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Voices unite – The making of Setia

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The project started with a swell of national pride when composer and music producer Onn San watched Malaysians come together to cheer for our athletes in Rio. He yearned to ‘keep that fire burning’ and so he picked up the phone, calling friends and friends of friends. In the end, over 50 performing artists answered the call, their voices uniting in love for their country.  The video came out in time for Malaysia day and within a week, Setia by Malaysian Performing Arts Unite had over 10,000 views. Onn San speaks of Setia‘s journey. 

What came first, the idea to do Setia or to form Malaysian Performing Arts Unite?

They both kinda happened at the same time. I first had the idea to do Setia and thought, let’s involve as many people as possible from the performing arts industry to be involved. I wouldn’t say that Malaysian Performing Arts Unite is an official organization. It’s just a group of people in the same industry coming together under a banner. Like a community.

"It's just a group of people in the same industry coming together"

“It’s just a group of people in the same industry coming together”

How did you come up with this idea?

For Setia, I was firstly inspired by our athletes at the recent Olympic Games (Rio 2016). Especially by Dato Lee Chong Wei’s fight to the finals. For a brief moment Malaysians came together – regardless of race or religion – to root for him. Witnessing that was mighty powerful.

Even though the result was not what most of us wanted it to be, what was imprinted on me was this pure sense of love and honour for our country. I think most of us felt that.

So doing Setia was a direct result of “Hey…let’s keep this fire burning”. And I wanted an act of unity rather than just talk. What better way than to bring together a a group of performing artists for this?

"what was imprinted on me was this pure sense of love and honour for our country"

“what was imprinted on me was this pure sense of love and honour for our country”

What did you hope to accomplish?

For the video, I think most – if not all – of us did it because we love our country and we want to translate it into something physical, something real. Hopefully, this will inspire people to want to be more united, to see the good in one another, move beyond our differences and come together. Because we can. I guess that’s our ultimate goal.

"Let's keep the fire burning"

“Let’s keep the fire burning”

Was the performing arts community receptive to your idea?

The majority of them responded pretty well which was very encouraging. Some jumped into the project without even asking what it was about. Of course there were some who couldn’t do it because of scheduling conflicts. That’s totally understandable due to the timeframe I was working with – two weeks!

In the end you got quite a number of performers involved. How did you coordinate everyone?

Wow. It was quite challenging. A lot of Whatsapp and Facebook messages. Friends gave me contacts. I divided the performers into three groups. I had help with the first group, but the second and third I worked with by myself.

"I wanted an act of unity rather than just talk"

“I wanted an act of unity rather than just talk”

From idea to completion, how long did it take?

It started about five days before Merdeka day (31 August) . That’s when we started making phone calls and sending messages. Meanwhile I worked on the backing track. And then within two weeks we started recording in three different locations.

Up to a few days before Malaysia Day (16 September), I was still editing the video with the video editor, finished mixing and mastering the song. I released it just on time for Malaysia Day. So all in all, I would say a little over two weeks.

"Hopefully, it will inspire people to be more united"

“Hopefully, it will inspire people to be more united”

So you started on the music first and recorded in three different locations… how did that work?

So what I did was I listened to the original song and started arranging a version of it. Once that was done, I sent it to everyone so they could rehearse on their own, together with the lyrics. At that point, none of them know exactly who would sing each line. In other words, everyone had to learn the entire song, if they don’t already know it.

Then for the recording, we got them to come at specific times in their choice of traditional or brightly coloured clothing. Each recording took about an hour. The first group recorded at Dance Space. The second group was pockets of people who recorded at my studio, Score Box. And the third group was recorded at Qactus Studio. The owners of both Dance Space and Qactus Studio generously offered their spaces to us to use for free.

How have people responded to Setia?

It’s pretty incredible. Ever since it came out, we’ve heard how moving and touching the video is. I mean, I really didn’t expect this kind of impact and that’s very encouraging to know that people have been inspired by it.

"[We] did it because we love our country"

“[We] did it because we love our country”

What is next for Malaysian Performing Arts Unite?

Well, honestly I don’t know. There have been discussions of possibly making it an official group, but that will be a lot of work. It may even require people to run it on a full-time basis. But as for now, it’s just a good reason for us to be connected to one another. Hopefully this can be a start to something more solid.

All images by and used with permission from Onn San. The full list of participating artists can be found at the end of the video.

About Onn San


Onn San graduated with an MFA from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts is an award-winning film composer & music producer for screen and stage. He recently won the “Best Original Music Score” at the Festival Filem Malaysia (FFM) 28 for his work for the movie, OLA BOLA. He is currently based in Kuala Lumpur. He loves to travel and loves durian.

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Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.