06 Aug 2019

People - Community

Hitting all the write notes — 3 ways Charlie Lim reimagines a National Day classic

While elaborate fun packs and exciting fireworks displays often top the list of National Day Parade (NDP) highlights, no parade is complete without a song that we can belt with pride. So, what goes into the makings of an NDP theme song? We turned to homegrown singer-songwriter Charlie Lim, the voice and lyricist behind 2018’s ‘We Are Singapore’ remake, to tell us more!


Charlie Lim
Charlie Lim (above) rose to fame when his song-writing contribution was picked to be the theme song for NDP in 2018.

In his young career as an artiste, Charlie Lim has already crossed off many of the proverbial milestones. Both the EP ‘TIME/SPACE’, and recently released album ‘CHECK-HOOK’ have garnered 5 million streams to date. That same year, his single, ‘Zero-Sum’, also clinched the top spot on the iTunes Singapore chart and was named Apple Music’s Best Song of the Year.

Despite music being an integral part of his life, Charlie had a love-hate relationship with it growing up. He unwillingly attended the classical piano lessons his parents signed him up for and he didn’t think it was particularly ‘cool’ to be a member of the school choir, either.

But things changed when Charlie formed a band with his peers in church — music was ‘cool’ again. With the band, he honed his ability to create rich dynamic sounds from different instruments.

If his name sounds somewhat familiar, this might jog your memory: Charlie’s lyrical ingenuity and signature mellow vocals were featured in last year’s NDP theme song – a modernised take on the 1987 classic, ‘We Are Singapore’!

Indeed, the multi-talented musician has already made a name for himself in the local music scene as an artist who boldly pushes the boundaries with his music. We caught up with Charlie, who has been busy touring the region with performances at notable events like Summer Sonic Tokyo, to get his take on how to pen a National Day song…

1. Work on the song with a mentor

Charlie says if it weren’t for Music Director Dr Sydney Tan’s encouragement, he wouldn’t have answered the call for song-writing contributions for last year’s NDP. “Dr Tan has been a great mentor to me and a role model for a lot of us in the music community and, I have a lot of respect for what he does.”

It’s also the reason why Charlie jumped at the chance to work with Dr Tan again for this year’s parade, lending his voice to 2019’s ‘Our Singapore’. In it, Charlie sings alongside local luminaries like Kit Chan, and Dick Lee, and other established local singers, including Stefanie Sun, and JJ Lin. “Dr Tan pretty much singlehandedly rounded up three generations of musicians and artists to appear on this track. It just goes to show how much we believe in his vision; I don't think any of us would've said yes if it wasn't for him.” 

Charlie Lim

2. Write something raw and honest 

Besides modernising ‘We Are Singapore’ and giving it a new sound, Charlie’s rendition of the song also stood out because of its honest and aspirational lyrics which captures the concerns and dreams of Singaporeans. Charlie says, “[Dr Tan and I] spoke about how we felt about the state of things here and [we felt] it was a good opportunity for me to channel some of that into a verse.”

Charlie points out that the pair saw the song as a chance to take stock and reflect on how far Singapore has come as a nation in a short amount of time. “It’s also important to take ownership and control of what we want to change and improve.”

3. Give it 100 per cent dedication

If you’ve heard Charlie’s rendition of the National Day classic, you’ll notice that the talented musician had given it a new sound. Charlie points out, “My verse’s demo also had a particular sound and production style, so that also guided the general direction of how the rest of the new rendition was going to be.”

Finding a new way to merge the new and the old became the biggest challenge for Charlie and Dr Tan. Charlie notes that they had to work quickly to get the song ready before parade rehearsals were due to begin. But the pair persevered and managed to put the song together in the end.

And even after the song was done, the singer had to make sure he was present for all rehearsals. Charlie enthuses, “[It was] definitely a commitment to be present every weekend leading up to the actual parade.”

Reflecting on his National Day experience last year, Charlie says that seeing Singaporeans coming together to bring the show to fruition has made him feel proud to have played a small part, “I guess in some ways it did [change me], not because of the job itself, but because of the community you work with.”

About Charlie Lim…

Charlie is now based in Singapore, but he had spent eight years in Melbourne, Australia, where he completed high school and four years at Monash University where he graduated with a degree in Music Performance.

Charlie notes playing online games with his friends whenever he was in Melbourne, helped them stay in touch. Another tip? Charlie reckons, “I think having some comfort food like those packaged sauces for laksa or bak kut teh are always great.”


In case you missed it…

Find out how you can catch the National Day Parade 2019!

Check out the highlights of this year's extra special National Day Parade!

Or, join one of the many celebrations around the world!