250 orphans are ‘living proof’ my song came before ‘Count On Me Singapore’: Indian composer

Update: Singapore victorious in song squabble over ‘untenable’ authorship claims

An Indian composer accused of copying a patriotic Singapore anthem is sticking to his claim that he was the tune’s original author.

Days after Singaporeans discovered what seemed to be an Indian remake of 1986’s Count On Me Singapore, songwriter Joey Mendoza, whose real name is Joseph Mendonza, responded to copycat accusations in a statement to Coconuts last night, saying he wrote his song, We Can Achieve, three years earlier. Who could prove the truth of his claim? Two-hundred-and-fifty people, Mendoza said.

“The only living proof I can offer you are the 250 orphans who first learnt it in 1983 and all the orphans at Bal Bhavan in the successive years too,” the 58-year-old said, referring to an orphanage in Mumbai.

Mendoza, who studied at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, says We Can Achieve was not committed to a recording until 16 years later in 1999 by Christian record and books store Pauline India. A video of the song as well as a clip of an Indian teacher and students performing it were both removed after Singaporeans found them and began complaining that it was purloined.

Indian teacher called out for copying patriotic Singapore song removes video

Mendoza posing with the sister-in-charge of the orphanage. Photo: Joey Mendoza
Mendoza posing with the sister-in-charge of the orphanage. Photo: Joey Mendoza

Count On Me Singapore was said to be composed by Canadian Hugh Harrison. It debuted on Singapore’s National Day in 1986. Harrison wrote online that he had worked with other musicians on the song, including Singaporean jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro, and disputes any claims otherwise.

He said today that he had reached out to Mendoza and Pauline India regarding the former’s “false claims to be the original creator of this song.”

According to Mendoza, he wrote We Can Achieve in 1983 while he was teaching music at the Bal Bhavan orphanage in Mumbai. A total of 250 orphans performed the song that year, Mendoza said. He also said that he only learned about Count On Me Singapore days ago.

After We Can Achieve was recorded and released on cassette in 1999, Mendoza said he was only paid INR2,000 (S$37 or US$27). The original tapes, he said, were swept away in the 2005 Mumbai floods.

Mendoza recognized there are similarities between both songs, namely the words “India” or “Mother India” versus “Singapore,” but thought that it could be a coincidence since there was no internet back in the ‘80s.

“There was no way I or the other composer could know that things would look so similar. (And no INTERNET ACCESS) With due respect to the other composer there are so many phrases that musically were connected and it could be all coincidental,” he said.

The Bal Bhavan orphanage has yet to respond to inquiries.

Harrison also said in a separate comment yesterday that it was “impossible” that the song existed before 1986, adding that Mendoza “would have a hard time producing any evidence of creation, performance or production of the song in 1983.”

Pauline India stepped in Sunday to say that they were unaware that the song was a Singaporean anthem when they licensed it from Mendoza in 1999. The song was also included in a 2012 playlist titled We Stand United on SoundCloud, which compiled a list of patriotic songs.

“We would like to inform you that we had produced this song with the help of Mr. Joey Mendoza who sold the copyright of the lyrics and music to us, claiming he owned it. We were not even aware, that this song has been the National Day Song of Singapore since 1986,” the Christian bookstore chain wrote online.

Count On Me Singapore is now owned by the Singapore government. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth had originally said last week it was investigating potential copyright infringement before striking a softer tone, saying it was happy the song “struck a chord” with the people of India.

The children at the Bal Bhavan orphanage. Photo: Joey Mendoza
The children at the Bal Bhavan orphanage. Photo: Joey Mendoza

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more info and photos.

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This article, 250 orphans are ‘living proof’ my song came before ‘Count On Me Singapore’: Indian composer, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.