a heartfelt Malay ballad from Sezairi Sezali and a Tamil technopop piece by Shabir.

Even Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen lent his voice to one of the tracks.

"The artistes were given free rein," said Mr Low Aik Khoon, the album's Executive Producer. "(We knew) the music would be most authentic if we allowed the composers to write from their hearts."

He added: "We curated the songs carefully to ensure we covered the broad NS experience." Mr Low is also Head Content (Live Engagement) of So Drama! Entertainment.

PIONEER gets cosy with some of the artistes to find out about their own NS days and read between the lines of the music.

What was your first reaction when asked to do a song for NS50?

Nathan Hartono: I was pretty excited to help out 'cause it's been a while since I came back to (the MDC studio) I grew a lot here, I learnt so much, and it's good to give back. I get to practise my Chinese singing chops as well, and it's gonna be a cool project.

Sezairi Sezali: I was initially a little apprehensive - not because I didn't like the idea, but because I wanted to write a song that would mean something to me first. I think it's really important to be able to connect with your work before you put it out in the world.

Jack Neo: Surprised! Because I thought I'm already so old, I shouldn't be involved in this "youngster" project. I have not sung in so long, and even my voice is very "Chinese helicopter" (slang referring to Singaporeans who were Chinese-educated and less fluent in English).

What was your inspiration behind the song?

Shigga Shay: I was actually in Los Angeles when I wrote the song Being away from home kind of helps because you're looking at things from a different perspective. That's how I came up with the song.

Sezairi: After thinking about what really affected me during the first few months of my NS life, I decided to pen down my thoughts and personal experience on how it felt to leave my mother to go and serve NS. My mother has been a strong motivation in my life and career.

Jack: Even before I did Ah Boys To Men, the military is a genre - whether as a song, drama, skit or movie - that I've always found very interesting. The younger generation do not know the past, so this is why I do it: to record this for our next generation. (I wanted to record) everything about soldiers, their attitude, their lifestyle - everything they do.

Share with us your weirdest NS experience.

Shigga: I did ballet in MDC I had to go for ballet lessons and I was doing back-up dancing in other acts as well. I remember a few shows where I would rap my own item and in the next segment, I would be back-up dancing. So I would go backstage, quick change and bam! Come out and dance.

Nathan: In MDC, we would do a lot of shows, even shows that were more of an army event than a music event, where we would play and sing in the background.

These were useful learning experiences that taught me the value of being a better performer Those constant shows also built up my stamina, which helps in the performance industry.

Sezairi: Doing art education programmes with MDC in my No. 4 uniform in secondary schools. Sometimes, the kids would be confused to see us performing while in our uniforms, but they were excited to watch our show at the same time.

What is the best thing that happened to you in NS?

Jack: My NS was very good. I served as a Platoon Commander (in 1st Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment), but I also drew comics for PIONEER and the editor interviewed me for a story. The MDC drama director then saw the article and called me to take over from him.

I told him I had no experience but he said: "It's okay, you're an Officer, you can come here and learn." I was surprised that I got posted over 'cause I couldn't believe such a good thing could happen to me.

Sezairi: It sounds cliched, but it was getting to meet people from all walks of life who are generally out of your social circle. It is the army equivalent of travelling the world; it gives you perspective.

What do you want people to take away from your songs?

Shigga: The point of the song (Book Out Day) and its whole message is to tell people just to have fun. Just to live in the present and enjoy what you're going through right now.

Nathan: The chorus (of New Day or ??) talks about looking onward and upward, having a greater vision for the future. I think that's what NS brings to the people - a sense of security, hope and a better tomorrow The songs were written with a lot of sentiment and I think people are really gonna enjoy them beyond the context of NS50.

Jack: We need some patriotic songs other than National Day songs. If people can sing them with passion, I will be very happy.

Shigga Shay (foreground, left) with fellow MDC alumni Sheikh Haikel (to his left) performing at a show commorating MDC's 40th anniversary in 2013.

Which song has changed your life?

Shigga: Eminem's Lose Yourself. I was nine and back in the day, lyrics were not so easily accessible. I remember coming home from school and just listening to the song every single day, trying to memorise the lyrics.

SezairiCrazy by Aerosmith. I sang it at the Singapore Idol finals because I was going through a hard time in my life. And I believe doing that on stage in front of 10,000 people made me whole.


We'll Carry On is available on Apple Music, Spotify and Soundcloud. Find out more about the album at the NS50 website


PTE Dominic Chin Singer & songwriter

From LKY to NSmen 

Singer-songwriter Private (PTE) Dominic Chin, 22, is the mind and voice behind the NS50 album's title song We'll Carry On. His first musical breakthrough came in 2014, when he made a music video tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and even got a letter of thanks from the founding father himself. 

Now, the Full-time National Serviceman is part of a five-man band at MDC called the Camokakis, with whom he performs We'll Carry On

"The message of the song is simple: To be grateful. It's about how we know we can carry on because the servicemen before us have built a good foundation." 

PTE Chin penned the lyrics in three days and took about a week to arrange the song with his bandmates. 

"In Camokakis, we have a rock singer, an R & B singer, a jazz singer and a guy who loves Ariana Grande… We each put our own flavour into the song and somehow it gels to carry the same message."



The Hartono you don't know

Before gracing TV screens on Sing! China (where he finished as runner-up), Nathan was already belting it out to a wide audience. 

"In MDC, we performed for students and people who come from all over the world… We went to Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia, and spent about a month there performing for the locals and doing shows all over the place." 

He can probably break into a couple of moves, thanks to his all-rounded training in MDC. "My main department was the vocal ensemble but whenever somebody was needed to sub in for the band, I would go in; when they needed somebody to sub in for the artiste, I would attempt to dance. It was pretty free flow." 

He still performs with a friend from MDC, Joel Chua, who has been his pianist for the last five to 
six years. 

"From tiny gigs in the corners of shopping malls, to hotel ballrooms and stadiums in Melbourne - we've been through a lot together and it's been a cool journey that started from MDC." 

He translates his Mandarin songs because it's a language that he's not the most comfortable singing in. 

"Whenever it comes to interpreting the Chinese song emotionally, I need to translate it. I make sure I know what every line means (in English) so I don't sound like a brick wall." 

When recording, he stands like a tripod, with his back straight and legs apart. 

"It's just to stabilise myself. I'll always make sure that my legs are stable - that way you're always the same level as the mic, as well as for vocal stability."