Indian composer accused of copying nationalist anthem from Singapore

Mumbai-based music composer facing plagiarism accusations over tune remarkably similar to a Singapore National Day song

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 18 March 2021 14:35
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Screengrab from a video showing students singing “You Can Achieve”
Screengrab from a video showing students singing “You Can Achieve”

An Indian composer has come under fire for allegedly plagiarising Singapore’s most iconic National Day song, “Count on me, Singapore”, as an Indian nationalist anthem.

Listeners have noted the similarities between Joseph Conrad Mendoza’s “We Can Achieve” and the Singaporean anthem written in 1986. As well as their tunes, the songs even share many similar lyrics albeit with the word “Singapore” changed to “India” or “Mother India” throughout.

Mendoza, a Mumbai-based singer, has rejected any accusations of copying and says he wrote “We Can Achieve” in 1983, three full years before the Singaporean version.

The matter has come to the attention of Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday: “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 (that he wrote the original song).

“We have thus contacted Mr Mendoza to invite him to substantiate his claims,” the ministry said. “We are still waiting for his response.”

“Count on Me, Singapore” was composed by Canadian Hugh Harrison, arranged by Jeremy Monteiro and performed by Clement Clow, both Singaporeans in 1986, according to the Straits Times.

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Mendoza, in a statement to media on Tuesday, had claimed that in 1983 at least 250 children from Bal Bhavan orphanage in Mumbai had performed the song that he had written and where he was teaching music at that time. However, he also noted that the original tapes of the composition were “swept away” during the 2005 Mumbai floods.

He 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 composer says he sold the rights to the song to a Christian book and record store, Pauline India, which recorded the song in 1999.

Harrison, the composer of “Count on Me, Singapore”, is reported to have asked Mendoza to rescind his claim, writing in the YouTube comments to the song: “The fact that he (Mendoza) is claiming now in 2021 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.”

Mendoza meanwhile insists that he couldn't have known about “Count on Me, Singapore” because “there was no internet in those days.”

Jeffrey Lim, director of Joyce A Tan & Partners, told TODAY Singapore that with the stark similarities in the lyrics and the melody of both songs, it would be impossible to escape the conclusion that one work was copied from the other. “The question,” Mr Lim asked, “is who copied from whom?”

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